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Service to honor two slain priests

The vicious killing of a Buffalo priest inside his rectory sent shock waves across Western New York in the late winter of 1987.

That the same kind of murder -- a heinous stabbing attack -- befell another priest in his home just 11 days later was enough to create a sense of terror in the city.

But 25 years afterward, those who knew the Rev. A. Joseph Bissonette and Monsignor David P. Herlihy are remembering the two priests more for their influential lives than for their tragic deaths at the hands of two teenagers.

A special Mass will be offered at 11:30 a.m. today in St. Joseph University Church, 3269 Main St., followed by a reception at 12:45 p.m. in the school dining hall.

"It certainly is to remember that these were two priests who closely followed Jesus' message to serve the poor," said Evelyn Brady, a former trustee of the Rev. A. Joseph Bissonette Memorial Foundation. "It's just to celebrate the fact that these men impacted our city. We just want to say we're so fortunate to have had them here."

Bissonette was 55 when he was slain Feb. 24, 1987, in the rectory of St. Bartholomew Church on Grider Street. It was the same building where Sister Karen Klimczak was killed in 2006 by one of the men she was assisting in a transitional program for ex-convicts. Klimczak had renamed the halfway house Bissonette House in honor of her slain friend.

Just a mile away, on March 7, 1987, Herlihy, 74, was killed in the rectory of St. Matthew Church on Wyoming Avenue.

Both priests were beaten, bound, gagged, tied to chairs and stabbed repeatedly -- one 10 times during a $200 robbery, the other 20 times during a $700 robbery.

Bissonette was well-known for for peace and social justice activism, while Herlihy was a quiet, scholarly priest so generous that he was audited by the Internal Revenue Service for giving away to charity more money than he earned in a year.

The two priests are memorialized in the stained-glass windows of St. Ambrose Church in South Buffalo and in charitable foundations established in their names.

Their convicted killers, Milton Jones and Theodore Simmons, are serving state prison sentences of a minimum of 50 years.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com