By Daniel DeBolt
Saint Francis High School and its alumni are mourning the death of their former chaplain, Rev. Eric Freed, after his body was found on New Year's day in Eureka.
Freed, 56, was the popular pastor of St. Bernard's Parish in Eureka. He was found dead in the church rectory the morning of Jan. 1.
Police arrested Eureka resident Gary Bullock on a slew of charges including murder, arson, auto theft, burglary and a special allegation of torture. A wooden stake and metal gutter pipe were reportedly used to beat Freed to death, according to police.
In Mountain View, Freed served as the chaplain at St. Francis High School and was a religious studies teacher from 2002 to 2005. He returned each year to lead a retreat for the school's senior class, and sometimes served as a guest lecturer, according to school officials.
A local memorial service for "Father Eric" is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 12, at 11 a.m. in Brothers' Chapel at Saint Francis High School, located at 1885 Miramonte Ave.
"This man was more than a priest, more than a representation of the Catholic church but rather a representation of the ability to find the best in the human race," wrote St. Francis graduate Justin Reginato in a Facebook post about Freed's death. "Sitting in class listening to his stories, talking to him afterwards about personal issues, picking his brain about his worldly travels, he was always there for me."
Freed would begin his religious studies classes by asking students to silently focus on their breath, banging on a metal bowl that would echo through the room. Freed was somehow able "to get a room of 16-year-olds to reflect inwardly on themselves," Reginato recalled, noting how easily Freed could do it.
Freed was also the chaplain for the school's football team, Reginato said.
Freed "stood on the sidelines of every game. I remember looking over at him, with a smile on his face, as he watched us win (he did love his football). He was an all-around wonderful human being who I will never forget."
Mountain View resident Chris Hildebrandt said in an email that Freed was the second former pastor of St. Francis to die this year. His predecessor, Father Mark Catalana, died unexpectedly from a blood clot after surgery on a shattered hip from a bicycle accident.
"My children attended St Francis from 1995 to 2005, giving me the opportunity to meet both priests," Hildebrandt said. "Both were exceptional teachers, warm, caring, dedicated to their church and always finding the right words of encouragement for our children and their families."