SHU Community and Alumni Remember Father Michael McLernon
|From left are Fr. Jerry Ryle, Darlene (Harris) Koosa ’01, Cheryl Janus ’01, Kelly Libby ’99, Debra (Ventunelli) Venech ‘00.|
Alumni from as far as New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island gathered on Sunday, February 28, at Sacred Heart University’s Chapel of the Holy Spirit to remember and celebrate the life of the late beloved former campus chaplain, the Rev. Michael McLernon.
Father McLernon died on Christmas Day 2009 at the age of 77. He headed the University’s Campus Ministry program until 2000.
His impact on students during his tenure at Sacred Heart was powerful and meaningful, and the resounding theme throughout Sunday was that Fr. McLernon taught students about faith, hope and love, and the call to help others.
While Fr. McLernon preached the gospel during Sunday Mass, he also lived the word by taking part in many of Sacred Heart University’s volunteer programs and service-learning opportunities and helped lead students to live a purposeful life. He called on students to have courage in the face of everything, and reminded them to always look to Christ for strength and guidance.
The scene outside the chapel prior to the Mass almost resembled a class reunion as alumni caught up and got reacquainted with classmates, some even with children in tow, and others who were with child. Among those gathering in the chapel included University President Anthony J. Cernera, Ph.D., Michael Iannazzi, associate vice president of Institutional Advancement, former assistant vice president of mission Sister Margaret Palliser and Eilene Bertsch, who served as assistant vice president for Academic Affairs.
|President Cernera honored Fr. McLernon's memory and spirit during the mass.|
Sacred Heart’s Director of Campus Ministry, the Rev. Jerry Ryle, officiated at the Mass, and began his homily by reading a reflection that Fr. McLernon penned on the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 after he finished a homily during Mass. Reflecting on a trip to El Salvador following a visit to Archbishop Romero’s church, Fr. McClernon wrote that “at the same altar, I began to understand a future who belongs to those believers willing to die to gain it. I caught a glimpse, a fleeting scene, of the Kingdom yet to come but already here.”
Ordained in 1957, Fr. McLernon was a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa. He had also served as a parish priest and campus administrator in Virginia and New Jersey. Since 2000, Fr. McLernon served as Associate Director of Spiritual and Human Formation at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Franklin, Wis.
“Fr. Michael was a wonderful human being, a devoted disciple of Jesus and proclaimer of the Gospel who proclaimed the words of the Gospel from his own life’s journey and his struggle to be a man of faith and a man of hope,” said Dr. Cernera. Dr. Cernera reminded the current students and alumni in attendance that Fr. McLernon used the gospel to teach students “to live lives of justice and mercy" and that it was their responsibility to continue the faith story that began 2,000 years ago.
“Father Michael was a very inspirational person in all our lives,” added Cheryl Janus ’01 of New Jersey. “He was also a personal counselor to me and helped me get my head on straight when it came to job searching and the stresses that go with that. Now he’s watching over us all.”
Laurie Nagy’s connection to Fr. McLernon was also powerful and everlasting as he helped her find faith. “I didn’t have a religion when I came to Sacred Heart University, and I met Fr. Michael just prior to my freshman year during Community Connections, and I got more involved with Campus Ministry during my sophomore year and he helped me find God,” said Nagy, who graduated in 2002 and lives in Bolton, Conn.
“There will never be another Fr. Michael. He used the gospel to comfort us and to also challenge us,” said Tricia Leonard Pasley, who worked with Fr. McLernon in Sacred Heart’s Campus Ministry.
Colleen McGrath Rondon ’98 said she met her husband, Henry Rondon ’96, when both took part in the Encounter with Christ retreat weekend, and attributes their meeting to Fr. McLernon. The Rondons, who are now parents of three young children and reside in Ansonia, became close friends with Fr. McLernon and he married the couple in 2000.
Others fondly remembered the 9 o'clock Sunday night Mass Fr. McLernon celebrated each week, recalling his powerful homilies that gave strength and meaning as they embarked on a new week. The hymn “Thy Word” was played during Sunday’s Mass, which brought the crowd back in time because it was a favorite of Fr. McLernon’s and it was a ubiquitous presence at Sunday Mass where Fr. McLernon would often break out in clapping when it played.
“He was a man who was completely and fully dedicated to the mission of Jesus and he brought that to life to a whole generation of students,” said Sister Margaret Palliser, who until 2006 served in many capacities at Sacred Heart University including assistant vice president of mission.