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Shelter Island priest tied up in home invasion laid to rest

The Rev. Paul Wancura is laid to rest

The Rev. Paul Wancura is laid to rest on Tuesday in the graveyard of the church where he served. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

They honored his memory. They wished his soul peace and rest. But the mourners attending the funeral for the Rev. Paul Wancura Tuesday did not ignore the terrible, violent way he died.

Scores of people filled Caroline Church of Brookhaven in Setauket to praise the priest, who was found tied up last month in his Shelter Island bedroom after a home invasion.

“Every one of us has been horrified by what has happened,” said Episcopalian Bishop of Long Island Lawrence Provenzano, who presided over the service.

The 87-year-old had been bound and left for at least three days before he was found by a fellow minister checking on him. He died April 16.

Mourners stressed that the way Wancura lived — dedicated to serving others and his faith — far eclipsed the way in which he died.

“Regardless of what the police say, or what the reports say, [his] life speaks louder than any of that,” Provenzano said.

In many ways, the service inside the historic white church resembled so many funerals honoring a beloved religious leader. The coffin of deep brown was adorned with an American flag, a nod to Wancura’s time as an Army counterintelligence officer during the Korean War. It was there that the Queens native found the calling for the priesthood.

But the cruel treatment that left him calling for help in his home — “the Christlike wounding,” Provenzano called it — added another, darker layer of grieving. There seemed to be an undercurrent of people trying to push together through the sorrow, to pray through the anguish.

Organ music soared across the crowded pews. The chorus, all in white robes, sang songs of praise and redemption. Many in attendance joined them.

Kevin Lockerbie, an old friend, spoke of Wancura’s dedication to the churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Long after retirement, he often filled in for priests on Long Island.

Lockerbie also talked about what a wonderful dinner companion Wancura was, a man who savored good food, a fine cigar and an “adult beverage or two.”

Then he recalled hearing the news of what happened. Police have yet to find the person who broke into Wancuras home. They have offered a $10,000 reward and released a photo of Wancura’s missing Lucien Piccard Seashark watch, hoping for leads.

Lockerbie drove all night from his home in Virginia to visit Wancura in the hospital. There, the minister had fought through 29 days in the ICU, and had a hand removed in the process.

“You’re a tough old bird,” Lockerbie recalled saying to him.

“Tweet, tweet,” his friend responded.

When the service ended, Wancura’s coffin was moved to the small cemetery beside the church, where he was laid to rest.

Walking away from the grave, Rosemarie Komorowski, a crumpled tissue in her hand, dabbed away tears.

“I’m just heartbroken about what happened,” said Komorowski, of Miller Place. “He married us. He baptized both my boys. . . . He was so witty, loving and kind.”

She knows, she added, that her faith tells her to forgive the person who attacked him.

“But right now I can’t forgive anyone for hurting him,” she said.

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