How one father found healing and peace after his son’s death: Episode 1, Dan Duddy
As head football coach at Donovan Catholic High School in Toms River, NJ, and head of the high school chapter program of Catholic Athletes for Christ, Duddy encouraged his players and his children to work as hard at growing in virtue as they did on the field. For his players, Duddy instituted a moral mentorship program, as reported here.
“Each player would regularly meet with me or an assistant coach. We would talk eye-to-eye, man-to-man, about specific virtues,” he said.
For his children, Duddy did much more; he prayed for them every day, with his whole heart:
“Every night I got down on my knees and I prayed, ‘Bring my kids back home safely. Thy will be done.’”
So when Duddy found out that his beloved fourth son, Francis Xavier Duddy, died suddenly at age 19, his first reaction was rage at God.
“I just really had an angry, angry cry to God,” he said.
Even worse, Francis died in a car accident, and the driver—Connor Hanifin, Francis’s best friend and former teammate—was drunk.
“Francis and Connor had been teammates not only on the football team, but also on the wrestling and lacrosse teams,” Duddy said. “It was so shocking to learn that someone you had been close to was responsible for the death of your son.”
Through prayer, however, Duddy gradually came to accept what had happened. He described how he finally “got the message” from God:
“Dan, Francis was my son and my will has been done and Francis is home safely.”
Accepting God’s will for his son made it possible for Duddy to pull himself and his family out of the dark valley of their mourning.
He told his family, “We’re gonna keep ourselves out of darkness and we’re gonna do it with gratitude that Francis was ever even with us.”
This focus on gratitude offered Duddy and his family profound healing. More than that, they were able to see beyond their own overwhelming pain to realize that Hanifin was mourning too, as he suffered a horrible regret that would last the rest of his life. Duddy and his family made the difficult choice to forgive Hanifin—and not just to forgive him but to do so publicly, at Hanifin’s sentencing hearing.
“You, Connor, have a responsibility to right yourself, as do we, and you can’t do that, nor can we, without our forgiveness,” Duddy said to Hanifin in court. “It would be impossible. On behalf of all the people in my life, we give you a very high level of forgiveness.”
Duddy’s extraordinary act of mercy brought healing and peace to his family.
“It’s that forgiveness that saved our family and it’s really revealed Christ to us in ways that we never could have imagined,” he said. “There’s so much light and there’s so much hope.”
Now Duddy has made it his mission to share his message of forgiveness and acceptance with others. Above all, he hopes to remind his listeners always to turn to the Cross in times of suffering.
“We’ve found the answers to our questions at the cross of Christ,” he said. “That’s where all human suffering is sanctified and healing takes place. We were able to forgive Connor through the Cross.”
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