Priests and parishioners gathered yesterday to pray for the repose of the soul of a young Massachusetts priest who took his own life last week:
His fellow clergymen remembered the Rev. Paul Archambault Tuesday as a “wounded healer” who devotedly performed his work as a priest despite a long-time clinical depression brought on by bullying.
Archambault, 42, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head on July 3 at Sacred Heart Parish rectory in Springfield, shortly after he failed to appear for Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Hampden.
The night before, Archambault had comforted a family in the emergency department of Baystate Medical Center, where he served as chaplain.
Friends and family of the Northampton native packed his funeral at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church on King Street, along with some 50 priests and deacons and a color guard from the Knights of Columbus. Members of the Hampden Police Department, where Archambault was also chaplain, carried his casket out of the church and into the hearse following the funeral Mass.
In his homily, the Rev. John Lessard, a former pastor of Our Lady of Guadeloupe Parish in Holyoke and Archambault’s long-time friend, said the late priest was “a victim of terrible bullying all his life.
“He never fit in,” said Lessard, who heard Archambault’s confessions in addition to their long personal talks. “Paul had come to believe the lie that he was not accepted because he was unacceptable.”
Nonetheless, Lessard said, Archambault was “wounded healer” who gave comfort to others despite his depression.
“What you saw of Father Paul was absolutely real,” Lessard said. “It was as real as it gets.”
News of Archambault’s suicide shocked Catholics throughout the Pioneer Valley. Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said he did not know of any other priests in the diocese who had killed themselves.
Considered a mortal sin, suicide carried a heavy stigma in the Catholic Church for centuries. In the past, those who took their own lives were denied church funerals and burial in consecrated grounds. The church has softened its stance on suicide in recent years, however.
Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, who presided over the funeral Mass, told the congregation that Archambault was devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and that his soul would be committed there. Afterwards, McDonnell said the church recognizes that mental illness is often associated with suicide and that compassion should be shown to those who lose their lives that way.
“We’re all very familiar with physical illness, McConnell said. “What we don’t realize is that sometimes the same is true of mental illness. We don’t recognize it easily.”
According to McDonnell, the diocese has a mental health support system and informs its priests on a regular basis of the services available. He noted that Archambault showed no obvious signs of distress in the days preceding his death, attending a prayer service, visiting a school and ministering to the family at Baystate.
Lessard struck a similar note in his eulogy, comparing Archambault to someone with a serious physical ailment.
“Would you blame a man with Parkinson’s Disease for his illness?” he asked. “Of course not.”
Lessard gave voice to some of the questions that have been haunting Archambault’s survivors: How could a priest do this? How could God allow it to happen? He said that Holy Orders, the sacrament that conveys priesthood, is not a magic cure for mental illness.
“Troubles increase as the evil entity fights with all its might to take a priest down,” he said
As for God’s role in Archambault’s suicide, Lessard said God doesn’t kill but allows things to happen as part of His “permissive will.” God’s intervention, Lessard said, comes in the form of the gift of Christ, “His only begotten son.”
“Don’t be angry with Father Paul,” he told the congregation. “Don’t be afraid for him. If you can take anything from this situation, start praying for Father Paul. Like his stature, his priesthood was short and strong.”
The report notes that the congregation applauded at the end of the homily.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…
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