Reflections by Patti Murphy Dohn on the Church, family, grief, saints, and hope amidst the storms in our lives... May you always find that God is in the clouds! 

Patti Murphy Dohn retired in 2014 after 33 years of service as Campus Minister, retreat director, and Religion teacher at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, Maryland. Committed to making a difference in the lives of our youth and their families, she has served the school community since 1981. Presently, she continues her ministry through bereavement outreach, coordinating the school's alumni prayer chain, while archiving the school's history.  

Patti was awarded the Medal of Honor in Youth and Young Adult Ministry by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2012. She served the Archdiocese on the Screening Board for the Office of Vocations under Cardinal Keeler, Cardinal O'Brien, and Archbishop Lori. She is also a past-board member for the Msgr. O'Dwyer Retreat House in Sparks, MD. and Saint Margaret School in Bel Air.

Along with writing for "The Catholic Review," Patti is a member of the Catholic Press Association, as well as the Catholic Writers Guild and the Associated Church Press. She is available for speaking engagements, consulting, and retreat work.

Patti and her husband George split their time between their homes in Bel Air, Maryland and Singer Island, Palm Beach, Florida.


Twitter: @JCSMinistry

Facebook: Patti Murphy Dohn

Instagram: @PattiMurphyDohn

 God is good!! All the time!!



September 2016
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Beautiful story! thank you for continuing to inspire us Patti.


And your BFF didn't know this story? Great article to read. I,can envision it! What an amazing intuition you followed. Someday soon we will talk more!

God is in the clouds

Remembering Father Brendan T. Carr and the three most important rules of life

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

Funeral arrangements:

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

Holiday grief: Remembering the children we loved and lost too soon

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.

Remembering Xavia: 

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:

Abigail shares: 

“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):

Abigail reflects:

“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:

Allison shares:

“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.”

Compassionate Friends:

"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:

3. On the second anniversary of her death: Senior year for the Class of 2014:

December 23, 2015 04:32
By Patti Murphy Dohn

Living forward, understanding backwards: Quelling life's fears and worries

Sunset from our home on Singer Island on August 5 (Photo by Patti Murphy Dohn)


"Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
--St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians 4: 6-7


Summertime is usually a season when people focus on warm weather, beach vacations, and a much slower pace.

You know... Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer that Nat King Cole sang about in the 60's.

But times are often not that easy for some families.

Earlier this summer, I was writing upbeat, fun reflections on summertime from our home in South Florida.

As George Gershwin wrote, "Summertime and the livin' is easy..."

As I always say, Life, as we know it, can change in an instant... 

In the middle of our summer, it changed. Stories of families and individuals with devastating troubles were all around me.

And I wrote several times about the enormous worry when Austin and Perry, the 14-year old boys from Tequesta, Florida, went out of the Jupiter, Florida Inlet on a small boat and became lost at sea. This happened just twelve miles north of our home on Singer Island in Palm Beach County.

I joined forces via social media with their families and friends down here in South Florida to get prayers and info out about their plight and possible safe return. For these families, it's now been 14 days missing at sea, with the Coast Guard having ended their search last weekend. 

And, frankly, I fear these families may never have closure as to what happened (and why) to their sons. 

Read more about my reflections and prayers for the boys here:

Part 1: 

Part 2:

Living forward, understanding backwards:

When things get tough, it is easy to become consumed with worry... And to be overcome by the fear. 

For as we know, tragedy and heartache can and do hit without warning. 
Serious illness, death, heartbreak, family disharmony, and so much more... 
The worries of life could consume us. 

God works in mysterious ways and we often don't see the beauty of His Providence until later after a crisis passes by. 

Kierkegaard was right when he said, 
"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

We usually do not realize the hand of God guiding us through tough times until after we get through the worst. Reflecting back, we are better able to see "the good" that has come out of a bad situation.

The famous "Footprints" prayer comes to mind.

So today I'm praying for all those who are experiencing tough times.
Praying that they will trust in God's Providence and that their worry and fear will be replaced with peace and hope. 

Popular family blogger Rachel Wojnarowski shared a beautiful prayer on her website recently for those who are worried.

Dear God,

My mind can hardly fathom the depth of your love for me.
So when my anxious heart feels suffocated
with the mounds of worry this life can bring,
I only know to come to you.
You who know every hair on my head.
You who flung stars into space.
You who plan every step I take.
When my worry mounds and builds,
escalating to numbers that exceed my expectations,
You ask me to relinquish my cares to Your hand.
The hand that created the hair on my head.
The hand that created the starry night sky.
The hand that holds my future.
Would you give me the courage to trust You wholly?
Would you give me Your peace that calms all fears?
For that is when I am rejuvenated…
From pitiful worrier…
To prayer warrior.
Thank you, Jesus.


May you rest in the assurance of God's loving presence during your times of worry.

In good times and in bad, God is good... All the time. Amen.

August 06, 2015 02:52
By Patti Murphy Dohn

Annie’s EGGstravaganza: Reserve April 4 for fun-filled family event at Annie’s Playground

"To all that visit here: live, love, and laugh during your lives and never take for granted the time we have together”

— Memorial plaque at Annie’s Playground


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)

Remembering Annie:

Beautiful six-year old Annie McGann Cumpston had just left the circus with her three sisters and her parents on March 23, 2003 when she was struck and killed by a drunk driver while in the cross walk holding her Mom’s hand near the 1st Marina Arena.

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:
Watch Annie’s Dad, Tom Cumpston of Jarrettsville, talk in 2013 about what Annie’s Playground has meant to his family in this video by The Baltimore Sun. Click on this link.

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. 
Watch for it here in “God is in the Clouds.”


Annie's EGGstravaganza:

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.

Volunteers needed:

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:
Ryan DeVoe: 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

The sad impact of suicide: Honoring the memories of those we lost too soon

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."

Justin's story:

"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.


--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

Grief and mourning: Words of comfort and advice: Part 1

Image credit

"The great and sad mistake of many to imagine that those whom death has taken, leave us. 

They do not leave us.  They remain! 

Where are they?  In the darkness? 

Oh, no!  It is we who are in darkness. 

We do not see them, but they see us. 

Their eyes, radiant with glory, are fixed upon our eyes...Oh, infinite consolation! 

Though invisible to us, our dead are not absent...

They are living near us, transfigured...into light, into power, into love."

--Karl Rahner, SJ (1904-1984)

With the arrival of November, we realize anew how quickly time does go by. Before we know it, the holidays will here again. Such is the cycle of life.

From the day we are born, we are on the journey Home toward our everlasting life in Heaven. We try to live our lives as people of faith and hope.

"There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

--Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

November prayer intentions:

The first two days of November offer us times to pray and remember with the Solemnity of All Saints (November 1) and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day on November 2). And as we know, the entire month of November is a special time to focus on remembering those who have gone before us.

For some people, it is not easy to remember their loved ones without experiencing anew that overwhelming sense of grief and mourning.

Crisis ministry:

In an interview with The Catholic Review in 2012, I told then-Social Media Specialist Matt Palmer,

"It seems that crisis ministry has become my calling within a calling."

During my many years at The John Carroll School, I was often called upon to "walk" with families who were in crisis-mode and in need of pastoral care. Many members of the school community still turn to me now in my retirement when they are in need, or call and text when they become aware of another family who is in crisis.

It is always a humbling privilege to be there for families who are going through their darkest days, experiencing worry, fear, grief, sorrow, and a flood of other emotions.

Three summers ago, while I was in Florida for five weeks, three deaths occurred within JC families. It was important that I found new ways of ministering to the needs of my students and their families from across that distance. Creative uses of social media, along with phone calls, texting, and the use of Facetime and instant messaging became my lifelines with these families. Networking with our parish priests and youth ministers across the miles made this long-distance ministry work while I was out of town.

