Parishioners who were warned about attempted thefts on the North Side thwarted a man's attempt to steal a 90-year-old woman's purse during a Sunday morning Mass.
The Rev. John Dinello, pastor of the Most Holy Name of Jesus parish in Troy Hill, said he gave a description of the suspect to ushers after recent thefts at a nearby restaurant and at St. Anthony's Chapel, which is part of Most Holy Name.
"Sometimes we have to be vigilant," he said. "We have to look when something's happening ... and be alert."
Pittsburgh police Sgt. Christina Davison said 31-year-old Eric Csurilla crept up the pews at the Harpster Street church as parishioners lined up for communion.
A criminal complaint said Mr. Csurilla swiped a small black change purse containing $2 and a Kohl's credit card around 10 a.m. Father Dinello said Mr. Csurilla covered the purse with a church bulletin and tried to flee, but he was tackled and restrained by several parishioners, including Mike Chernoski, Glenn Hubert and Steve McCauley, who is the chief of the Port Authority police force.
"The parishioners were happy he won't be taking advantage of the elderly women in church any more," Father Dinello said.
He said he told women during last Sunday's services to take their purses with them when receiving communion.
The purse belongs to Catherine Oberst, who told Father Dinello she left it in the pew and couldn't imagine anyone taking it. "'I just thought, my purse is so small. Who would want it?'" Father Dinello said she told him after the suspect was arrested.
The pastor has been at the North Side church for only a few months; prior to taking the post there, he spent eight years at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bloomfield, where he became close friends with Paul Sciullo II, one of three Pittsburgh police officers shot and killed on April 4, 2009, during a shootout with Richard Poplawski in Stanton Heights. Poplawski was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder last June.
Father Dinello said he was vigilant because the city officer taught him about different ways to keep the community safe.
"I'd like you to remember him and pray for him today, because I really think he's ... an angel watching over me," Father Dinello said.
Sgt. Davison said Mr. Csurilla, who is being held in the Allegheny County Jail on a theft charge, may have been involved in other thefts in the Troy Hill area and that police are investigating.