HOUSTON Many churches rely on handymen to tend to odds and ends. But at St. Nicholas Catholic Church just east of downtown, repairing the damage done by copper thieves is also part of the job description.

It just hurt my heart, said church handyman Preston Reed. I just couldn t believe that.

St. Nicholas, Houston s oldest predominantly black Catholic Church, suffered a rash of costly break-ins last week.

Officials believe crooks climbed the fence to the compound three nights in a row, dismantling air conditioners and pulling down cables from the roof of the chapel.

It s very frustrating, said church Father Desmond Ohankwere. It has a huge impact on us because we try to pay our bills but these are extra bills coming from nowhere.

Father Ohankwere said the price tag for the cleanup could be greater than $25,000.

Parishioner Reed volunteered to sleep overnight in the parsonage to keep an eye on things.

I hope they don t come again, said Reed.

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