Mourners gather after services for Gerald Robinson at St. Hyacinth Catholic Church in Toledo. About 200 people attended on Friday. Robinson received his First Communion at the old St. Hyacinth Church, and celebrated his first Mass as an ordained priest in 1964 at the current St. Hyacinth on Parkside Boulevard.
A wooden crucifix lay atop his casket.
Red roses graced the altar.
Chants in Polish — a language he spoke fluently — were sung by hearty voices.
Friends, former parishioners, and fellow priests filled the pews of St. Hyacinth Catholic Church on Friday to mourn and pray for Gerald Robinson who died on Independence Day in a state prison hospital.
Described as a priest who “labored with a very timid personality,” Robinson, 76, was barred from public ministry in 2004 after his arrest for the slaying of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl. She was strangled and stabbed 31 times in the chapel of what was then Mercy Hospital on the day before Easter 1980, the day before her 72nd birthday.
His conviction two years later for her murder would make Robinson notorious: the first Catholic priest ever convicted of killing a nun.
Those who presided over his funeral Mass did not sidestep his crime, but spoke frankly of his conviction and imprisonment, offering prayers too for Sister Margaret Ann and her order, the Sisters of Mercy.
“We are gathered here not to accuse Father Robinson or to excuse him,” the Rev. Thomas Extejt, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Columbus Grove, said in his homily. “We are here to celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass.”
Nuns leave the funeral for Gerald Robinson at St. Hyacinth Church in Toledo. He was serving a sentence of 15 years to life when he died at age 76.
He spoke of Robinson’s service as a priest, his assignments to parishes struggling to survive, and what was probably his best work — ministering to the sick and dying.
“And then came the events of April 5, 1980,” Father Extejt said, referring to Sister Margaret Ann’s brutal death.
“All we can say of that day is that whatever happened, happened under the eye of Almighty God who watches over all his children and demands that the life of each one be valued and reverenced.
“Whatever happened is being weighed by God who is infinitely just, yet at the same time infinitely merciful.”
The Rev. Charles Ritter, administrator of the Diocese of Toledo, officiated at the funeral Mass, which was attended by more than 50 priests, deacons, and sisters.
Before the Mass concluded, he shared condolences with Robinson’s brother, Thomas; other family members, and his “brother” priests.
“Father Robinson lived for years under a heavy burden,” Father Ritter said. “Whether that was a burden of guilt or the burden of a miscarriage of justice, I do not know. We do not know. Either way, that burden is now lifted for him. And it is not for us, in retrospect, to judge him.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests criticized the diocese for holding a public priest’s funeral for Robinson.
Four representatives of the group carried signs bearing Sister Margaret Ann’s picture in front of the Catholic Center on Spielbusch Avenue earlier Friday, before the funeral, though no protesters were visible at St. Hyacinth.
Uniformed Lucas County sheriff’s deputies stood watch at the church entrance, but there were no disturbances.
The more than 200 people who attended went in support of a man who some believed was not capable of murder. Some simply went in support.
“We’re Catholic Christians and we just came to pray for him,” said the Rev. Keith Stripe, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Maumee.
Gerald Robinson’s casket is rolled out of St. Hyacinth church in Toledo. Arrested in 2004 and convicted in 2006 for the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl in 1980, the priest died in a prison hospice in Columbus on July 4.
Robert McMahon, a church organist who served at Mass for Robinson at St. Hedwig Catholic Church, said the priest had celebrated his First Communion at Ladyfield School.
Mr. McMahon said he didn’t know if Robinson committed murder, “But the Church teaches forgiveness and compassion. If he did it, I pray for his soul. If he didn’t do it, I pray for his soul.”
Born in Toledo in 1938, Robinson was baptized at the former Nativity Church, received his First Communion at the old St. Hyacinth, and celebrated his first Mass as a newly ordained priest in 1964 at the current St. Hyacinth on Parkside Boulevard.
Before the funeral began, a former Catholic priest — the Rev. David Lis, pastor of Holy Assumption Orthodox Church in Marblehead — spoke of Robinson as a friend and mentor who helped him “make sense” of his vocation. He said their friendship had deepened in recent years.
“I’ve never been more proud of Father Jerry than I have been these last few years when he was experiencing a devastating confinement,” he said. “I’ve never known him to be more free as a person and as a priest while he was a ‘guest’ of the state.”
Father Extejt too talked about Robinson’s years in prison, saying that he had counseled and prayed with prisoners young and old, that he had been a support to the prison staff. Robinson was serving 15 years to life when he died.
“He was ‘one of them’ and in a unique position to bring the light of God’s word to a living situation that was dark indeed,” Father Extejt said. “One can sense the prisoners’ regard for him when you understand that the younger inmates called him ‘Pops.’ ”
Father Lis, who said he never lost faith in Robinson, garnered applause as he concluded his remarks.
“To each and every one of you, thank you for believing in Father Jerry. Thank you for holding him up in your prayers. Thank you for never losing faith.”
Staff writer Kathleen Ashcraft contributed to this report.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.