In the waters of Dyer’s Pond in Cranston lay a cloth bag containing a chalice, a ciborium and a terribly damaged ostensorium; sacred religious objects used for holding wine, holy bread and items being ceremoniously exhibited. In a nearby sandbank, another bag containing a chalice, the base of another chalice and a ciborium was located. The vessels belonged to St. Bartholomew’s Roman Catholic Church, at that time located on Moorefield Street in Providence. The theft would literally damn the three local men involved.
Joseph F. was a Providence native who had spent his young life at Sockonosset School for Boys in Cranston. In the fall of 1938, the 21-year-old was already in a great deal of trouble. In Feb. of the previous year, he had been arrested along with several other men, of breaking into area churches and stealing the boxes in which money for the poor was collected. At that time, he was already three months into a deferred sentence for forcing a vehicle off the road so was given a year in prison. Two months later, he was charged with the Jan. theft of the poor box at St. Joseph’s Church in Central Falls and the court decided to let him finish his one-year sentence before sentencing him again. Now police wanted to know if he had anything to do with the theft at St. Bartholomew’s on the night of Oct. 5, 1938.
He admitted he was there that night and signed a confession stating that he had forced open the altar tabernacle with a screwdriver and stole the vessels, worth $255. He told police they could find the missing objects in Dyer’s Pond where he threw them after becoming panicked. Police retrieved the bag of objects but several vessels were still missing. They gathered enough information to round up two more potential suspects; 22-year-old Joseph P. and 21-year-old Joseph C., both natives of Providence, were located in Newark, New Jersey and brought back to RI for questioning.
After a lengthy interrogation, Joseph P. admitted he had been with Joseph F. on the night he broke into St. Bartholomew’s. He told police that the other vessels could be found in a bag at the sandbank not far from Dyer’s Pond. He pleaded guilty to the break-in and admitted that he had also broken into the store of Louis Barr.
Even Joseph F. admitted to more crimes he had committed; stealing fifteen dollars from the Tutalo Café, and breaking into the Pocasset Avenue store of Guido Petteruti and stealing $63-worth of merchandise.
But Joseph C., who was said to have been involved in the thefts not only at St. Bartholomew’s but at Tutalo’s and Petteruti’s as well, claimed total innocence in each matter.
By 1940, Joseph F. was still serving time in the in RI State Prison. He lived to be 82 years old.
Joseph C. was sentenced to serve four years in the men’s reformatory for his role in the St. Bartholomew’s theft. In 1946, he was arrested again for breaking into a furniture store. By 1948, he was serving a seven-year sentence for a home robbery and, in 1950, was also convicted of a 1947 theft. He lived to the age of 66.
Joseph P. had been employed as a building laborer before his arrest for the theft of the religious vessels and, by 1940, was working as a press hand for a jewelry manufacturer and living with his parents and many adult siblings on Prudence Avenue in Providence. The family later moved to Union Avenue. On Oct. 10, 1940, he enlisted in the US Army. He served as a technician of fifth grade during World War II and was honorably discharged on June 30, 1945 at Fort Devens, Mass. He lived to the age of 67 and was buried in the RI Veteran’s Cemetery in Exeter.
St. Bartholomew’s Church no longer stands on Moorefield Street. A shrine and a park now mark the site. The three Josephs seemingly took different roads through their adult lives. But they all paid the price for their unholy act in the fall of 1938 when they stood before the court on judgment day.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.
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