Instead of delivering the homily the Hullibarger family expected from Fr Don LaCuesta for their son Maison, 18, the priest used to funeral to tell mourners that the youth may have ruined his chances of getting to heaven by ending his own life on December 4.
Jeff Hullibarger and his wife, Linda Hullibarger, who live in Temperance, Michigan, said they had met with LaCuesta well before the funeral, going over in detail what they expected in the homily to be delivered at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, even watching the priest take notes in their meeting.
Maison’s mother, Linda. said:
We wanted him to celebrate how Maison lived, not how he died.
Instead, when LaCuesta gave his homily to hundreds of mourners and family members, he banged on about the “sin” of suicide while “almost smirking.”
The teen’s dad, Jeff, said:
We couldn’t believe what he was saying. 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.
There were actually a couple of younger boys who were Maison’s age who left the church sobbing.
The bereaved father at one point walked to the pulpit and asked the priest to “please stop” but LaCuesta continued with statements denouncing the way their son’s life ended.
The Archdiocese of Detroit later said in a statement:
We share the family’s grief at such a profound loss. Our hope is always to bring comfort into situations of great pain, through funeral services centered on the love and healing power of Christ.
Unfortunately, that did not happen in this case. We understand that an unbearable situation was made even more difficult, and we are sorry.
After some reflection, the presider agrees that the family was not served as they should have been served. For the foreseeable future, he will not be preaching at funerals and he will have his other homilies reviewed by a priest mentor.
In addition, he has agreed to pursue the assistance he needs in order to become a more effective minister in these difficult situations.
We have been in contact with the family since learning of this situation, and we will continue to offer our support going forward.
The funeral was further marred by appearance of of their late son’s high school football coach, Jeffrey Wood, who’d bullied Maison him and their other sons. Although Maison’s mother said she requested through a friend that Wood should steer clear of the funeral, the showed up anyway, then was asked to leave.
Jeff Hullibarger said:
We’ve had four boys who played for him. He’s been bullying kids for many years.
The teen mum added:
We knew Maison would not want him at his funeral. He did not treat Maison kindly. So it was our wish that he would not be there.
Wood then posted a snarky message about his removal from the service, which in turn led to the termination of his coaching duties.
Bedford Schools Superintendent Carl Shultz said in a statement that the the coach:
Is no longer affiliated in any way with the Bedford football program.
Wood had also been teaching history in the district, and it was unclear whether he would continue.
The superintendent’s statement also read:
The district holds all of its staff to the highest standards of professionalism (but) recently received allegations that those standards may not have been met by the coach. Therefore, we are in the process of thoroughly investigating those allegations.
The district will take appropriate, firm, corrective action if the allegations are substantiated. To protect the rights of all involved parties, I cannot offer further comment regarding ongoing personnel matters.
The Hullibargers said they appreciate the sympathy they’ve had from numerous people in Monroe County after losing their son, who was a freshman at the University of Toledo and studying criminal justice. They said they especially appreciated the contributions that donors made to a GoFundMe site that will defray their funeral expenses.
Without the assistance, “this would’ve been financially devastating for us,” Jeff Hullibarger said. As of this morning (Saturday) the site had raised $17,670 in pledges.
The couple said they’ve always been steadfast Catholics — Maison’s middle name Donnelly was the last name of a kindly priest who married them — but they’ve pledged not to return to the church where their son’s funeral took place.
“Absolutely not,” Jeff Hullibarger exclaimed. To which Linda Hullibarger added: “No, no, no!”
The Archdiocese did not make LaCuesta available for comment. On the church’s website (currently offline), a page devoted to “Father Don LaCuesta” says he grew up in the Philippines, attended Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit and was ordained in 2006, then lived for a time in a Catholic order’s house in Grosse Pointe before becoming a church pastor.
LaCuesta’s goal, the priest states online, is:
To be part of the revival of Catholic culture.