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Healing continues 1 year after St. Augustine's Father Rene laid to rest

Priest's loved ones fill San Sebastian Church for special memorial service

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – One year after Father Rene Robert was laid to rest, family and friends of the St. Augustine priest gathered for a special memorial service at San Sebastian Catholic Church to remember the light that he was to the community. 

Last April, detectives said, Steven Murray, 29, kidnapped and killed Father Rene, who had been helping Murray after his release from prison. 

Father Rene's body was found April 18 in woods near Augusta, Georgia, about a week after he was reported missing. An autopsy showed he died of multiple gunshot wounds.

His funeral was held April, 26, 2016, at San Sebastian Church in St. Johns County, where dozens of people came together exactly a year later to share the gift of knowing the beloved priest. 

"We are still laughing about the strange, funny things that Rene did. We are, generally, trying to tell people don't do what Rene did, but admire what he did and all of the values that he left, but try to reincarnate them in your own life," said Father John Gillespie, who led the service. 

Though Wednesday marked a year since his gentle soul was laid to rest, there is still pain for so many people who are trying to heal.

"He was a good friend -- a very good friend. I used to tease him and say to him, 'Father Rene, you are faster with your hands then you are with your mouth," said Father James O'Neal, a retired priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine. "He was a signing priest, and he would get a big kick out of that."

Father Rene spent many of his 71 years on Earth helping people at San Sebastian and throughout St. Augustine. Those who he helped are now using memories to heal.

"Everywhere he went -- the hungry, the homeless, the prisoners -- he looked for the underbelly of life when other people are trying to get up to bridge on the Queen Mary, he was scraping barnacles," Gillespie said. 

He added that many of the church members are still grieving and are struggling with closure, mostly because justice has not been served.

“It’s been a year and we don’t even have the first day of the trial and I would be willing to take a small bet that next year on the anniversary we won’t have had the trial either,” Gillespie said.

Murray pleaded not guilty to malice murder in the death of Father Rene. Prosecutors have filed notice they are seeking the death penalty.

In 1995, Father Rene signed a declaration of life saying that if anyone murdered him, he would not want them to face the death penalty. 

Gillespie said, "as Rene said, we hope that they will see the wisdom in not seeking the death penalty even though they say there going to."

At this point, Gillespie said, all the church can do is try to move on and live as Father Rene would have wanted them to, including praying for Murray.

“I have no problems praying for him I think he had a hard life to this point,” Gillespie said. “I’m sorry for his suffering and the suffering he caused other people before this time and I’m very sorry he hurt one of his best sources of help and strength and love, which was Father Rene.”