By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
NORWOOD – Three teenagers were buried within three weeks this month from St. Gabriel Parish in Norwood, Delaware County.
According to police, the deaths of two of the victims were ruled suicides, while the cause of the death of the third student had not been determined.
Father Samuel A. Verruni, pastor of St. Gabriel Parish, served as the principal celebrant and homilist at three funeral Masses for the three teenagers, all of whom were students at nearby Interboro High School, a public high school in Prospect Park.
According to the Chester city police department, Dominic Marchesani, a senior, was found hanging from the neck by a rope on March 17 in Chester. The cause of his death was still under investigation at press time.
According to news reports, on Feb. 25 sophomores Gina Gentile and Vanessa Dorwart were struck and killed by a train near the borough station in Norwood. Their deaths have been ruled suicides.
Just one month earlier, on Jan. 19, Bill Bradley, a junior at the same high school who reportedly was a peer of Gentile and Dorwart, was accidentally struck and killed by a car as he was riding a bicycle in Glenolden, according to news reports.
The deaths of the teenagers have shocked and saddened the St. Gabriel Parish community. “The biggest thing I’m hearing from people, when they speak to me one-on-one, is that they feel like there’s a senselessness. They’re completed baffled,” said Father Verruni.
The majority of those reactions, he said, have come from adults who have endured their share of crosses in life with “a virtue called patient endurance,” or an unconditional reliance on God.
“I feel like so often our young people have trouble with patient endurance,” the pastor added. “Maybe it’s part of the culture we live in now – things are so instantaneous, or final.”
Father Verruni cited as an example how televised quiz shows frequently ask for one’s “final answer.” However, “people are learning that final answers are hard to come by because there’s always more to the story,” he said.
As Easter approaches, the faithful are reminded of the resurrection that followed Jesus’ death, Father Verruni continued. “The stone in front of the tomb looked so final to those that were present. Yet, for God, that wasn’t the end of the story – and that’s what we have to hold on to.”
Among other ministries and resources, St. Gabriel Parish provides a bereavement team for all parishioners and a support group for parents whose children have died.
In response to a recent request from parishioners to provide additional prayer opportunities at the church in remembrance of the deceased teenagers, the pastor recommended the chapel of St. Gabriel Church, where on Thursday exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is regularly celebrated after the 8 a.m. Mass until 7 p.m., concluding with Benediction and, during Lent, evening prayer.
“It’s a quiet place, it’s a peaceful place” in which to bring all petitions to the Lord, Father Verruni said.
As another outreach opportunity, the parish’s home and school association has set up a schedule for parishioners who have volunteered to take turns providing meals for the families of the deceased teenagers.
St. Gabriel Parish is part of a ministerium of Christian churches in Norwood that, in collaboration with Interboro High School and other community organizations, have provided counseling opportunities and prayer venues for youths affected by the tragedies.
For those who are concerned about the welfare of the deceased, Father Verruni references the Church’s teachings, specifically the importance of “being mindful of God’s mercy.” He cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” (CCC, 2283)
Father Verruni also points to St. Paul, who in Scripture underscores the importance of hope.
The pastor said his message to teenagers is to hold on to that “Christian hope, where God acts in ways that we would never even begin to imagine.”
In every aspect of life, “we can never lose hope that God can still act,” Father Verruni said.
In his homily at Vanessa Dorwart’s funeral Mass on March 6, Father Verruni presented three posters, each of which were inscribed with the same 12 letters but with different juxtapositions: “Godisnowhere,” “God is nowhere” and “God is now here.”
Faith, Father Verruni said, relays the latter, that “God is now here,” even in the midst of tragedy.
At Gina Gentile’s funeral Mass on March 8, Father Verruni quoted Psalm 95: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” The pastor’s message, he said, was, “We have to really try to hear God’s voice.”
Dorwart, Gentile and Marchesani were interred at SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Springfield.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.