By Pamela Rensing
MASCOUTAH – On Monday morning, January 8, 2018, the Belleville Police Department took an associate pastor of Holy Childhood Church into custody.
On November 7, 2019, Rev. Gerald “Jerry” R. Hechenberger, 55, of Mascoutah pleaded guilty to four of the 17 counts against him. They included three counts of possessing pornographic photos of children and one count of possession of methamphetamine.
According to special prosecutor Jennifer Mudge, Hechenberger faces up to 26 years in state prison. His sentencing hearing has been set for January 14, 2020, at the St. Clair County courthouse.
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, a statement from Holy Childhood of Jesus School in Mascoutah was released. It stated: “Everyone can be assured that all children at Holy Childhood School have been and are safe and protected. The former Associate Pastor never was charged with any act involving any youngster or any student at Holy Childhood School. In fact, whenever he was at the school he always was with a class and with another adult.
“Holy Childhood School follows the suggested safeguards for all of our students. Several years ago the School Board and Principal took specific steps to assure that the children are protected, and those steps are reviewed regularly. Holy Childhood School continues to require that all volunteers complete the formal Child Protection Training and Annual Refresher courses and the State of Illinois background check. Plus, a criminal investigation is required for all volunteers every four years.
“Each child is safe and protected at Holy Childhood School.”
The 2018 arrest was made by the Belleville Police, in partnership with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
Hechenberger was also an associate pastor at St. Liborius Parish in St. Libory and St. Pancratius Parish in Fayetteville.
According to Hechenberger’s Facebook page, he studied M.A. at The Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio; and attended Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. He attended Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville.