Memorial erected for children of SEAS, Divine Mercy
Each family’s story was different, but each gathered July 11 for a common reason – they had lost a child too soon and want everyone to remember their children’s lives.
The Chryssovergeses, the deBrueyses, the Hnatyshyns, the Phillipses, the Scelfos, the Wards and their families and friends dedicated a memorial to their children at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Kenner. Several died in car accidents, one was lost at sea, one while sleeping, while another died of cancer at age 33, the same age as Jesus, his father noted.
As Deacon Drea Capaci of Divine Mercy Parish said each name, the families stood – one by one–to place a photo or mementos of their child on tables beside the memorial. Seven names are currently on the plaque: Kyle Chryssoverges, James deBrueys, Cristina Hnatyshyn, Brant Phillips, his brother Brian Phillips, Sam Scelfo III and Christopher Ward.
“We honor the seven miracles that God gave their families,” Deacon Capaci said. He mentioned how the school’s namesake, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, loved all children, so it was fitting to have a memorial at the school where several of the deceased had attended. It will serve as a place where future students can pray for and remember students who came before them.
“Most of them grew up here,” said school principal Joan Kathmann. “These are kids who represented our school on sports and other teams, and their moms and dads were involved in the school and sponsored fairs. I look at the strength that these parents have.”
Emotions were strong as Mary T. deBrueys, who with husband Jim, was instrumental in the memorial’s creation along with the Wards, read a beautiful prayer “Gather Today,” about gathering in the God’s presence as those left behind.
“We gather today to once again tend to our grief, to hear a word, to open ourselves, yet again, to God’s assuring, heal- ing presence,” she said. “We gather today in yet another attempt to live in this world that is still going on, even though it goes on without one who was so precious to us.”
Other family members took part as well. The deBrueys’ daughters, Michelle McCrary and André Cardinale, also read words from Mother Teresa and a prayer called “The Wounded Healer,” respectively; Rossana and Dave Hnatyshyn read their daughter Cristina’s favorite childhood prayer, “Angel of God”; and Chris Ward’s aunt Diana McCurnin gave a prayer that included the words, “To the happy, I am at peace. To the faithful, I have never left. I cannot be seen but I can be heard.”
The deBrueyses worked with a Baton Rouge company to create the 200-pound, solid bronze memorial. It took three men to pick it up and erect it in a prominent place outside the main entrance to the school’s office, Jim deBrueys said.
It is inscribed with a Bible verse from Philippians 4:7 “Peace is not a product of understanding why, but of trust – which passes all under- standing.” Each of the seven young adults have their own plaque with their names and date of birth and death. Space was left for additional names, if needed. And, already, Mary T. deBrueys said three addi- tional families called after the memorial to add their child’s name.
“For me, the reason it (the memorial) is important is I wanted to share something with other people who had gone through the same thing without a specific focus on one child,” she said. “We wanted everybody to have a place where there was a commonality they could share.”
If the school moves to a new home on new Divine Mercy Parish campus nearby, arrangements have been made to place it in a similar location there.
Rossana Hnatyshyn, mother of Cristina, a 2006 Mount Carmel Academy graduate, said her daughter, 17, was on her way home from LSU in Baton Rouge when her car crashed. Hnatyshyn volunteered to maintain the garden around the memorial.
“It keeps them alive,” she said, wearing her daughter’s high school graduation ring and holding back tears. “That’s what you fear the most. It’s one way of memorializing their life, to know that people care and think about them. That helps.”
Shelley and David Chryssoverges lost their only child when their son, Kyle, died in a car accident at age 20.
“It’s bittersweet,” Shelley Chryssoverges said about the dedication, “but we want them to be remembered.”
A prayer shawl, made by the Prayer Shawl ministry at St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge where the deBrueyses have moved since Hurricane Katrina, was distributed to each family.
“The most beautiful thing I heard today from Deacon Capaci was that the little children will come and pray,” Brett Ward, mother of Christopher, said. “To me, that’s angelic.”
Deacon Capaci conducted a blessing of the memorial and those in attendance.
“We know within our hearts that Jesus taught us that there is such a thing as great sorrow. ... We gather in friendship to console each other. ... As you come back to this memorial of the seven miracles, we ask God to intercede for us and our salvation. ... Eternal rest grant unto them and let perpetual light shine upon them.”
A release of blue balloons for the boys and one pink one for Cristina concluded the celebration of the life of the seven young adults.
The deBrueyses know that other families throughout the archdiocese may have experienced the same loss and might want to consider doing this in their parish.
“There is some comfort in this for families,” she said. “Parents are the keepers of the memories. It’s what you for your children.”