In actuality, this blog came about in 2012 as a result of this work ministering to families who were suffering. I call my blog "God is in the Clouds" as I write about life, faith, and Church history with a focus on God's presence with each one of us on our life journey. 

As many of you know, I have always declared:

In good times and in bad, God is good... All the time!!

Part 1 in a series on grief and mourning:

During this coming month of November, I will share with you reflections from people of all ages and backgrounds on how they have experienced grief and healing from the loss of a loved one. Included will be advice and wisdom on what has helped and what was not so helpful.

Just as the circumstances of one's death are so different, so too are the ways that persons experience the death of a loved one. There are no rules and "normals" when it comes to grief. Each individual person must determine what is best for him or her. But it does help to hear about what others have gone through and how they learned to heal their hearts.

As those in grief have found, life goes on around us even when they are experiencing deep sadness and sorrow. It is my hope and prayer that this November series on grief and mourning can offer helpful insights for both those who have lost loved ones, as well as those who are trying to support others who are experiencing loss.

This series will include entries on the loss of:

--Babies and young children;

--Adult children;



--Siblings and dear friends;

--Loss due to suicide.

--Loss stemming from non-death circumstances.

Want to share your experiences?

If you would like to join in and offer your personal input on your experiences of grief and mourning, please email me at:

I will then share with you a series of questions for you to reflect upon before sending back your comments.

You might offer an insight or piece of advice that would help another person. That's my hope for this series.

"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

--St. Augustine, "Confessions"

October 30, 2014 12:02
By Patti Murphy Dohn

World Day of the Sick: Prayers and reflections on illness, aging, tough decisions, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI



Today the Church observes the 22nd Annual World Day of the Sick, with the theme of "Faith and Charity: We Ought to Lay Down Our Lives for One Another." This annual observation was started by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1992 to pray for those suffering from illness and infirmity, and to offer support to their caregivers. This soon-to-be saint suffered greatly during the late years of his life. He wrote and spoke frequently of suffering and its connection to sanctification and redemption.



Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes:

The Day of the Sick also coincides with the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. People travel from every point of the earth seeking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary at her shrine in Lourdes, France, praying for healing miracles, both physical and spiritual. It is fitting that Blessed John Paul II placed the date for this annual prayer for the sick on a feast which honors the Blessed Virgin to whom he credited his miraculous recovery from the 1981 assassination attempt.


Another important connection to this date in history:

It was on this date last year (2013) that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI shocked the world by announcing that he had made "a decision of great importance for the life of the Church.” He told those gathered at an ordinary consistory in the Apostolic Palace that he would step down from the papacy at the end of February:

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

…. in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013 (Full text here)



Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore Cardinal Edwin O'Brien and his priest-secretary Msgr. Adam Parker witnessed the historic announcement from Pope Benedict XVI: This photo was taken by Msgr. Parker immediately following the announcement and published by The Catholic Review.



Reflections on Aging: 

I cannot imagine the anguish that the Holy Father Emeritus went through before reaching this monumental decision. He faithfully served his predecessor and saw how he suffered during the last years of his life, witnessing the harsh and debilitating effects of the Parkinson’s disease. To have the courage to take a stand, unprecedented in recent history: To be able to say now is the time, enough is enough... In retrospect, this is inspiring and courageous. I applaud the Pope Emeritus for his decision. The Church has a ‘new normal’ which will allow future pontiffs to breathe more easily when their name is announced at conclaves.

One of the most prevalent fears of adulthood is the unknown health concerns which will affect each of us as the years go by. We all hope and pray to be able to enjoy our sunset years with the ability to get around without too much difficulty, to travel, to spend quality time with our grandchildren and family, and to enjoy the fruits of our years of labor.

This hope for the future is not the reality for so many of our seniors who find themselves stricken with illnesses, many with increasingly limited mobility, and, of course, those waning levels of energy. Aging is not easy. And aging gracefully is not enjoyed by everyone. One’s health dictates the possibilities for day to day living. Since we are not given a looking glass, many people wonder what that future will look like. Tough decisions are often part of the process. I feel certain that many of the aged in our families and communities understood  the concerns that the Holy Father Emeritus felt as he shared his decision to step aside last year and begin a life of prayer for the world and the Church. Picturing him playing the piano, reading, and offering prayer in the Mater Ecclesiae Chapel brings a smile to my face.


