I just posted this 2011 memory-photo on Facebook on November 29, 2015:
Four years ago today at Msgr. O'Dwyer Retreat House:
"Junior Retreat closing Mass today with the fantastic Father Brendan Carr!!"
(Photo by Patti Murphy Dohn)
I was overcome with sadness when I learned Monday afternoon of the death of Father Brendan Carr
, a good and holy retired Baltimore priest. Holy Trinity Church
’s Youth Ministry had announced Father Carr's death on Facebook.
He was a beloved priest who impacted the hearts and lives of people of all ages.
Father Carr could have been the “poster priest’ for this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“They poured out their hearts to him”
Father Carr had joined me and my John Carroll
students on our junior retreats in 2011-2012, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation and their class Mass at the Msgr. O'Dwyer Retreat House
in Sparks, Maryland.
He was one of the most effective priests that I ever worked with in my 30+ years of retreat work. Youth were drawn to him. They poured out their hearts to him. They waited hours to have him hear their confessions.
Father Carr's true kindness and grandfatherly approach with my students, along with the twinkle in his kind Irish eyes, led to four hours of confessions and a joyful celebration of the liturgy each and every retreat.
Taking a personal interest in each student:
I remember the first time that Father Carr joined us. My morning retreat session included a two-hour slot for confessions and Mass, the scheduled timing based on past experiences. After I led a prayerful examination of conscience, Father Carr spoke a few words of gentle encouragement to my students and went back to the the small Reconciliation room.
When the first student came back into the Chapel after her confession, she was smiling ear to ear with joy. The other students looked at her with open mouths. She exclaimed, "He is so cool. And he asked me about my dog!”
That sealed the deal... Students went to confession one by one for four hours. I had never had such a strong response for the sacrament. Father Carr took such a personal interest in my students. They, in turn, responded and God worked with His amazing grace, as He always does.
We were late for the 12:15 lunch that day, and the ladies in the dining room were concerned about what was going on. And we had not even had Mass yet!
This required some quick reworking of the schedule and the need to start our lunch without the full group present.
His calling within a calling:
Father Carr joined us in the dining room about 50 minutes later after hearing the confessions of all those waiting in the Chapel. He reminisced with me about his days as a Christian brother in both Pittsburgh and at Calvert Hall, where we had several mutual brother-friends over the years, now departed.
He spoke also of the joy of having his “calling within a calling,” serving God as a religious brother before heeding the call in 1972 to be ordained a diocesan priest. Father Carr’s impact on young people began in the schools and continued in parishes and during youth retreats. Father explained that he always enjoyed helping his close friend Father Tom Ryan who served as chaplain at Towson Newman Center and at Archbishop Spalding.
The three most important rules of life:
The most powerful message that Father Carr left with my students, one that I'll never forget, was included in his homily. He gently challenged my students, imploring them to never forget the three most important rules of life:
Holding up his index finger, he said "Be kind."
Then holding up his second finger, he said “Be kind."
Immediately followed by three fingers held up, he said, "And... Be kind.”
Indeed, that simple and powerful message always made an impression on everyone who was present in that Chapel.
Our first Mass with the new Roman Missal:
By the way, Father Carr was the priest who first celebrated Mass with us using the new Roman Missal in 2011. It was Monday of the First Week in Advent and the new Missal had just been implemented that weekend.
Father kept apologizing to my students for not making more eye contact with them, since he had to read the new Eucharistic Prayers and turn the unfamiliar ribbon-lined pages. My students were quick to smile and put at ease the priest who had captured their hearts.
Memorial candle in the Retreat House Chapel:
When I learned of Father Carr’s death on Monday, I immediately texted my dear friend and retreat colleague Kellie Reynolds of St Stephen Church, Bradshaw.
And where was she?
At the Msgr. O’Dwyer Retreat House! God’s timing is impeccable.
Kellie lit a candle for me and my now-alumni students in the O’Dwyer Chapel, in memory of Father Carr and in honor of the huge impact he had on my students during their retreats. He was a wonderful priest and touched the hearts of so many youth on retreats from parishes and schools around the Archdiocese.
In loving memory of Father Carr:
Photo by Kellie Reynolds at the Msgr. O'Dwyer Retreat House Chapel
Remembering Father Carr:
"Father Carr was so sweet. He made every single person on retreat feel important and really wanted to know about us."
—Courtney Wilson, John Carroll Class of 2013
“I’m so sad to hear of Father Carr’s death. He was awesome! I was the one who went to confession first that day, and he was so cool and down to earth. I remember how he took his time and was very interested in each of us. He was so nice, making my confession time feel very comfortable and relaxed. He will be missed.”
