A bandit snatched the collection basket Sunday during the 10 o'clock Mass in St. Gerard's Catholic Church, at Bailey and East Delavan avenues. Several parishioners left their pews and chased him, while others called the police.
"It took the breath out of me," the pastor, the Rev. Francis X. Mazur, said later. The ushers had consolidated the collections - including one for retired clergy - into one basket and were about to hand it to the priest.
"This man came up and pretended to put something into the basket," he said. "Then he grabbed it and ran out the door."
Clutching the basket, which contained $360, the man ran onto Bailey, with a dozen churchgoers in pursuit.
Leading the posse was a parishioner named Lorri, who was celebrating her 42nd birthday.
"Lorri confronted him at the door, that's how fast she ran," said the priest, who is affectionately known as Father Butch. "She confronted him outside the door and said, "Think about what you are doing! Stop!' "
The man stopped and looked at her, but then bolted and started running north on Bailey.
While the priest continued the Mass, Officers Nathaniel Gainey and Alan Jackson of the Northeast District happened to be driving by. What they saw was a multitude of parishioners running down the street, several of them stopping to flag them down.
Still clutching the basket with the morning's offerings, the man passed the corner of Kermit Avenue, where he lives, and ran three more blocks before turning left onto Dorris Avenue, according to police.
By then, half a dozen patrol cars had come onto the scene.
Gainey and Jackson said they chased the man on foot through back yards, finally catching up with him nine houses from Bailey.
Willie L. Bell, 26, was arrested and charged with third-degree robbery, a felony. The basket and cash were recovered.
"He got a lecture from five or six parishioners while he was in the police car,"