Shore Parish Ministers to Families of Suicide Victims

Sr. Pat McNiff, OSF Around the Province

This story was submitted by Sr. Pat McNiff, OSF, a staff member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. She and several others launched the Survivors of Suicide ministry, which helps families remember loved ones who fell victim to suicide. HNP Today welcomes reports like this about programs and people; representatives of parishes, schools, friaries  and ministries of Holy Name Province are engcouraged to e-mail information to the Communications Office.

BEACH HAVEN, N.J. — As Jo and Roger entered St. Francis Church here one Thursday morning, Jo whispered toStephen Kluge, OFM, who was the presider for the Eucharist that day, ”Would you remember our daughter Heather today. She committed suicide and today is her birthday.” 

Out of this revelation was born the Survivors of Suicide group, which meets on the second Thursday of every month at St. Francis. Each month, there is a gathering of people who are “forged together by tragedy and united in hope.” The Survivors of Suicide come together to share the raw pain of having lost a son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother, friend or sibling to suicide.

The mystery of suffering is faced each day for the living survivors as they continue to go about the tasks of daily life, the things that most people take for granted — getting up in the morning, eating a meal, enjoying a walk. Yet, each of them continues to go forth relying on the goodness of God to bring them, the survivor, to resurrection, to an experience of knowing that the one they loved in life is now at peace with the God who is love. Each time we gather, there are stories of how much loved ones are missed, stories of better times when loved ones were alive. But even in the midst of pain, there is laughter and hope. Like Christ’s journey to Calvary, people are present to minister to those in anguish. It is awesome to see how one reaches out to be present to another, to journey with the other to a place of courage and trust.

On the Second Sunday of Easter, the Church celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday. It was on this day, that Thomas Conway, OFM, Sr. Kate Murphy, and Sr. Pat McNiff, along with about 40 survivors, gathered at the Eucharist to celebrate the lives of those who have died by suicide. Family members and friends were invited to bring a picture of their loved one to be placed around the altar at the Eucharistic celebration. 

For the intercessions, each person prayed aloud for the one they were remembering. During the Eucharistic Prayer, Tom read the names of the 35  people who have died by suicide. Tears were shed and peace was  exchanged, and life triumphed in communion with the Body of Christ.

The evening ended with refreshments in the hall, where stories were exchanged. It was together in this place that fear and hope collided. Here again, the stone of death was rolled away and all went forward knowing that we are not alone. We have each other, and God is in our midst.

— Sr. Pat is on staff at the Province’s four-church parish of St. Francis of Assisi on Long Beach Island.