Immaculate Mary! How Sweetly We Sing of Thee…Even Today in our Chaos.

As a lifelong Catholic, but more poignantly, an Italian Catholic, one of my first, and fondest, “Catholic” memories was of Mary at the annual May Crowning at our home parish of St. Paul, which took place on the first day of their annual Italian Festival! The songs are still fervently stuck in my head: Hail, holy Queen! Salve, Regina! Hail Mary, Gentle Woman! Ave Maria! And so many more!

I wish that all children were welcomed into the fold of Catholic faith with the innocence and tenderness of singing seraphim, with a mother of who exemplifies the epitome of mercy and love. And, I wish, too, that all could witness what I did so young: adults and children of all shapes and sizes, of all ages, coming together and bringing the statue of our Blessed Mother from insidethe walls of our church to the streets where she was so needed! Adorned in a glorious blue cope, glistening crown of gold, and beautiful blue and white streamers flowing from her sides, she was such a beautiful site! I was always elated to be part of it!

I remember, too, how many of the residents living around the parish, mostly of Italian or Polish descent, would prepare well in advance of the scheduled Sunday processional by cleaning up after the harsh Erie winters. Some even painted their curbs blue and white in her honor! My mother’s aunt, who was the only grandmother I ever knew, Cha Cha, was always ready with a beautifully painted white curb and fresh flowers newly planted! As the procession would come by, the priest would stop and people would hand him money, or flowers, and say a prayer. Some would go up to the large statue and pin bills to her streaming ribbons in support of the work of the church. The priest would then give a blessing and off to the next home we would go! The procession had bells, incense, singing, a cross leading the way, and the fully adorned Knights of Columbus with swords drawn! Oh, what a site! When I regale the stories today, many still look at me as if I am crazy! I assure, you, I am not. It was real and I am so very grateful for the memories that my parents allowed me to gain by taking me to see Mary on her special day!

I thought about Mary and these memories as I sat and worried this past Monday evening. I thought about how hard we have worked to keep our parish and school safe. I thought about the almost $10,000 we just spent in security upgrades this past month alone. I thought about the eyes of the children. I want none of them hurt; certainly, none of them dead. I was in my office with the FBI “Duty Agent” on a speaker phone and three WhiteMarsh Police Officers in my office. We were included in a ‘threat letter’ received by Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. We didn’t have many details, but the mere fact that we were in it, was cause for alarm. We consulted, we prayed, we thought deeply. It was almost midnight by the time we broke until morning. I included my school administration and we collectively all agreed: close the school. There really was no other choice. We did. I am glad. This past week has been better, save for the fact that I have been demonized for this decision. Even a few parents have decided to send me hateful letters and include my past mistakes. One said, “It is my estimation that you could have handled the situation very differently given the circumstances. Yet you chose to create unnecessary anxiety for many families. It became more and more apparent that you seem to surround yourself with controversy. And rather than diffusing situations, you stoke the fire.”

My reply is simple: tell that to the family of Riley Howell, a University of North Carolina Student, who chose to fight when a gunman walked into his classroom. While you were writing your hate filled words to me, his family was planning his funeral. The alert received on his cell phone was direct “Run, Hide, Fight. Secure yourself immediately.” He could do none of that and so he fought.  “But for his work, the assailant may not have been disarmed,” Chief Kerr Putney of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department. “Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives.” That is what we are called to do. Protect, love, care for one another. Our decision was sound.

The next day, just after midnight, we finally received a copy of the letter and saw what was actually written. How the letter began as “Terrorist Alert”. And, while we were not the obvious target after all, the hospital was, but the person was obviously at one time in our parish. I am glad we closed for the day. It was the right decision. It was the only one. 

In the end 2 are dead and 4 wounded in North Carolina. At our school there was no one harmed; no one dead. Perhaps my feelings are the only casualty here this week and my bruised ego and a little dismay. I’ll take those odds and now get back to praying to my rosary to the Blessed Mother who gave me the love of God and a devotion to her as a child. By doing so, she saved me from my self. And, she helped me gain the ability to create a place that these parents have loved, even as they demonize its creator.

Oh, if I remember my history correctly, there has always been a lot of that around. I think even Jesus would cry with me today. I know he was grateful we closed as a precaution. After all, He was too busy holding Riley Howell to handle much more…

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