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Archives Father Looby helps child find acceptance and love

Oct. 31, 2018

By Kristina Dean
Staff Writer

Growing up in the Albany diocese forty-some years ago, I can remember my dad’s attempts to keep me still andLooby quiet in church. We had a special “language” that involved counting the times he’d squeeze my hand as I held onto him. “I love you” was one squeeze, followed by a small pause, then two more quick squeezes.

I also remember why dad kept me quiet. There had been a few times when our imposing pastor had stopped talking during his homily and waited for an embarrassed mother to take her wailing child out. One time when a parent failed to leave, he asked them to go, in an annoyed tone. Although I know most places are more tolerant, the memory stays. As an adult member of my church family with my own children now, it still echoes inside me when one of them is loud and disruptive, and I cringe internally.

I know this is a common concern; I’ve heard from many of my Catholic friends with young children. Church is meant for worship, refreshment and renewal, but sometimes going with your children can be more stressful than anything.

My nine-year-old son, Gabriel, has often caused me stress in this aspect. When born, Gabe aspirated meconium during his Ceresean section. Because of oxygen deprivation, he stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown for 11 days. Eventually, as he became older, we noticed some concerns with his behavior that we’ve been told probably stem from his birth trauma.

This developed into family trauma. Over three years, we struggled together as a family to overcome some serious diagnoses. It is very hard for me to describe, and harder still to think back to being in that dark place.

We are still emerging from it. My husband, Dave, and I were at our wit’s end, and we exhausted ourselves trying to find what he needed. We loved our son and saw the beautiful heart he had, but the many phone calls from school were overwhelming. As a teacher myself, I completely understood how his presence was causing disruption in the classroom, but Dave and I didn’t know how to help him. We had many doctor visits, counseling sessions, trying various ways to help him. I’m sure he was labeled as “trouble” and people avoided him. I prayed fervently and brought him to church. During this time, Father Christopher J. Looby was pastor at St. Joseph’s Church.

I haven’t kept track of how many times I asked Father Chris to pray for Gabe. I remember telling Father when we brought Gabe to Samaritan Emergency room for a mental evaluation. Father was so concerned, and he approached him the next Sunday prior to Mass to check on him. He hugged him and loved him, and – being a bit quirky himself – never seemed to mind Gabe’s behaviors in the pews.

One day at Mass, upon observing altar servers, Gabe asked me if he could be one. We discussed that he would need to receive his First Communion and attend Mass regularly. Although I had my doubts, Gabe seemed driven to do so. That year, my son attended our parish’s education program and eventually received the sacrament of Communion. The following weekend, he started as an altar server at St. Joseph’s.

Gabe does things his own way. He sometimes dances in front of the tabernacle instead of bowing. He moves around a lot, makes noises, and generally can be very distracting. But Father Chris never noticed, never said anything. One time at Mass, Father noticed that three people named after archangels were in attendance, Michael, Rafael and Gabriel. Ever since, Father Chris referred to Gabe as his favorite angel. Father has always seen the potential in Gabe. Just like Jesus, he sees the soul beneath.

When the Bishop visited St. Mary’s in Evans Mills for a special Mass, I heard Father Chris telling the Bishop about Gabe, how much Gabe loves being an altar server, and I could hear in his voice how much the priest loves Gabe.

Sometimes I have concerns about what Gabe wears to Mass. He is very particular about his clothing and how it fits. He refuses to wear jeans or dress pants and will only wear shorts or sweatpants. One time, he wore Crocs on his feet. As he came into church, he proudly showed Father Chris that his Crocs had Star Wars characters on them. Overhearing, I cringed.

Father Chris then pulled aside his vestment to show his own Crocs on his feet.

Thanks to Father Chris, Gabe has found acceptance and love, and a place where he is unconditionally loved. Church has become a place where Gabe is successful. During a time when he was constantly in trouble, this was invaluable.

I strongly believed – and still believe – that God gave Gabriel gifts, and that He intends Gabe to use his experiences somehow in the world to help others. I also believe that Father Chris helped Gabe to find his path, his peace.

Thank God for him.

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