Maison Hullibarger, an 18-year-old criminal justice student at the University of Toledo, killed himself on December 4th.
Maison's parents, who are devout Catholics, started making funeral arrangements that they hoped would celebrate their son’s life.
Maison had five siblings, parents that cared about him, and he was passionate about sports: the Pittsburgh Steelers being a particular favorite of his. His family was devastated when he took his own life.
Maison's parents, Jeffrey and Linda Hullibarger, have been lifelong parishioners of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Michigan. Despite participating in the community their whole lives, the priest who was to perform the funeral service for Maison did not know them personally.
Jeffrey and Linda met with the priest, Father Don LaCuesta, ahead of the funeral in order to introduce themselves and discuss what they wanted in the homily.
According to the Hullibargers, LaCuesta took notes as they discussed their desire for the service to focus on Maison's life, rather than his death, and they wanted to include specific themes, hymns, and scripture readings in the service.
Despite the Hullibargers' requests, things went horribly awry at the actual service on December 8th.
LaCuesta, by all accounts, completely disregarded the notes he took when he actually conducted the service, leaving Maison's family in utter shock.
“We heard he was talking about suicide,” Jeffrey Hullibarger said. “We looked at each other, and said, ‘What is he doing? We didn’t ask for this.’”
“It was his homily,” Linda added. ”It was what he wanted. He said nothing about what we asked him to say.”
As LaCuesta carried on, Mr. Hullibarger approached him to ask that he stop, but LaCuesta refused. LaCuesta continued the sermon, despite Jeffrey's request.
The Hullibargers said that they were forced to again intervene in order to share their own reflection before the recessional hymn, which they had also previously discussed. After his conduct during the service the Hullibargers asked that Father LaCuesta not accompany them to the cemetery after the service.
Jeffrey Hullibarger told local reporters, “We’re afraid that, like the Catholic Church does, they’ll send him off and he’ll do it to somebody else." He told reporters that he did not want LaCuesta doing to other families what he had done to his own. Removing LaCuesta from his position was the only recourse that Hullibarger saw as acceptable.
Before going to the cemetery, the Hullibargers spoke to those in attendance as they stood outside the church. They said that Maison "had a great impact on the lives of many people." They told those gathered that, "Our family’s message today is: please be kind to one another, reach out to those you care about, and show sincerity in your actions, and love forever unconditionally."
Holly Fournier, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, told reporters that, "an unbearable situation was made even more difficult, and we are sorry."
Fournier also added that LaCuesta will not be preaching at funerals "for the foreseeable future." She added that his other homilies will be reviewed by a priest mentor.
Unfortunately, Fournier also said that there are no current plans to remove or reassign LaCuesta from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, despite the requests from the Hullibargers. Instead, Fournier said that LaCuesta was "willing to accept the assistance he needs in order to become a more effective minister in these difficult situations."
Oh, well, that makes it all better...
Many religions, especially the Abrahamic ones: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have long had condemning words for those who commit suicide. Many faithful believe that those who take their own life will suffer eternal punishment in the afterlife.
It is such a shame that Maison's grieving parents, family, and friends were subjected to a priest's rantings about suicide. Suicide is not an "evil." It is the manifestation of people who need real help, love, and care. For this priest to actively defy the wishes of Maison's parents is intentionally and defiantly offensive. He needs to be held accountable.
I hope that LaCuesta is prevented from preaching his disturbing sermons to any other families.
If you or anyone you know might be contemplating suicide, please use the below resource:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline