Florida bishop mourns death of priest found dead, believed murdered

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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — The bishop of St. Augustine mourned the death of Father Rene Robert, a priest of the diocese who was found dead in Georgia and was believed murdered.

“While his life was taken from us tragically on Sunday, April 10, the day of his disappearance. It is important that we remember how he lived his life in selfless love for others,” Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of St. Augustine said in an April 19 statement.

Father Rene Robert, a priest of the Diocese of  St. Augustine, Fla.,  was found dead April 18 in Burke County, Ga., after being reported missing April 12 when he did not show up for a church function. (CNS/Scott Smith, courtesy Diocese of St. Augustine)
Father Rene Robert, a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., was found dead April 18 in Burke County, Ga., after being reported missing April 12 when he did not show up for a church function. (CNS/Scott Smith, courtesy Diocese of St. Augustine)

Father Robert, who was ordained in 1989 but was retired from active ministry, was first reported missing April 12 after he missed a church function. His body was found April 18 in Burke County, Georgia, about 260 miles away from St. Johns County, Florida, south of Jacksonville, where he had lived.

“Father Rene was a humble and generous servant of our Lord and he shared his many gifts with the poor, the deaf community and with individuals whose lives have found themselves in jail or imprisoned. He put his faith into action through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy,” Bishop Estevez said.

Police, using bloodhounds, apprehended Steven James Murray, 28, in a wooded area of Aiken, South Carolina, about 46 miles from where Father Robert’s body was found, on April 14, one day after he was identified as a person of interest in the case. Father Robert’s car was also found near Aiken.

Police said Murray led them to several sites, including the one where Father Robert’s body was found.

Sheriff David Shoar of St. Johns County, Florida, said Murray was to be charged with first-degree murder in Georgia.

“To those whom he ministered, Father Rene will be remembered for his kindness and endless love for them. He always saw the good in the people he served reminding them that God created them for greatness with a good and noble purpose for others,” Bishop Estevez said.

Among those he ministered to was Shoar, a Catholic, who said he and his wife knew Father Robert personally. “Laura and I have known Father Rene since he arrived here,” Shoar wrote on Facebook, adding he was a “wonderful servant.” The priest had performed baptisms and marriage ceremonies for members of Shoar’s family.