—Sierra Fica, John Carroll Class of 2013
"I remember Father Carr also came to the rescue for us during an APYM (Association of Professional Youth Ministers/ Archdiocese of Baltimore) meeting day. I think our scheduled priest got sick. Father Carr was always so easy going and would go with the flow! He always had a smile on his face."
—Kellie Reynolds of St. Stephen Church, Bradshaw, recalling Father Carr's ongoing kindness
Father Carr will lie in state at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Glen Burnie, on Monday, January 18 from 3:00 pm until 6:30 pm, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 7:00 pm.
Contributions can be made in Father Carr's memory to Archbishop Spalding High School, 8080 New Cut Road, Severn, MD. 21144;
Friends of Animals, 777 Post Road, Suite 205, Darien, CT. 06820.
God rest him!
May the angels and saints lead Father Brendan Carr into Paradise.
January 14, 2016 12:46
By Patti Murphy Dohn
The holiday season is particularly tough for those who are in mourning. With an emphasis on families and togetherness, while being bright and merry, this time of year is often dreaded by those who suffer from grief, sickness, loneliness, and heartache.
Last week I shared reflections and advice for the holiday season from a few families who have lost adult loved ones.
Today, in Part 2, I share about one of my former students who died at age 15, as well as the sad stories of two other families who mourn the loss of children. They offer insights on how they cope and find hope, while they honor these young lives taken too soon.
My Facebook memories this week reminded me that just four years ago we were praying for a bone marrow match to be found for sweet Xavia Pirozzi, my then-John Carroll
sophomore student. St. Joseph Church in Fullerton had sponsored a marrow registry drive
and over 900 persons showed up to be screened, hoping to give the gift of life to this young girl who was battling lymphoma.
Sometimes our best laid efforts to help during times of need just don't work out according to our plan.
Xavia passed on to Eternal Life three months later on March 21, 2012 at the age of 15. Her death saddened the hearts of the entire John Carroll community
. As their campus minister, I helped our students come together to find ways to honor her memory and keep her legacy alive in the heart of our school.
When children die:
As we know, it is unnatural for parents to bury their children. The process of mourning and grief is much more intense since we place a lot of hope in our children and the yet-unfolding lives that they might enjoy in the years to come.
And when the holidays roll around, especially Christmas with so much focus on children and Santa and the Holy Infant who changed the world forever, the process of bereavement often intensifies, even if years have passed since a child has gone Home to Heaven ahead of us.
Two families’ stories:
Delivery into Eternal Life:
My friend Abigail and her husband lost two sons during late miscarriages, Francisco in 2006 and Leo in 2013. Already parents, they were taken completely off-guard by these unexpected losses.
And Abigail had to go through the heart-wrenching process of labor and delivery with Leo in October of 2013. She shares that the support and compassion of the nurses at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring helped them get through two very long days.
The labor and delivery unit at Holy Cross, a Catholic hospital, has the practice of placing a black butterfly on the doors of mothers whose baby has died. This symbol alerts everyone who enters the room that the mother and family are in mourning. Abigail told me that she had “one of the best conversations about grief with a housekeeper who came to take out my trash.”
The timing of Leo’s delivery into Eternal Life meant that the family buried him the weekend before All Souls Day. Abigail recalls that Halloween and All Souls Day were traumatic for them that year, much more than that upcoming Christmas.
One of Abigail’s pregnancy traditions has been to make her unborn children a needlepoint Christmas stocking during the months before their births. Since she had not yet fashioned stockings for Francisco and Leo before her miscarriages, she sewed them after their deaths.
Abigail shares, “It was sad work and healing at the same time. When I put up the stockings with the boys’ names on them, it is a good time to answer questions for the really little kids (her youngest children), "Who is this?" I know that it does my heart good to see everyone's names all together. It's like they counted (Francisco and Leo) as children too."
When tragedy takes children:
Allison, my former student from the John Carroll
Class of 2012, now a student at the University of Delaware, is no stranger to mourning the loss of children. Tragically, her two step-brothers, Mikey and Eric, along with their mother, perished in a house fire in 2005. The boys were 10 and 8 years old. Allison was just 11 at the time of their deaths and shares, “My family is always affected by the loss of my brothers. Their death came as a complete surprise.”
Allison has shared her wisdom on grief many times over the years, including with her John Carroll classmates on their senior retreat. In some ways, she reflects, time heals and helps.
“You never learn to truly get over the loss. You can only learn to get through it with the help of God and the support of the people He provides in your time of need. For my family, it has always been each other.
"During the holidays, the grief we feel all year long is intensified. Holidays have such a huge emphasis on family, and unfortunately, because of our loss, it's easy to focus on what, or more importantly who our family doesn't have, rather than being grateful for all those we do have. We grieve for the moments we will never have with the people we always thought we would.”
Getting through the holidays:
Allison shares that in years past her family had always travelled during the holidays, visiting relatives and friends. Since the boys’ deaths, her family usually sticks closer to home, cherishing their time with the immediate family. They always hang stockings on the mantle with stuffed animals and photos of Mikey and Eric.
“The hardest holiday for us—although they are all hard—is Christmas. The grief can be so crippling and comes in unexpected waves.”
“My stepfather usually visits the boys' gravesite—which our family calls the chapel—on special holidays like Christmas, as well on as their birthdays and the day they passed away. Every year, with the small amount of pictures that we have, we try to make a gift for my stepfather acknowledging Mikey and Eric in some way. In the past, we have made canvases of pictures, written poems, and other kind gestures to keep their memory alive.”
“Writing poems and creating the canvases are definitely tools that I have used to cope with the loss of my brothers. It helps to confront your feelings in a way that is constructive.
“Also, it helps us as a family to reflect on the funny memories we had with them. There are so many priceless stories and memories that we will always hold onto. Talking about the boys keeps their memory alive.
“Sometimes, personally, what doesn’t help for me is pondering who they would be today. For some reason, only known to God, their book was complete in His eyes when we thought they’d still be writing new chapters. Thinking about what could have been and what my life might be like now (with them) invites pain and confusion.”
Where to turn when your heart hurts:
“The best grief group I went to was Compassionate Friends
. They told me that grief is work and to be flexible.
“It felt very hard to lose a baby before I knew him. Like I wasn't even sure who I lost… I just knew that we would have been so linked at the heart. I hung out in a room where people had lost adult children in car accidents and children to suicide and heroin. A few Moms told me my grief was harder, because it was invisible to the world and there was no one to say "I remember Leo..."
“That felt so generous to me. Taking my grief seriously helped me to heal. And talking about my grief with strangers helped me to heal, especially because my husband and I were processing the miscarriage in different ways.
Advice for those mourning during the holidays (and anytime):
“Grief is work. Don't worry about impressing other people.
“Do the work that God has given you this season so that you can be truly free and authentic. The complicated, 'stuffed' grief comes from not wanting to work through your feelings.”
Let God show you how to swim:
“The round of firsts are the hardest parts of grief’s endless cycle that you will have to endure. Let God be your comfort in these times.
“There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Do not set your grief to a timetable. Your love for the one you lost has no deadline, and neither does your grief. Grief will always come in waves, but let God show you how to swim.”
"Time has proven that in caring and sharing comes healing."
Compassionate Friends is a national nonprofit, self-help support organization that offers friendship and understanding to bereaved parents, grandparents, and siblings. Founded in 1969, they have more than 650 local chapters across the country where regular meetings provide a caring environment for parents and families to work through their grief with the help of others who have "been there.”
To contact them, call: 877-969-0010 or visit their web site
Do you have a story of grief and hope that you would like to share?
Please write to me:
Read more about how Xavia Pirozzi’s classmates of the John Carroll Class of 2014 honored her memory:
2. On the first anniversary of her death: Junior year for the Class of 2014:
3. On the second anniversary of her death: Senior year for the Class of 2014:
December 23, 2015 04:32
By Patti Murphy Dohn
"To all that visit here: live, love, and laugh during your lives and never take for granted the time we have together”
Annie McGann Cumpston would have been a senior at The John Carroll School today.
January 7, 1997 - March 23, 2003
(All photos from the Cumpston Family and Annie's Playground)
The outpouring of support from the community resulted in a memorial beyond the family’s wildest dreams: Annie’s Playground in Fallston
. Opened in 2005 in Edgeley Grove Park, the memorial playground celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.
Ten years after Annie's death:
Annie’s Mom reflects on the heartbreak that eventually found a way to smile:
“Annie’s Playground meant finding a reason to smile again. I would do anything in the world to have my daughter here with me today and I know that our family will never be the same again, but I will be eternally grateful for the loving community that came together and helped us pick up the pieces of our tragic loss.
“When I could not find any good coming out of our loss, our family and friends were able see beyond. The playground means that I get to see my little girl everyday in the smiles of other children. To me, it is almost like a safe haven where all those who have been lost too soon can watch over and protect those who visit.
“The experience was bittersweet, but it meant finding acceptance. I truly believe that our sweet Angel is present in the laughter, the excited screams as children slide down slides, the courage as they complete the monkey bars for the first time, and the thrill as they get higher on the swings. She is dancing in the wind.”
