MILESTONE II: A College Community that Mourns, 25 July 2004 - Today!

During Holy Week and in anticipation of the Chrism Mass on Holy Tuesday, I considered the different milestones that have had a significant impact on my priesthood throughout these past 14 years. As you have read, the first three milestones -- for the most part -- indicated moments of great celebration. And yet, I also thought back then -- still mourning the loss of my dear student, Andy -- that the deaths of our students that the college community have suffered has become a significant aspect of my priesthood at Saint Norbert.

When appointed to Old Saint Joe's on 25 July 2004, I knew this ministry would be unique. A few tasks were placed before me: reduce the parish debt that was incurred upon the 1999 renovation; try to bring "year rounders" and students together, find a way to get more students involved in the Sunday evening Masses. I believe that through the hard work of our parish council, our parish staff, student workers and the goodness of our parishioners and students, that these tasks have been adequately addressed and that there is much to celebrate here beyond those goals -- and still there is much to be accomplished.

Nevertheless, what I did not expect was the task of burying so many students over these past three years. As I began to write this article -- this MILESTONE II -- earlier today, I was alerted to the news of the death of Cassie Voss, a student who just completed her junior year of study, who was killed in a tragic car accident in Nebraska en route to California. As Maymester students and faculty heard of our announcement earlier today, folks started to gather at the doors of my JMS office, hoping to engage in some sort of discussion to make sense of another tragic loss.

At All Saints Day Mass a year and a half ago, I asked the faithful who gathered in our church to take a good look at the windows that surround our community of faithful who gather at Old Saint Joe's. The request seemed a bit strange given it was dark outside and the images embedded in stained glass (of our church heroes) were not easily recognizable. That was by design! Instead, I asked our students to consider the other windows! You see, in Old Saint Joseph Church, the windows were repositioned back in 1999 -- as such, every-other window is 'open' without a sacred image to adorn the space. We're "advertising space" in a sense!

I asked the congregation to imagine what those windows might look like if they were decorated with the images of Jessica Martin, Kyle Anderson and Ava Cimafranca. What stories would be told by those sacred images? And then I asked the congregation to imagine what our church would look like if those "open spaces" would bear the image of each and every one of us as we make our way towards the Communion of the Saints. Little did I know back then that in less that three years, all windows would bear images of our deceased students -- and that we would begin a second lap around the church!

Throughout these three years, we have lost so much; so many young lives filled with such vitality and promise. And yet, even amidst our losses, time and time again, we have seen how much we have to celebrate: so many good people [even today] who come to offer prayer, hope, life and love amidst such loss. Again today I have learned through the goodness of this community that good will always conquer over the bad; life always trumps death.

As our community begins the mourning process in these next few days, we do so in an Easter Spirit with this past Sunday's celebration of the Ascension of our Lord in mind. As we face our own Pentecost, we believe in mind and heart -- even amidst such loss -- that Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father -- "not to abandon us, but to be our hope." In essence, it's our belief in sacred scripture that, 'life has changed not ended.' And, 'Where Christ -- and Cassie -- have gone, we hope to follow." ...A reassurance that if we live like Christ and die with Christ, we shall also rise with Christ!

Dear friends, in our loss and in our consolation, let us remember especially this day: "God's flock is in your midst, give it a shepherd's care!"

+ Jessica Martin

+ Kyle Anderson

+ Ava Cimafranca

+ Irwin Cotrell

+ Kevin Fallon

+ Ryan Gallagher

+ Leslie Kroschel

+ Alya Sami

+ Andy Domagola

+ Cassie Voss -- 21 May 2007

Eternal Rest grant unto them, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon them!

In the Easter Hope of Pentecost,

Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.


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