Written by Carisa Giardino Thursday, 07 May 2009 15:36
Mourners collectively sang “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest…” as the draped caskets of Betty Parente and her two daughters, Catherine, 11, and Stephanie, 19, entered St. Joseph’s Church.
Eight days after news broke of their tragic deaths, hundreds gathered Tuesday, April 28, for their funeral Mass led by Bishop William Murphy in Garden City.
A Garden City school bus that transported Catherine’s middle school classmates sat outside the church. Stephanie’s Loyola College classmates left campus as early as 4 a.m. to make it to the 10:30 a.m. service.
Many reached across the pew to touch their caskets as pallbearers made their way down the church aisle. Loved ones, classmates and even those who never got the chance to know Betty Parente and her daughters sobbed for the lives lost.
An incomprehensible tragedy has left a community heartbroken. A husband and father killed his family before taking his own life. For many, their tears carry much anger; anger toward William Parente, Betty’s husband for more than 30 years and the father of Stephanie and Catherine.
The Parente family moved from Brooklyn to Garden City a decade ago. They appeared to be a loving, close-knit family active in village life. They formed lasting friendships over the years with many who lived here.
The Reverend Joseph Schlafer acknowledged how the event has left so many bewildered, speechless, angered and saddened. “The emotions have left us to ask so many questions,” he said, “because we’re actually trying to understand and make sense of what happened.”
He urged mourners though to move from the “dark side,” forming a parallel between Jesus’ death and resurrection and the Parente family tragedy.
“Perhaps we will never know or never find all of the answers we are looking for. But we come to this church to proclaim that there is another answer, a different kind of answer. That is what we celebrated just two weeks and three days ago, Easter Sunday. The answer we call the center and heart of our Christian faith is an answer that’s meant to heal us.”
Once the news hit home, stunned neighbors, friends and loved ones became ridden with disbelief. Classmates here in Garden City, where Catherine attended school, and in Maryland, where Catherine’s older sister, Stephanie, attended college, were left heartbroken, just trying to make sense of it all.
The April 19 murder/suicide in a Towson, MD hotel room drew mourners to the Parente family’s First Street home, where many left notes and flowers at the doorstep. A candlelight vigil took place at the house days later. Catherine’s teammates played a soccer game in her honor, donning pink ribbons in their hair and her number on their team shirts. A special Mass was held at Loyola College. A Facebook.com page was dedicated to the Parente family and a makeshift memorial was created at Garden City Middle School.
Profound grief brought neighbors together as they waited for Betty and her daughters to come home. Home to where Betty volunteered and often brought pastries to neighbors. Home to where Catherine played sports and attended school. Home to where Stephanie once graduated high school and left behind so many childhood friends.
The 90-minute service offered solace to family and friends left picking up the pieces. It was a chance for mourners to find peace amidst the anger and strength to move forward without them.
The first reading, Wisdom 3:1-9, spoke of that peace: “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality…”
“It is good for us to be here. So many lives have been touched and enriched by the Parente family,” Father Schlafer said during his homily.
As the Mass ended, the closing hymn, On Eagle’s Wings, echoed through the standing room only church.
As the church bells rang at noon, a group of priests gathered on the front steps to console the grieving. Eighteen pallbearers stood with their heads bowed as Bishop Murphy sprinkled holy water on the three caskets. Family members watched as Betty, Catherine and Stephanie were brought to their respective hearse. Police then led a funeral procession to St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, where Betty and her daughters were finally laid to rest.