—Megan McGann Cumpston
“Every life has a beginning and an end. Let’s celebrate the stories in between.”
Check out the poignant stories shared on “The Stories Between
,” a website created by longtime Cumpston Family friend, Sharon Perfetti.
Your vote supports this website which shares the legacy stories of Annie and so many other who have gone before us.
Read more stories from Annie’s sisters, relatives, and friends tomorrow in Part 2:
Tomorrow I will share more stories about what Annie’s Playground
has meant to the Cumpston Family and their close friends.
The Cumpston Family and members of the community are in the final planning stages for "Annie’s EGGstravaganza,"
a fundraiser to support needed repairs and improvements at Annie’s Playground
Mark your calendars: Annie’s EGGstravaganza on Saturday, April 4:
To celebrate the tenth Anniversary of Annie's Playground, a fun-filled day for the whole family has been planned:
Activities included on April 4:
Annual Easter Egg Hunt from 10 to 11:30 am (Registration stars at 9:30 am for three different age groups)
Visit from the Easter Bunny,
HIGHLIGHT: Easter Egg Drop by helicopter from 11:30 to 12 noon: 1000 eggs!!
Lots of activities including Harford County ambulances and fire engines to promote safety awareness.
All activities are free and open to the public.
Support the Raffle:
Tickets are available for $10 and will directly benefit Annie's Playground:
Your ticket will correspond to a numbered egg which will be dropped from a helicopter:
“All of the eggs that land in our giant Easter basket will be eligible to win our GRAND PRIZE worth over $500!!! We will also have 15 other great prizes for eggs that land in our Easter Basket! The more tickets you buy, the better chance you have of taking home our GRAND PRIZE!”
How to get your tickets:
To purchase tickets: Make your tax-deductible donation payable to Fallston Rec. Council.
Send your check to: First Home Mortgage, 808 Baltimore Pike, Bel Air, MD 21014
Note: The numbered tickets to match the numbered eggs will be mailed to you, so be sure to include your full name, mailing address, and phone number along with your donation. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the event.
You can also stop by to pick up tickets in person at First Home Mortgage in Bel Air.
For more information on this event, please call 443-879-9820.
If you'd like to help make Annie’s EGGstravaganza a huge success while spreading some Easter cheer, you can volunteer by emailing:
Ann Johnson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ryan DeVoe: email@example.com for more information.
Visit Annie’s Playground at Edgeley Grove Park:
864 Smith Lane
Fallston, Maryland 21047
Harford County Parks and Recreation
410-638-3559 (Monday through Friday 1 pm to 4:30 pm)
Read more in Part 2 on Friday:
Don't forget to check in tomorrow for Part 2 on Annie McGann Cumpston and read some more poignant reflections about what Annie’s Playground
has meant to Annie's sisters and their relatives and friends here in “God is in the Clouds.”
Annie's portrait from St. Margaret School in Bel Air.
March 05, 2015 01:46
By Patti Murphy Dohn
Part 3 of my series on grief and mourning:
"Suicide does not take away the pain; it passes it on to the person's friends and family."
-Rachel of the John Carroll Class of 2015
Remembering a JC patriot on December 11:
One year ago today is a day that I'll never forget. I learned that one of my junior girls had taken her life and, as John Carroll Campus Minister, I had the difficult task of putting together the response plan for notifying our students and school community, preparing prayers for this beautiful girl and her family, and assisting in any way that I was able to facilitate our students who would attend and participate in her funeral service.
The loss of this sweet girl was devastating in so many ways for so many people. The youngest of six children, she came from a multi-generational John Carroll family. I knew all her alum-siblings from their JC days, and I grew up with her Dad since we were nine years old, as we were both students at St. Margaret School.
Her school friends were just devastated. There were just no words to ease the pain.
This past November 22, on National Survivors of Suicide Day here in US--always held the Saturday before Thanksgiving--one of her friends wrote:
"Suicide does not take away the pain; it passes it on to the person's friends and family."
Though now retired from my ministry at John Carroll, I'm wearing green today in solidarity with her classmates, the Class of 2015. And I've united my prayers for her friends and family as we grieve together a life ended much too soon.
"Once a patriot, always a patriot."
"I know that Justin is in heaven, and he is safe and happy.
I know I will see him again one day when it is my time to leave this earth."
-- Kimberly Bennett
Kimberly Bennett of Forest Hill has also been a dear friend since our early years at St. Margaret School. Kim too knows the excruciating pain and anguish that a parent experiences when they lose a child to suicide.
Kim's 27-year old son Justin took his life twenty months ago and the heartache that followed has known no end. Kim shares his story with our "God is in the Clouds" readers both to honor his memory and to give hope to those who experience the same sorrow.
