Remembering a "wounded healer"

Remembering a "wounded healer" July 13, 2011

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…

Comments are now closed.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

21 responses to “Remembering a "wounded healer"”

  1. May he find rest and peace as he tumbles ever more deeply into the heart of God, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I had heard about this last week – the diocese is not too far from here.

    Very tragic.

    And do not forget what bullying brings on… Perhaps Fr. Paul can serve as a patron of those who are bullied and for the depressed.

  2. It’s heartening to see this tragedy treated so compassionately and with real concern for Fr. Paul’s flock. God bless them all….

  3. I agree with Fran’s and IC’s comments. An important lesson I take away from this heartbreaking tragedy, is that we laity must never forget that members of the clergy are human, too. Hindsight is 20/20 but I wonder: if Fr. Paul Archambault had been Mr. Paul Archambault, would his illness have been diagnosed sooner and treated more aggressively?

  4. This will be seen as cruel and inopportune, but one has to ask: when will the Church stop ordaining marginal candidates? If Archambault’s experience of bullying affected him to the point of clinical depression, was there no one to point out that it would be unjust to lay upon him the burden of Holy Orders?

    I speak as one who knows first-hand the trauma of bullying.

  5. I feel so bad for him. I’m very happy he had such a lovely funeral and Mass and that everyone had such compassion and understanding. May he rest in peace.

  6. Wow this poor priest was blest to have such a priest-friend. I am the nephew of a priest, the sibling of a priest, the cousin of yet another priest and my best friend is a priest. What have I learned that this story shows? Priests as GUYS just like any of us. They need the same things. They have the same struggles. The pressure to be “perfect Father” is taxing. Allow the priests in your life to be GUYS when with you – this is in no way a negation of or threat to their priesthood but a huge help to their humanity.

  7. @Romulus at 5:

    Good question.

    “A victim of terrible bullying all his life.” I’m assuming that includes seminary and the duration of his priesthood. What “bullying” can a diocesan priest be suffering from? He can always tell parishioners to take a hike if need be. Was his pastor a bully? Was the chancery hounding him? This article is drivel. The unexplained aspects of this suicide scream out for clarification.

    Obviously a man unsuited for the stressful life of diocesan priesthood. Instead of flowery talk at his funeral, I hope some of his formators and superiors are looking deeply within themselves at this moment. Wounded healer? Hell, more like grossly negligent priests putting a psychologically weak man struggling with chronic depression in a vocation where he would be heavily challenged– and now he is dead by his own hand. My heart grieves deeply for him.

  8. I agree with your post completely Fr Michael. This is a very tragic death, but one should not let their empathy for the tragedy or sympathy for the family blind one to real issues here. Feelings maybe sincere but they can also be a form of denial. For a man in his 40’s (which means he was a priest for sometime?) to go home and shoot his brains out is a tragedy that calls for some real answers to hard questions and I think Fr Michael’s has a good list to start with.

    The church was wrong in the past to be so rigid and refusing a Catholic funeral and burial in the case of all suicides. But it seems the pendulum maybe swinging the other way now.

    With the rise of suicide in the young, with soldiers and vets, with the elderly (whether assisted or not) this is an issue that so many face and deal with. over the years, i have known and worked with many who are dealing with terrible situations and deep depressions, and to suggest that this man might be a patron for the depressed is so condescending those who heroically deal with this everyday and do not give up and hang in there against all odds because they somehow keep the core belief that all life is sacred, give them a patron that can inspire hope and that it is worth it to choose life.

  9. To Romulus.
    Please don’t think I am being rude. I know that maybe what your saying could be true, however would you be able to touch a soul who is suffering with the same thing if you could not relate to them? The fact that Father Paul had a chemical disease can touch a lot more people because he made a bigger dent by broader amount of audience via his untimely demise.

    I digress, St. Paul himself spoke of his affliction. We don’t quite know what that might be. The fact that he was shipwrecked, beaten, thrown in prison, etc.., only helped keep Satan at bay more so spiritually(cause Satan is happy when we are not as God’s people) Paul knew when He went back to Rome it was going to mean suicide for himself but was willing to go the extra mile(pardon the pun), and God used it to spread His son’s message. God bless you though for your concern for Father.

  10. would you be able to touch a soul who is suffering with the same thing if you could not relate to them?

    Well Lisa, I maintain a very strong devotion to the blessed virgin mother of our Lord, and believe me I am not much like either of them.

