In Wake of Student’s Suicide, Catholic Parents Call for Safe Schools

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Daniel Fitzpatrick

Catholic parents of LGBT children are expressing their sorrow over a teenager’s suicide in New York, as well as their commitment to ensuring Catholic education is safe for all students.

Daniel Fitzpatrick died by suicide on August 11, having faced intense bullying from classmates at Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Brooklyn. He left a note in which Fitzpatrick said, “I gave up. The teachers didn’t do anything. . .I wanted to get out.”

The Board of Fortunate Families, an organization by and for Catholic parents of LGBT children, released a statement on Monday saying it was “saddened to hear” about Fitzpatrick’s death:

“We on the board of Fortunate Families are painfully aware that any child who is badgered and bullied is at greater risk for isolation, marginalization, depression, and sadly, suicide. Catholic Social Teaching holds that all of our children are persons who deserve life, dignity, respect and the freedom to live their potential to the fullest. All our children deserve to be educated in environments that embody that social teaching.”

A board member who lost a child to suicide acknowledged that suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults and that suicides are deeply painful for the families and communities left behind. As they bury their son and brother, the Fitzpatrick family is considering, too, how to end bullying. A crowdfunding page which sought to raise money for unexpected funeral expenses has now raised more than $120,000. The family said they wish to use these funds to “give Daniel a proper memorial, as well as shine a bright light on the bullying that killed him. . .and allow for his legacy to live on.”

The student’s father, Daniel Fitzpatrick, posted a heart-wrenching video to Facebook. He spoke lovingly about his son, and affirmed his own commitment to intervene against bullying if he encounters it, including against LGBT youth:

“No parent should have to bury their child. No child should have to go through what my son went through. . .Bullying unfortunately is an epidemic. It ain’t right. . .If I ever see any child in my life from now on and I witness them and I see doesn’t matter if its boy, girl, straight, bi, transgender now. If they’re bullied, I will knock them out.”

Though Fitzpatrick did not identify as an LGBT person as far as anyone knew (he was bullied about his weight and his grades), his death is a moment for Catholic educators to reflect on the myriad ways in which schools are made unsafe. This includes problems for students of diverse sexual and gender identities, and students who may be questioning their identities. The Fortunate Families Board continued:

“We call on all involved in Catholic education to re-double efforts to prevent bullying and assist each child to reach their full potential, regardless of physical attributes, academic achievements or other characteristics which may make a student seem ‘different.’

“Although too late for Daniel, we are glad to see that the Brooklyn Diocese is re-examining its bullying prevention policies and training, and we pray that these also apply to students bullied because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Catholic education intends to form young people through faith to live flourishing lives, and to live authentically as themselves in service to others. As such, the church’s educational ministries should be sanctuaries for young people to come to know themselves, discern deep questions, and feel God’s love. Mercy and inclusion should be the hallmarks of every Catholic school. Earlier this week, educator Kevin Welbes Godin of Egale Canada wrote about the work Ontario’s teachers have done to create safer Catholic schools for LGBT students.

That good work is happening elsewhere, but is not widespread enough yet, and it is not happening quickly enough. As another school year begins, and we pray for Daniel Fitzpatrick and his family, let us each consider how we – as parents, as students, as teachers, as alumni, and as the faithful – might contribute so that Catholic education is safer and more inclusive of all God’s children.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

7 Responses to In Wake of Student’s Suicide, Catholic Parents Call for Safe Schools

  1. Tom Bower says:

    How tragically ironic it is that the school is called Little Angels. One must ask where is the American Catholic school’s leadership when it comes to bullying? The American bishops are way out front when it comes to making sure that no one who is associated with anything favorable about same sex marriages is near the children in Catholic schools, as the group of firings during the last few years indicates. Yet when it comes to making certain those same children are safe from a fearful abusive environment, to use a recent commentor’s phrase there is deafening silence. A few years ago, members of Dignity/Washington DC asked Cardinal Wuerl to issue a statement opposing bullying in diocesan schools. To date nothing has been announced as perhaps that would appear to be soft on a stance against LGBT behavior – a presumed source of bullying targets. As this young man’s death shows living in a fearful school situation is bad for all students and every effort should be made to eliminate it.

  2. Bob says:

    Are you assuming that Daniel is a member of the LGBTQ community? And that his suicide is a result of church orthodoxy and orthopraxy related to sexuality?
    I may have missed his affirmation of any sexual orientation.
    Thanks

    • Loretta says:

      I believe contained in this article and the original posted by Fortunate Familes that each was clear that there was no evidence to even suggest that he was gay or transgender. I think the connection is bullying in schools for myriad personal characteristics. For this child it was grades and weight. Peace.

  3. […] is most important when it comes to anti-bullying initiatives targeting youth. Yesterday’s post on Bondings 2.0 about teenager Daniel Fitzpatrick’s suicide, as well as the memory of Sergio Urrego in […]

  4. Mary says:

    he was too gentle to live Among Wolves. you and your son are so close that you will never ever ever be separated. he will always be with you and watching over you. and that no matter what you say he was lucky to have you for his dad now and forever and that can never be taken away. God has plans for those boys who bullied your son their lives are not over yet and we don’t know what they will go through.

  5. Jonaflor custodio says:

    We live in bacolod city,philippines.my grandson goes to this school wherein a sign is posted in the building that says:ANTI BULLYING ZONE..students are informed to tell their parents,teacher and principal.as parents or guardiams we should always ask our kids,”HOW IS SCOOL TODAY,ANYTHING NEW OR SPECIAL YOU WANT TO TELL US” or rest sssure a child never to be ashamed or afraid to tell whats wrong..do something right away,go to the school,talk and investigate such actions.

  6. D.E. Cantor says:

    Reblogged this on D.E. Cantor and commented:
    An incredibly tragic story! In a world where it is far too common for people to accuse any who disagree with them of bigotry and bullying, I wish with all my heart that people would stop watering-down the meaning of those words, muddying the seriousness of the harm done to vulnerable people because of real bigotry and bullying and that we as a culture would get serious and do something to never again allow a situation in which a child would feel fearful to go to school, so saddened about his mistreatment to consider suicide or so angered by what he must endure every school day that he would decide to bring a gun to school and kill other children.

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