Father John Kumse and his hens aren’t going anywhere:

Kumse hens1Father John Kumse and his hens aren’t going anywhere:

By Phillip Morris, The Plain Dealer,
pmorris@plaind.com 

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The hens appeared to be enjoying unseasonably warm December weather. They were making full-throated clucks as they strutted around the Church of Saint Mary of the Assumption in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood Friday morning.

What a difference a year makes. Last December, the same inner-city hens were being described as unwitting accessories to attempted murder. Local and national media had a field day reporting that Father John Kumse, a 66-year-old Cleveland priest, was shot at multiple times when young thugs attempted to rob him of eggs he had just collected from his hens.

Father Kumse still chafes at that “poultry” interpretation of the attack that occurred on parish grounds. He also chafes at the fact that he is often mentioned when crime in Collinwood is publicly discussed.

The attempted robbery was never about freshly laid eggs. Five teenagers saw an opportunity to rob a solitary figure at dusk and went for it. They didn’t want eggs. They wanted valuables.

“A lot of what happens in this neighborhood is misreported or sensationalized. That reality leads to additional problems. I’m convinced the perception of crime and danger is far greater here than the actual reality of crime and danger,” Father Kumse told me Friday.

Kumse is a courageous religious leader and part of the necessary community glue that helps keep beleaguered communities intact. Analysis of the sort offered by the priest generally goes missing in the narrative of Cleveland, which is routinely – and accurately – described as crime-ridden. It’s a lack of balance in the storytelling that troubles the veteran priest.

Kumse, who has lived and pastored at Saint Mary for 31 years, doesn’t easily tolerate misinformed or casual slights of his neighborhood. He understands that half-truths and rumors reflect poorly on both the neighborhood and his church as well as reinforce fears. Far more good than bad routinely happen in Collinwood and throughout the city, but you wouldn’t know it from the headlines, he argues.

Kumse recalls the recent robbery of a 75-year-old woman on her way to mass at Saint Mary. The story made local news. The woman, reportedly an employee of the church, lost her valuables when she had her purse snatched as she prepared to enter the church. The story was a half-truth.

“A man did approach and demand her purse. She wisely dropped it, and he left. Here’s the rest of the story,” said Kumse.

“The lady does not work for the church. She attends it. There was no money in the purse. She said the only thing of value in the purse was her Monthly (prayer) Reflection. And, she concluded that the purse snatcher likely needed the prayers far more than she does,” said Kumse with a defiant chuckle.

Some may consider the priest hopelessly naïve and fecklessly committed to a neighborhood that struggles mightily with the challenges of urban decay and abandonment. Others may scoff at his contention that Collinwood remains vibrant and open for thriving residential, commercial, and spiritual communities.

Kumse doesn’t mind if you call him a believer. Cleveland desperately needs more such believers and neighborhood champions.

“The church parish stands out like an oasis and is part of what remains good about so many Cleveland communities. People haven’t given up,” said Collinwood Councilman Mike Polensek, a longtime member of the parish.

“The community around Saint Mary remains a neighborhood of committed residents. But some people have grown fearful to come into that neighborhood or any parts of the city. That’s what we’re up against. A lot of the challenge we face is about perceptions that don’t always jibe with reality,” said Polensek.

Early in January, Father Kumse said he plans to attend the sentencing of three of the males who pled guilty in connection with the 2017 attack. It’s his way of helping to bring closure to the terrifying event that easily could have led to his death.

He’s also sending a statement. He’s not backing down and he understands what his church, his neighborhood, and his adopted hometown are up against.

“This isn’t an inner-city problem because crime knows no boundaries. This a human problem. We’re fighting against a poverty of values, respect, and spirituality. It’s a fight we cannot afford to run from or to lose,” said the inner-city priest.

His hens aren’t going anywhere. Neither is Father Kumse.

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