By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – In the ordinary course of events Colleen Smith should have been on her way home from school at 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 12, or just hanging out with her pals from the junior class of Cardinal Dougherty High School. Instead, all of those friends were in the chapel at Dougherty, but Colleen was there only in spirit. It was a memorial Mass for her and the chapel was jammed.
She died sometime after 10 p.m. the night of Aug. 3, just three days after her 16th birthday. Colleen, out with her friends, started for home and as young people too often do, somehow ended up on the railroad tracks. She was struck by a commuter train, and her young life, full of joy and promise, was snuffed out.
The Sept. 12 Mass, celebrated by school president Father Carl F. Janicki, was a way to help the school community deal with the loss in solidarity with her parents Dorothy and Brian Smith and their five surviving children, Michael, Jacqueline, Monica, Dorothy and Brian.
“There is no way to explain what happened,” Father Janicki said in his homily, “but there are opportunities and lessons we can take from this.
“Such moments,” he said, “are moments of strength in communities because they are founded on Jesus Christ. It is the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary from which believing people gain their strength.”
A great gift we have, Father Janicki reminded the students, teachers, friends and family, is the gift to remember the good things they had with Colleen as their good friend.
For himself, he remembers Colleen, who was a member of the softball and volleyball teams and a talented artist, as funny and full of energy. She drew a simple sketch which she gave him last school year. He did not realize at the time this drawing, which he displayed at the Mass, would be his most concrete memento of her.
If Father Janicki spoke of strength, it was Colleen’s own mother who most exemplified it to the students at the close of Mass. Although the family has membership in St. Cecilia Parish, Dorothy Smith does music ministry at St. Matthew School, and sometimes Colleen would give her a hand.
Through sharing joyful memories of her daughter to whom as an infant she sung “Our Irish Colleen,” Smith lead everyone at the memorial in song – making what could have been a sad event a joyous one, totally in keeping with the Christian hope in the Resurrection.
“It’s always a difficult time when we lose a loved one, especially a child,” remarked school minister Deacon Steve Guckin. “It’s wonderful to have that strength and grace and share it with everyone.”
Students, too, had fond memories of their classmate. “I went to Dorney Park with her,” recalled Melissa Griffin, a junior. “She was always happy and fun. Even if she was having a bad day she tried to help others.”
The memorial Mass, which both her family and friends very much wanted, did exactly what it was intended to do.
“There is always sadness when we lose a young, vibrant member of the community,” Father Janicki said. “Our faith helps us along. I can’t imagine dealing with it without faith.”