Pope Francis and the 2014 World Day of the Sick:

Pope Francis marked today's observation with his morning tweet:

I greet all those who are sick and suffering. Christ Crucified is with you; cling to him! @Pontifex


In his first message for this annual event the Holy Father commended this day to the intercession of the Blessed Mother so that “she will help sick people to live their own suffering in communion with Jesus Christ.” Read the full message from Pope Francis here.  


Prayers for the sick and for their caregivers:


Prayer for the Sick:

God of hope and healing,

Be with those whose bodies

burn with fever,

rage with pain,

struggle for breath,

cry out for limbs that used to be,

or crave addictive substances.

Be with those whose minds and emotions

face the wait of a diagnosis,

wrestle with the choices for treatment,

adapt to a life altered by chronic illness,

recover from abuse,

or push against the encroaching clouds of dementia.

Be with those whose spirits

are exhausted by the quest for health,

doubt the existence of love,

question the fairness of life,

or stare into the face of death.

Cool the fever,

bring balm to the pain,

ease the fight for air,

adapt the body for new ways to move,

and calm the cravings.

Ease anxiety and fear.

Build trust in your everlasting love and care.

God of all, hear our prayer.



Prayer for the Caregiver:

God of comfort and strength,

Be with those

whose backs ache with the weight of lifting,

whose hands are raw from the constant washing,

whose eyes close frequently from lack of sleep,

and whose bodies feel broken and weary.

Be with those

whose anxiety cannot face one more “what if,”

whose thoughts do not dare go beyond the next moment,

whose tears have flowed until there are no more,

whose patience has worn too thin,

and whose mind and emotions have become fragile.

Be with those whose spirits

are exhausted by the demands of caring for the sick,

doubt the existence of love,

question the fairness of life,

or stare into the reality of losing a loved one to death.

Sooth the body and ease the pain.

Calm the anxiety and fear.

Build trust in your everlasting presence and love.

God of all, hear our prayer.



Today's prayers are taken from the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.

February 11, 2014 11:43
By Patti Murphy Dohn

Remembering President Kennedy: Praying for peace on the 50th anniversary of his death


This was the introduction to our morning prayer here at The John Carroll School to start our day on November 22, 2013:

 As the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Cecelia, patron saint of musicians today, we here at John Carroll join Americans everywhere in remembering President John F. Kennedy, our 35th president, who was assassinated on this date in Dallas in 1963. Today marks the 50th anniversary of his death with prayers and commemorations in all 50 states.

We pray for peace in our land as we honor this good man, our first Catholic president, whose Thanksgiving message—which was not delivered live five days later due to his death—included this statement:

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

May we live each day our own attitude of gratitude for all the good people who make our nation the land of the free and the home of the brave. We will hold a moment of silence this afternoon at the time of President Kennedy's shooting.

Let us pray:

Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth,
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father,
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me,
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take,
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment,
And live each moment,
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.


In good times and in bad, God is good. All the time.

November 22, 2013 08:55
By Patti Murphy Dohn

Let Us Never Forget: Reflections on 9-11 with Recollections from John Carroll Alumni

“Lord, take me where You want me to go,
let me meet who You want me to meet,
tell me what You want me to say,
and keep me out of Your way.”

—Father Mychal F. Judge, OFM, NYFD

 New York firefighters and rescue workers are seen Sept. 11, 2001, carrying Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain with the New York Fire Department, who died while giving last rites to a firefighter in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center. (CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

Opening Mass for a New School Year:

Twelve years ago on September 11, 2001, the John Carroll community gathered at 9 a.m. in the gym for our Mass of the Holy Spirit for God’s blessings on a new school year. Most of the students and faculty had no idea what was unfolding three hours north of us off of I-95 as we sang and prayed and listened and received.

