Former San Francisco Japanese Catholic Society priest found dead

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Father Eric Freed photo by Mark McKenna/courtesy of St. Bernard Church in Eureka

Father Eric Freed  photo by Mark McKenna/courtesy of St. Bernard Church in Eureka
Father Eric Freed
photo by Mark McKenna/courtesy of St. Bernard Church in Eureka

Eric Freed, a Eureka, Calif. priest who served the San  Francisco Japanese Catholic Society that met at the St. Francis Xavier Church in San Francisco’s Japantown, was found dead in the St. Bernard Church of Eureka’s rectory on the morning of Jan. 1.

According to The Associated Press, Gary Lee Bullock, 43, was arrested for the murder Jan. 2.

Bullock, the AP reported, had been arrested previously in Garberville, Calif. on Dec. 31 for public intoxication, then sent to and later released from a Eureka jail, which is several blocks away from the church. He was later seen on the church grounds early that morning.

Freed was born in Ann Arbor, Mich. in 1957 to Eugene and Laura Freed, according to his obituary that is posted on the church’s Website. It states that he was raised in Covina, Calif. and earned a philosophy degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

According to his obituary, Freed was appointed pastor of St. Bernard’s parish in 2011. He previously served in various churches and schools around the Bay Area and had served as a Humboldt State University faculty member since 2007, according to the university.

Freed is “remembered for his kindness, warmth and ability to connect with students, both as a teacher and a mentor,” Rollin C. Richmond, university president wrote in a statement posted on the school’s Website.

Freed was known not only for his religious work, but also his pursuits and interests in Japan. Freed’s obituary states that he moved to Japan following college in 1979. After briefly studying for two years in Turin, Italy, he returned to Japan and was ordained as a Salesian priest in Tokyo in 1990. He taught at the Salesian Polytechnic School in Tokyo from 1990 to 1995 and the Osaka Seiko Gakuin from 1995 to 1999 before moving back to California to serve the Diocese of Santa Rosa, according to his obituary.

Having spent about two decades in Japan, he not only taught religious courses at Humboldt State, but also a Japanese calligraphy course, according to the school. His obituary also states that he translated Hiroko Takanashi’s story of surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in a book entitled, “The Experience of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima in Poem.”

He also served as minister to the San Francisco Japanese Catholic Society. The Catholic society, which was disbanded last December, served about two-dozen members, according to John Bollard Jr., the society’s former treasurer. The society held monthly services in Japanese every third Sunday of the month since the early 1990s. Bollard said the parishioners were mostly from outside the city of San Francisco.

“He was very outgoing and he was good as any common man,” Bollard said. “He’d drive down from Eureka once a month, which is quite a trip, but he’d even stay for the parish social afterward.” Eureka is more than 250 miles north of San Francisco.

According to his obituary, Freed is survived by his father Eugene Freed and his stepmother, Donna and by brother Will, sisters, Kari, Lisa, Anita and Melissa, who live in various parts of the United States. He was preceded in death by his mother, Laura and two brothers, Gene and Michael.

Bollard said a memorial mass for Freed is being planned for mid-February at the St. Francis Xavier Church, 1801 Octavia St. in San Francisco’s Japantown.

For more information, contact the St. Benedict Parish at the church, (415) 567-9855.

Tomo Hirai of the Nichi Bei Weekly contributed to this article.

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