Kim shares the heartbreaking story:
Justin, his girlfriend, and their six-month old daughter were living at his parents' home at the time in order to save money for a home of their own. He had recently started medication for depression, which coupled one evening with alcohol and an argument with the girlfriend, led to Kim hearing what she thought was his bedroom door slamming. Instead, it was the gunshot that led to his final hours.
Justin with two-month old baby Michelle (Photos: the Bennett Family)
Kim's husband broke down the bedroom door where they found their son with the self-inflicted gunshot wound. Paramedics confirmed a pulse, transporting Justin to Shock Trauma by helicopter, but ensuing tests found no brain activity.
Kim shares, "This is the hardest thing my family and I have ever been through. If it wasn't for our strong, close-knit family and my Catholic faith, I would not be able to even get out of bed in the morning."
Praying Justin into Heaven:
Kim's family was particularly comforted by the Catholic chaplain at University of Maryland's Shock Trauma unit who prayed the litany of saints as each family member placed their hands on Justin. The litany response to each saint's name was "raise him up." As Kim, Don, their older son Rob, and daughter Sarah prayed together, they were comforted by these prayers and the inclusion of St. Justin in the litany.
Kim shares that the chaplain, Fr. Bill Spacek, "was so caring and kind." He held Kim's hand and reassured her fears and worries about her son's death.
What has been helpful?
Kim responded from the heart: "What helps me is talking about what happened. My daughter and I went to counseling for eight weeks."
As we know, people grieve in different ways; Kim's husband and older son were not as comfortable talking about Justin's death.
Kim and Sarah have become involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
"My daughter ran last year's Baltimore Marathon, raising $5,000. in Justin's memory. This year Sarah and I did the Out of the Darkness Walk in Baltimore, raising more money for the cause."
"Suicide claimed 39,518 lives in 2011 in the United States alone, with someone dying by suicide every 13.3 minutes. A suicide attempt is made every minute of every day, resulting in nearly one million attempts made annually.
When you walk in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walks, you join efforts with thousands of people nationwide to raise money for AFSP’s vital research and education programs to prevent suicide and save lives. The walks raise awareness about depression and suicide, and provide comfort and assistance to those who have lost someone to suicide.
SUICIDE CAN BE PREVENTED. YOU CAN HELP. JOIN THE MOVEMENT."
--American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Getting through holidays and birthdays:
Kim told me, "I was really worried about going through the holidays last year, as well as Justin's birthday in January. For Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, we lit a candle in honor of Justin and read a special prayer before we ate.
"For his birthday, we all went out to eat steamed crabs (his favorite). And then we went to Justin's grave and wrote messages on eco-friendly helium balloons. 'We let our messages float up to heaven' is how we explained it to Rob's sons, our 6-year old and 2-year old grandsons."
What else has been helpful?
Kim recalls, "What was most helpful at the time was the hundreds of friends who came to the viewing and funeral. Afterwards, friends would just stop in to sit with us. We loved hearing stories from Justin's friends."
Was anything not helpful?
Kim shared, "What bothered me after the first few weeks was that people seemed to walk on eggshell around us. I was so happy when we were able to go to our boat at River Watch in Middle River where everyone finally treated us as 'normal.'
"Also, I got really tired of hearing how strong I was. I might have appeared "strong," but I was a mess when I was home. I found that I could not be alone on a Wednesday (the day it happened) at 5:40pm (the time on the police report). My daughter and I would go out to dinner. My husband found that working long hours was more helpful to his grieving."
Justin with six-month old baby Michelle on Easter Sunday 2013, just three days before his death (Photos: the Bennett Family)
"I have so many wonderful people in my family and my life who depend on me and love me. I carry on for them and I know that is what Justin would want me to do." --Kim Bennett
Some good that has come about through the sorrow:
Kim shares, "Since our son's passing, I have become so empathetic when a person dies. I even stood up and spoke at a funeral service for a young man that passed away two months after Justin. I told that young man's mother that my close family and my faith are what allowed me to continue."
Kim and Don are now little Michelle's full-time guardians, raising their precious granddaughter in their son's memory. Kim reflects, "It is bittersweet. Sometimes I hug her so tight. Michelle has her Daddy's eyes and inquisitive nature. I know Justin would want us to take care of her. I ask him for guidance and help all the time."
Read more from my series on grief and mourning:
Part 1: Grief and mourning: Words of comfort and advice: Part 1
Part 2: Remembering Hannah Kriss, John Carroll Class of 2012:
Grieving the loss of a young person: Words of comfort and advice from her Mom
December 11, 2014 05:11
By Patti Murphy Dohn