The terrible reality of the first plane crashing into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. was known only to a few of us, one of whom monitored the unfolding horror from a television in a nearby office. By the time the second plane crashed into the South Tower seventeen minutes later and the news media revealed unconfirmed suspicions of hijackings and terrorist plots, a sense of internal panic set in among a growing number of administrators and teachers. We knew that soon we had to reveal the unimaginable to the hundreds of young people in our care, the John Carroll Classes of 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Family Concerns:

Two of my own children were JC students at that time: Meighan was a senior and Joseph a freshman. Katie was in the eighth grade at nearby Saint Margaret School . I imagine that every parent joined me that morning in experiencing an enormous sense of panic wondering where their children and family members were and if they were safe as the news from New York unfolded. I was fortunate that two of my children were right there in the gym with me at the time.

Looking back, Meighan shares that the announcement at the end of Mass by the principal who explained what had transpired was both shocking and unclear. It was not until later that day when she saw the constant replays on TV that the horror was comprehensible.

The Maggitti Family:

Later that afternoon we learned at school that Joe Maggitti, the father of one of our new freshmen, Lauren of the Class of 2005, was missing. He was at a meeting at his company's headquarters on the 94th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. A vice president for Marsh & McLennan, Joe perished along with more than three hundred of his colleagues when the first plane crashed into their building. It took over a week before we received confirmation that his body had been found. 

The days after the 9-11 attacks were filled with fear and uncertainty, bad dreams, many prayers, and lots of reassurances from a school community who sought to take care of our kids and their families. I spent a lot of time with the Maggitti Family at their Abingdon home: freshman Lauren, her dear mother Pam, and older brother Chris, and their relatives and neighbors.

Seniors Wanting to Make a Difference:

At the end of that same week on Saturday, the 15th of September, two of Meighan's senior classmates Lauren Faber and her friend Charles of the Class of 2002 actually jumped into a car and headed north going to see the unimaginable for themselves. I spoke to Lauren last year about her recollections of 9-11 and of heading up to New York.

She said that many of the students had little to no understanding of what had transpired after the announcements were made at the end of Mass. She recalled two girls talking at their lockers about how glad they were for the early dismissal as they had not studied for a test that was to be given that afternoon. Lauren said the gravity of the matter was uncertain for all of them, and that it did not hit her until she saw her drama teacher in tears after Mass.

Going back to her chemistry classroom to wait for our early dismissal Lauren recalls classmates asking about her own Dad who worked in New York. As she assured them that he worked in Long Island and was a distance from the city, it occurred to her that her aunt and uncle worked in the downtown business district. Lauren rushed to the main office where she used the secretary’s phone to get through to her Mom and get an update on her family. Her aunt was near Wall Street and actually saw people jumping to their deaths. Lauren shared with me that these images became recurrent nightmares for her aunt for months to come.

When I asked her why she and Charles drove up to NYC Lauren recalled her memories of everything being “so shocking and surreal.” She was overwhelmed with thoughts of those who were trapped in the rubble, hurt, and waiting to be rescued. According to Lauren, they drove up the New Jersey Turnpike where they could see the smoke from Ground Zero in the distance as they approached. Their car was searched before they entered the city through the Lincoln Tunnel. Parking close to St. Vincent Hospital, Lauren recalled the sad sights around them: empty stretchers on the sidewalk, fire hoses rolled up near hydrants, mountains of water bottles on street corners. The strangest part, Lauren shared, was the thick layer of dust and ash on everything as far as your eye could see. She remembers a grocery store with its delivery of fresh produce from that Monday still on the sidewalk covered in that layer of dust and ash.

Barricades were up everywhere. As Lauren and Charles walked through the streets they were struck with even more sadness coming upon a large group of officers from the NYPD, maybe twenty-five in number, who were standing together looking dazed. Lauren remembers National Guardsmen standing on each street corner, and large dump trucks driving away from Ground Zero with the words “Jet Parts” spray-painted on their sides.

