As I watch my community stagger and reel from the blow we have been dealt, I have thought almost constantly, “What can be done?” The sinking feeling, the nagging thought that creeps in is: “Nothing.”
We as parents find ourselves in the position we all dread: watching helplessly as our children are in pain. As they ask us the question we cannot answer: “Why?”
The facts and figures released in the announcement from Bishop Barres — are they reasons? No, I don’t think so. They are justifications for a decision Bishop Barres made unilaterally. A “difficult,” a “painful” decision. Perhaps he is sincere; it is cold comfort for us. He does not face these young people, who have given so much of themselves, who have so much love in their hearts for their school, for one another, for God.
I have been quite surprised at the depth of my personal sadness. Although it seems overly dramatic perhaps, it feels like a death. It is the sick feeling in the stomach, the inability to think clearly, the ready tears that fall instantly and often, of true grief.
I watch members of my community — of my Mercy family — as they try to take action: meetings, news interviews, Facebook groups. The students have started a petition on change.org. We ask each other “What can we do?” and “How did this happen?” and “Did you see this coming? I didn’t.” Over cups of tea with another parent who is my friend and neighbor, whose son is a junior, (a boy I have known and loved since he was 2, and who played with and has been friends with my daughter, a senior, and my son, a freshman, since they were babies) we discussed: What will we do? Why does this hurt so much?
I know why: Because it feels like our larger family in Christ has abandoned us. The diocese has made a “financial” decision.
But that decision was made like the decision a board of directors makes, in the privileged secrecy of a boardroom, to sell off an unprofitable branch of a bank. Not like a family who sits together at the kitchen table to discuss our brother, who cannot make his mortgage payments. The discussion was not: How can we help? How can we assist you in finding ways to other income? Can we help you find a smaller house, with a lower payment you can afford? What can we give you that we have plenty of for ourselves? Perhaps you have sat together and talked over other options; we don’t know that — because we were not invited into the conversation.
It felt mercenary. It is no wonder that rumors abound that this is all part of a plan to sell the Riverhead property to the hospital next door. The bishop made it about money, so that’s what people are saying. The bishop said the diocese has spent too much money already “subsidizing” us. As though Bishop Barres were giving us his money. That money came from us — from the baskets passed in the churches of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. It doesn’t belong to him. Perhaps he is in control of that money, but it doesn’t make it his.
I have been a lector at my parish for 13 years, and one reading keeps coming back to me as I write this letter: Corinthians 1 Chapter 12.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ …
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor …
It seems to me that Bishop Barres looked at the Mercy family as a part of the body that can be discarded.
We are the body of Christ, Bishop Barres. We feel like a part that has been cut off and cast away.
As I considered what my role in this should be, I sought counsel from a family friend, a retired priest. He thought it was my way to be a voice to tell the bishop how we feel, how this has affected us. To show my children how to speak up and stand up for what is right, even if it cannot change the outcome.
As I thought about this, I was reminded of St. Catherine Labouré. I have worn a miraculous medal for a long time; I have always felt a special devotion to her. Now her story comes to me again, and I am reminded that her gift was not just her visitations from the Blessed Mother, it was also the strength to persevere, to continue to tell her story to the priest under whose authority she found herself. He would not listen; he would not hear her. Yet she persisted in telling her truth. Finally, his ears opened, he believed her, and miracles followed.
St. Catherine of Labouré, pray for us. Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us.
The author is the parent of two students at Bishop McGann-Mercy High School. She’s a 19-year parishioner at St. John the Baptist in Wading River.