It’s a line long used by newspaper reporters: “there was standing room only in the church.” It’s a line used most often in the context of a funeral Mass or service. There is comfort in numbers, especially when the reason for the church gathering is as sad as it was last week when a thousand or more people packed St. Mary’s Winfield Church in Woodside to mourn the death of 12-year-old Rory Staunton.
Yes, the church was full and it was standing room only. Indeed, there was precious little room even to stand and some in the congregation stayed outside in the parking lot where chairs and a screen had been set up to relay the service taking place inside.
Those outside mourned under a sky so blue that you could almost believe you were looking at heaven.
It was Holy Thursday and the gathering was not a funeral Mass as per church regulations. That would happen later in Ireland. Instead, what was delivered by priests, neighbors, friends and family was a moving tribute, a very moving tribute, to a young man who, in his short life, had shown extraordinary interest in this troubled world and had his eye firmly fixed on a future that likely would have involved flying planes and perhaps entering politics.
Many on the day spoke of Rory as a future American president. It didn’t take long to be convinced that this idea was not a stretch. The congregation heard of Rory’s personal courage, often on display when he stepped in to stop the bullying of others at his school. Listening to this, and so much more about Rory during the almost two-hour memorial, the profound sense of loss, shared in the church and far beyond it, was all the more deeply shared.
We somehow find courage in the worst of times. Parents wonder how they could ever cope with a loss so great as this. Rory’s parents, Ciaran and Orlaith, displayed a courage beyond words.
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Ciaran, with astonishing strength, spoke of his son in a way that only a father can. Despite a loss impossible to fully explain, he gave thanks for twelve wonderful years with his “pal,” his son, who, if you looked around the church, was for all intents everybody’s son at that moment.
Teachers, family friends, neighbors and priests also spoke about Rory. And so too did his uncle, Niall O’Dowd, a journalist who knows all about the standing room only line, but here was standing alone at a lectern speaking about a nephew who really was so much more, a son to him in every way that mattered.
Hearts that were already broken were broken again as it became clear, and clearer still, that Rory was a true standout from the crowd, an inspiration to others – and others of all ages.
Towards the end, one of the celebrants recited the old Irish blessing that includes another familiar line, the one in which we express the wish that until we meet again with someone who has departed this life, may God hold that person in the palm of his hand.
Here, in this place and on this holy day, an entire community, from nearby, and from across a continent and an ocean, held Rory in its collective hand, and countless individual hands.
As long as this community’s memory holds, it will never fully let him go. Rest in peace Rory.