UPDATED 12/07/11 5:46 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — It was a scene of sheer terror early Tuesday morning, two men accosted an 80-year-old Roman Catholic priest as he lay sleeping in his South Side rectory and brutally beat him.
As CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports, police say shortly before 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, the suspects broke into the rectory at St. Margaret of Scotland Church, at 9849 S. Throop St. in the Longwood Manor neighborhood, and found the Rev. Dan Mallette sleeping.
Blakley spoke briefly with father Mallette, who was badly bruised but in good spirits.
CBS 2’s Mike Parker reports on Tuesday night, Mallette said he looked like he had been hit by a train and was still in a lot of pain, and was not ready just yet to face a TV news camera.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports
The Rev. Michael Pfleger also spoke with the beloved priest.
“He said he woke up and two people were standing over the bed and the first thing he knows he got hit,” said Pfleger. “He doesn’t know whether it was a stick, a bat or a cane. He got hit very hard and then they wanted money.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is a parishioner at the church, and was with Father Mallette since early Tuesday morning. He said Mallette was the victim of “a vicious, vicious assault.”
“He was completely taken by surprise,” Dart said. “He was sound asleep in his bed, and was awoken by two people standing there demanding money and threatening to kill him.”
The men were wearing black, and were described as being dressed like ninjas.
Dart says Mallette was beaten severely, and suffered broken ribs and facial injuries. The robbers got away with $600.
By mid-morning Tuesday, Mallette was back home in his rectory after being treated and released from Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.
In spite of the injuries, longtime friend and parishioner William Harris says Mallette is keeping his spirits up.
Still, Harris said, “He is in a lot of pain – a couple of broken ribs, stitches, black eyes – he was beaten pretty badly.”
Sheriff Dart considers Father Mallette more than a priest, and more than a friend. Mallette married Dart and his wife, baptized his kids and conducted his father’s funeral.
“He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met in my life. It’s just so outrageous,” Dart said. “You don’t know where to start with this – the evil and the cowardice, I mean, in the middle of the night, attacking an 80-year-old man who’s sound of sleep in his bad – a man who frankly would give his shirt off his back, and does it all the time.”
On Tuesday evening, the children who attend St. Margaret of Scotland School were pulling for Father Mallette. They gathered in the sanctuary to pray for the injured priest.
“We felt that it was absolutely necessary for us to come together and pray – not just for Father Mallette, but also the individuals who committed this crime against him,” said Rckey Harris, the principal of the school.
Meanwhile, Pfleger said his congregation at St. Sabina Church a couple of miles away is offering a $5,000 reward for anyone who identifies the perpetrators.
“It’s just unconscionable that this would happen,” Pfleger said. “They beat him up really bad.”
Principal Harris said the offer of the reward was a wonderful gesture from St. Sabina.
“I was surprised and shocked when it came out of his mouth,” the principal said. “I didn’t expect it, but we appreciate it.”
As the rectory locks and alarm systems were changed Tuesday afternoon, investigators said the attackers might turn out to be people the priest had been counseling.
Mallette has been a fixture at the church since 1977. He turned 80 just this past weekend.
Parishioners say he regularly visits prisons, serves communion at hospitals, says Mass every day at 8:30 a.m., and maintains the schedule of a 40-year-old man.
Mallette also has a long history of working for civil rights in Chicago, and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama.
William Harris agreed that the attack was horrific, but he says Father Mallette is all about forgiveness.
“It’s an outrage. The first feeling is a feeling of anger, but then the second feeling comes quickly about – how would Dan feel?” Harris said. “Dan would forgive these people, even though they did something that is totally unexplainable.”
Parishioner Andrea Price found it impossible to understand who would do this.
“It’s so inhumane,” she said, appealing to the suspects to “turn yourself in, do the right thing.”
Police are investigating, but no one was in custody as of early Wednesday.