I am going to take sort of a break from the subjects of this blog, but in the end it will be relevant. As an alumnus of Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg MD, and having been a seminarian there for an additional three years, I can say that the university is pretty tight-knit. We have less than 2,000 students, and when I started that number was even lower. We don't have a lot of tragedies hit our campus; we haven't had riots in a long time, we haven't had guys with guns trying to shoot people. And when someone dies who is either a student or a faculty member, they are usually far and few between. My first five years here there was one death every two years. This year, that number changed drastically. We had four this year.
First there was Sr. Joan Gormely, a Scripture professor at the seminary who taught seminarians for almost 20 years. She died after a long struggle with cancer. And even though the seminarians knew the eventuality of her death, it was still very sad to actually see it happen, and no amount of preparation that we can spiritually and emotionally make could have prepared us for her passing. I had her for a class called "Prayer according to Scripture", and it was a hard class. She was a lion in the classroom, but as gentle as a lamb elsewhere. She will be missed.
Then we had Dr. Emilio Rodriguez, a popular and eccentric political science professor on campus. I always knew he was around when I sensed the smell of a cigar. His wife works in the seminary as an assistant to the academic dean, and she is indispensable. They have such a great family. Their son is in the military and just got married. His death came expectantly. His death was announced by the rector one morning at Mass, and I was completely in shock over it.
Then there was Dustin, a fun loving senior who was to graduate this past May. He fell over a balcony and there was irreparable brain damage. He died a short time later. He was a popular kid; he ran track, a lot of people liked him. I never once even saw the kid until after the accident, and I didn't know him. When someone I don't know, but a lot of other people do, dies, I get a sense that I wish I did know him. I had the same sense with Dariusz two years ago, a seminarian who died. It was my first semester, and I hardly knew him, but I wish I had.
I really have that feeling today, when I learned of another death in the Mount family, a member of the class of 2009 name Nicole. I didn't recognize the name, but I looked her up on Facebook, and I definitely knew the face. She was taking classes over the Summer, and she was somehow involved in a car accident. I saw her a lot on campus. She is Catholic, and I probably would have seen her at Sunday Mass, and maybe at other Catholic events, had I gone to those things (I went at different times). I don't know if she went to daily Mass, but just from my impression of her, she seemed the type to go. She seemed devoted and determined in what she did. She lived her life Catholic, something that is nothing short of heroic in this day and age.
Why do people die so young? Why did this sort of thing happen? This morning when I read the news about her, I couldn't help but think of my younger cousin, Kevin Stavely, who died almost a year ago in a car accident. I remember the emotions that people had; she and Kevin were both very popular, and had good friends. Good friends are a great blessing. Good family is a great blessing. It is so much easier to go through life with good family and friends.
I don't have the answer as to why this girl died, or why Kevin died, or why my cousin Mickey died two years ago. But there has to be a reason. Life isn't random. Things happen for a reason. Death is one of those unfortunate results of what is called Original Sin. As a result of it, we die, and in a lot of cases, that death is rather violent: a car accident, a bombing, suicide, homicide etc. What I always fall back on when there is a death of a loved one or someone close to me, is that God loves us, and sometimes, what we think is the best, is sometimes not the best. I am sure the reader can think of an instance where they wanted one thing and they got another, and it turned out better than they expected. I am not suggesting that this will turn out better than expected. God doesn't create this evil that kills people in car accidents. He allows evil to occur so that good things may happen as a result. If he didn't allow this evil, then he would be interfering with our free will, which is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. When Kevin died, there was a great evil that took him from this world. But a lot of good followed it. His mother became very devoted to her Catholic faith, the kid sentenced for vehicular manslaughter converted to the Catholic Faith, and there are other good things that came from it.
Now, despite these good things, I know I wish Kevin was still alive, and this girl's family will wish she is still alive. In the end, I can't explain why she died. At times like this, it is so important not to get mad at God; that doesn't help, believe me. It is specifically at times like this that we should cling to God even tighter. This is the time for religious awakening in our lives, the time where we look at ourselves and ask, "If I die in a car accident today, am I ready to greet God? Am I contrite?" We know that Christ has overcome death by His own death; we can be saved, not by what we do, but by God alone, who has overcome death.
Please know of my prayers for the family and for all those who mourn the loss of a great friend. She is a great gift to all who knew her, and she continues to be a great gift. Ask her to pray for you, and pray for her. And know that she is still with you, just in a different way.
Eternal rest grant onto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.