By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
It’s hard to believe that autumn is upon us. There seemed to be no summer. The political rhetoric continues to be out of control providing little substance on social policy and a future direction for our nation. The virus seems to be getting a second wind and a record number of young people are overdosing and dying due to heroin and fentanyl. These deaths are escalating at an alarming rate.
Despite this troubling landscape, random acts of kindness continue. Essential workers continue to be heroic and ordinary citizens are reaching out and a making a difference that really does counts.
On the morning of Oct. 14, a local hero went home to his God after a courageous life living with ALS, having spent his life working for a cure and supporting others who have been burdened with this incurable disease.
Dr. Christopher Pendergast, a retired Northport School District science teacher from Miller Place had lived with ALS for more than 28 years — a real light in the darkness. He had been a tireless advocate for research regarding finding a cure. His public advocacy is legendary.
However, what people did not know was the thousands of people across three decades that Chris touched with his selfless compassion, love and empathy. If he knew you were diagnosed with ALS, he and his wife Christine would quietly reach out to offer support.
In 1997 Chris founded the Ride for Life which touched thousands of students and people all over Long Island. He was a prolific writer and a powerful and moving public speaker.
Two weeks before Chris died, we met to talk about his last days. He was concerned about entering hospice. He felt that after 28 years of teaching all of us how to live that maybe he didn’t do enough for others! He already planned his celebration of life after his death; from the wake to the funeral mass to his final resting place. He picked out the readings, the music and the people he wanted to participate in his services. He told me he did all of this so his wife and children would not be burdened when he passed.
On the Sunday before he died, Chris came with his wife Christine to the 12 noon Mass at St. Louis de Montfort Church in Sound Beach. That was his Mass — he went every Sunday until very recently. He and his wife were catechists who prepared young people from the parish for confirmation.
That Sunday I shared with his community that he had just begun hospice. On behalf of the community, I thanked Chris for his courage and his power of example all these years. I asked the community to extend their hands in blessing upon our brother.
At the amen, they gave him a standing ovation as a way of saying thank you. On Wednesday, October 14, he peacefully went home to God. The world is a brighter and better place because Chris Pendergast walked among us!
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.