    Sorry; I don’t buy the cliche that empathy is impossible. I don’t buy the notion that my concerns are of no importance to you and have no claim on your interest unless they’re your concerns also. I think this walk-a-mile-in-his-moccasins outlook is a sugarcoated invitation to solipsism, suggesting that human relationships are somehow phony unless they’re identical. I think that’s a pernicious idea, no less dangerous for being presented in sentimental terms.

    Should we ordain drunks and drug addicts as a way of ministering effectively to others struggling with substance abuse? Should we ordain proud and worldly people to connect with the proud and worldly?

    Fr. Paul’s diseased condition was a disorder that ultimately made life seem unbearable. I can’t think of it as a practical advantage, and I am confident he didn’t either. In any case, “relating to people” comes way, way down on the list of why God calls men to be priests. The priesthood is not a helping profession.

  11. Lisa,
    Please do not make the common mistake of insisting that martyrdom=suicide. The two, in this case, are not at all comparable.
    I must agree with Romulus. Don’t ordain the marginal.
    Prayers for Fr., his family and parish.

  12. I have to say that I completely disagree with those saying that father should have never been ordained a priest. First of all I believe that every priesthood is infused with the holy spirit of Christ. In other words father was ordained for a reason. I don’t purport to know exactly what Father was sent to teach, I don’t know him. But I too have experience with bullying and the emotional toll it can take on the lives of people. First from personal experience I was a victim of abuse as a child, and bullying later in life – the combined effect caused emotional turmoil that took years of therapy to remedy. Victims of child abuse are more likely to be “bullied most of their lives” (think women and domestic abuse). And prolonged abuse can lead to trauma which can cause depression, anxiety etc. However, although most psychologist, and psychiatrist worth anything know that there is a causal effect here, especially in relation to people with prior traumatic events. Society stubbornly sticks to the idea that the victim is the responsible party. “He should have been stronger” is the attitude although statistics show that just isn’t realistic. He should not have been ordained rather than appearing harsh appears to miss the suffering of this priest that should teach something. From the little I have read, Father appears to have been a wonderful priest whom I will keep in my prayers and I choose to thank God for sending him to us.


  13. Wow, the video clip was as vapid as the newspaper article. Perhaps even worse in its ardent desire to not grapple with the “why” of the death but simply remember the good the priest did it is precisely an anti-Gospel message. Something besides a chemical imbalance– which millions suffer from without killing themselves– drove this man to breaking the Fifth Commandment and thereby deeply offending the God in Whose service he dedicated his life as a priest. Will the Diocese of Springfield and St. John’s Brighton be honest enough to face this or not?

    The only bright side of the clip was that it was a seminary drop-out and not a priest spewing nothingness into the air.

    I’m sitting here typing this with tears in my eyes. How awful! His poor family!

  14. Can we not ever find charity on this blog? Always the justification of holiness as a shield for cruelty, small-mindedness and and show of no dignity for the human person.

    Why do I continue to come here and expect something different?

    Jesus must weep.

  15. Fr. Michael:

    Vapid? Perhaps you would have preferred that the newspaper article and video were lively and animated.

    Maybe if you read some of the comments to the newspaper article, you would see another dimension to this story, e.g.,

    “Personally never met Fr Archambault, but anybody I know who has met him only had beautiful, respectful things to say about him. R.I.P. Father”

    Fr. Michael, please review your seminary notes on Being Pastoral 101.

  16. FrMichael…

    I’m delighted to know that you can see into the heart of a young, seemingly happy priest and discern why he would make the horrific choice to take his own life. And it’s certainly enlightening to discover that you know how God feels about his tragic decision, and that you (and a few others around here) have decided it was prompted by some sinful lack of character or moral deficiency. It certainly couldn’t have been some inborn imbalance — after all, lots of people have them and don’t kill themselves, for God’s sake!

    Speaking on behalf of those of us who know and love people who have struggled with mental illness: you are beyond the pale.

    The catechism puts it plainly: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

    2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”

    All of us are in need of grace. All of us are need of prayer. All of us fight daily battles in our lives. Some of us struggle through the agony of living better than others. Not all of us find the support, friendship, consolation, medication or sympathy that we need. Not all of us have the courage to admit we need help — and sometimes we don’t realize it until it’s too late. And sometimes forces that are simply beyond our comprehension take hold and take the choice of life and death out of our hands.

    Pray, FrMichael, that you never find yourself in that position, and that people you love never feel that sense of hopelessness or despair.

    Pray for this young priest, his family, his parishioners, and all those who are living with the consequences of this terrible, heartbreaking, soul-crushing event.

    I’m closing comments. ‘Nuff said.

    Dcn. G.