- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

A Germantown, Md., congregation is mourning and wondering how they will finish a dream without their spiritual leader a monsignor who was found beaten to death Thursday in the church rectory.

Parishioners and employees at the Mother Seton Roman Catholic Church became concerned when Monsignor Thomas Wells did not arrive before the 8 a.m. Mass. A short while later an employee found Monsignor Wells, 56, in an upstairs bedroom of the rectory near the church.

"It's never easy to understand. Right for the moment, we're just absolutely devastated," said Bishop William Lori, auxiliary bishop of Washington. "Our first priority is to reach out to this congregation."

Montgomery County police cordoned off the area around the church, a chapel and the gray house house that served as a rectory. Police called the death suspicious, but will not reveal a cause until after an autopsy.

"There were indications that Monsignor Wells was involved in a violent altercation with an assailant or assailants," said a police spokeswoman. "The assailant could have sustained injuries due to the amount of blood at the scene."

Parishioners of the 2,000-member congregation gathered in disbelief Thursday morning holding on to one another, unable to question why this happened to their laid-back, quick-witted, deeply spiritual priest.

"I have to underline the spiritual part," said Heather Sterling, finance director for the church who worked with Monsignor Wells. "Out of serious things he would make a nice joke, just to put everyone at ease."

Dorothy O-Fosu directs religious education at the church and said he loved the Holy Eucharist. She said many times she saw him praying alone to it before people arrived for Mass.

Monsignor Wells was ordained into the Washington Archdiocese in 1971 and worked in parishes across Montgomery and Prince George's counties. He was named a monsignor in 1991, came to Mother Seton in January 1999 and had a following of parishioners from as far away as Adelphi.

"I had great affection and respect for Monsignor Wells and for his willingness to serve the church wherever needed," said Cardinal James Hickey, archbishop of Washington, in a statement. "Let us pray for an end to senseless violence in our society."

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said county police are aggressively investigating Monsignor's Wells' death, adding that he has offered the services of county grief counselors to the parish.

Parishioners and community members held a vigil last night at the church, to pray for the monsignor's soul and for investigators looking for his killer.

Police are asking anyone with information from around the church between 10 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday to call the major crimes unit at 240/773-5070.

A sign hangs on the front of the church: "Finishing the Dream, Together." The parish had planned to build a new church before Monsignor Wells arrived, and parishioners said he fit right in with the plan.

Now they will have to fulfill their dream alone.

"I'm sure he's in heaven now wondering why everyone is feeling so bad," said Tim Enright, a deacon. "I just want to say how much the people in this parish are going to miss Monsignor Wells."

• Margie Hyslop contributed to this report.

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