St. Francis High School Principal Patricia Tennant last week remembered the Rev. Eric Freed, S.S., as a man who treated everyone he encountered in the same manner – without judgment.
“He was the everyman priest … he was everybody’s pastor,” Tennant said of Freed, a former St. Francis chaplain and religious studies teacher who was killed in the rectory of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Eureka New Year’s Day. “He was a great listener. He never judged and he truly had an open heart.”
Local police have since arrested 44-year-old Gary Lee Bullock and charged him with the murder. At the time of his death, Freed, 56, was pastor at St. Bernard’s, taught in the Religious Studies Department at Humboldt State University and served as chaplain of the university’s Newman Center.
In a conversation with the Town Crier, Tennant said she initially learned of Freed’s death shortly after a fellow priest discovered his body on New Year’s Day.
“I got a phone call the evening of New Year’s Day that he had been killed. It was a very difficult message to hear,” said Tennant, who added that the school held private Masses Jan. 6 and 9 for grieving students and faculty members. The school also celebrated Mass Sunday in the Brothers’ Chapel in remembrance of Freed.
“There was great disbelief,” Tennant said of the school community’s reaction to Freed’s passing. “I talked to a colleague today and he kept saying that he wants it to be a dream, that he wants to wake up.”
Tennant said she’ll remember Freed as not only a friend to her, but to countless students and faculty members he got to know both during and after his tenure at the school. She noted last seeing him in November, when he stayed at her home while assisting St. Francis faculty members in hosting the school’s annual senior retreat. It was an event, she noted, that Freed looked forward to every year, even after his 2002-2005 tenure at the school ended.
During his stay, Freed walked through the school, popping into classrooms to say hello to former colleagues and speak with students. In one class, she recalled, he held an on-the-spot calligraphy lesson for students.
“He walked into my English classroom and talked to all my kids,” said Tennant, who added that Freed had presided over her daughter’s wedding and also baptized all of her grandchildren. “He was that kind of guy. He was very worldly but so grounded in the human experience that he could talk to anyone.”
Tennant added that Freed’s 20-year residence in Japan, where he entered the Salesian Religious Congregation in 1979 before being ordained as a Salesian priest in 1990, helped shape his approach to people and the world.
“When he talked to kids or adults, he embraced all different cultures and approaches to life because he came from such a broad global perspective,” said Tennant, who attended the funeral service in Eureka last week. “It seemed there wasn’t anything in life that he couldn’t find a passion for.”
Tennant said Freed’s legacy was impactful considering the brief period he served at the school – and won’t soon be forgotten by its community.
“The grieving is open and it’s natural, but we also know he was a man of great faith, and that’s what sustaining me,” she said. “I just know that we loved him, and knowing that he loved us back is a good thing.”