Perhaps the most poignant memory of these two young people was of the large number of people like themselves who wanted desperately to help. There was very little for them to do. Lauren Faber recalls the many people who wanted to support the police and the guardsmen, but all they could do was stand outside the area by Ground Zero watching and perhaps offering water bottles. She said, “There wasn't really anyone to rescue. Instead there were signs everywhere with pictures of missing people.” Lauren was changed forever by these experiences and has devoted much for her post-academic life to serving others in need.
Remembering Joseph V. Maggitti at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (Photo Credit: Jeff Dembeck, John Carroll Class of 2008)

Today at John Carroll:

Twelve years have quickly passed. We remember and pray for all those who lost their lives on that September day when the “world stopped turning.” Mass was held in our John Carroll Chapel at 9:30 this morning and we remembered in a special way the Maggitti Family as they remember their wonderful Dad, husband, and well-loved community coach.

Lauren Maggitti is now Lauren Salback, happily married with two beautiful young children. She posted on Facebook this afternoon:

“Thank you" just cannot express my gratitude to all of you who have been there for me and my family over these past 12 years. I'm still in awe of your support and loving kindness. Thankfully, I no longer have to spend this day sulking in a corner. Though the pain is still very real and piercing at times, these times are fleeting, as I have two beautiful babies that swiftly take all of that pain away. These children have put an indescribable joy and sense of life back into my family. Callie, born just 11 days ago, has reminded me that even though… I lost my Dad whom I loved so dearly, God has now given me two precious angels to love and care for! I am spending today thanking God for them. I cannot stay down when I see their smiling faces.”

September 11, 2013 04:43
By Patti Murphy Dohn

Tragedy in Boston: Choose to Be People of Hope

Yesterday afternoon we learned of the horrific explosions in Boston near the marathon finish line. As the hours unfolded and we watched the images play repeatedly on TV, we learned of the massive amount of injuries and of the death overnight of the third victim. Many have paused and asked questions about the evil in our world today. And though we might be led to despair, rather may we look with hope to our Lord’s loving mercy and to the goodness of people in times of crisis: those who immediately turn to help without regard for their own safety, those who respond using their gifts and talents to assist those in need, and the millions who stop and turn to prayer asking our Lord to watch over all of us in these times of horrific tragedy.

My Twitter and Facebook feed was overrun last night with news and thoughts about Boston. I watched in awe as post after post on my Facebook newsfeed contained words of prayer and loving support. As always I tell my John Carroll students, in good times and in bad, God is good: All the time. His mercy and love are always with us, even when the events and challenges we face seem insurmountable. Yes, God is indeed in the clouds: In dark times we need the Light of Christ to guide our way.

The Archdiocese of Boston posted yesterday on their Facebook page: “As reports of death and injuries are reported, we ask you to please turn to the Lord each time to pray for them and for those who love them that they would receive the consolation of the Holy Spirit, the mercy of God, and the loving maternal embrace of our Blessed Mother.”

May we indeed be a people of hope, not despair, as we turn to our merciful Lord in prayer for all those affected. And may we always embrace the spiritual focus of The John Carroll School to “Go, Make a Difference.” As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Let us pray that we might always combat violence and hatred in our world, our communities, and in our hearts:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


For further reading:

1.    Telegram sent by Pope Francis, through Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., to Cardinal Sean O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap, Archbishop of Boston: 

“Deeply grieved by news of the loss of life and grave injuries caused by the act of violence perpetrated last evening in Boston, His Holiness Pope Francis wishes me to assure you of his sympathy and closeness in prayer. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy, His Holiness invokes God’s peace upon the dead, his consolation upon the suffering, and his strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response. At this time of mourning the Holy Father prays that all Bostonians will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations yet to come.”

2.    Read the statement of Archbishop William Lori issued after the explosions

4. Suggestions on how to talk to your children about the Boston tragedy here

5. How to field your children's questions when you as a parent don't have all the answers here

April 16, 2013 09:42
By Patti Murphy Dohn

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