On Dec. 4, 18-year-old University of Toledo student Maison Hullibarger died by suicide. Maison was a passionate, straight-A student and stand-out athlete adored by friends and family. Instead of celebrating his life, Don LaCuesta, the priest presiding over Hullibarger’s funeral, questioned suicide in the eyes of God. LaCuesta’s actions highlight the need for a better understanding of mental health and suicide in some Christian communities.
Hullibarger’s funeral was held at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Mich., on Dec. 8. The priest’s homily, which was released by the Archdiocese of Detroit, began with a message of hope before focusing on the church’s teachings on suicide as opposed to celebrating Maison’s life. LaCuesta said in his speech:
We must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right. Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth — that taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits.
According to Hullibarger’s parents, Linda and Jeff Hullibarger, they met with LaCuesta in advance and asked that he focus on Maison’s life, not his death. The Hullibarger’s told the Detroit Free Press they discussed their wishes in detail and LaCuesta took notes. During the service, however, LaCuesta focused his homily on suicide, even after Jeff walked up to the pulpit and asked him to stop.
“He was up there condemning our son, pretty much calling him a sinner. He wondered if he had repented enough to make it to heaven. He said ‘suicide’ upwards of six times,” Jeff told the Detroit Free Press. “There were actually a couple of younger boys who were Maison’s age who left the church sobbing.”
I was honored to offer some perspective on this story, both as a former pastor and a suicide survivor. Click here to read the rest of this story on The Mighty.