By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
When news reports surfaced that a 20-year-old Medford Lakes man had died in a military training exercise in Alaska, faithful from the Burlington County town rallied to offer support to his grief-stricken family.
Spc. Nicholas Peter DiMona III was fatally shot March 30 during a live-fire training at the Donnelly Training area near Fort Greely, Alaska.
DiMona’s death elicited gatherings of prayer and remembrance during a community-wide candlelight vigil. Compounding the grief of mourners was the memory of the death of DiMona’s father, Nicholas DiMona II, who was killed in a military training accident in 2014.
Though neither Nicholas III, nor his mother, Melissa, were members of Medford’s St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Father Daniel Swift, pastor, was among the first of the town’s clergy to pay his respects and assure Melissa DiMona that his parish, its ministries and people were available as needed.
“It is commonly understood in the Church that a pastor has care for all of the people within his parish boundaries,” Father Swift said, stressing the continuing call to preach and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, ensuring that the spirit and the message of the Gospel comes alive through the parish’s outreach to others.
“Needless to say, opportunities to minister to and pastor all within the parish boundaries, Catholic and non-Catholics alike, are few and far between,” said Father Swift, who noted that when he learned the DiMonas did not have a parish of their own, he “thought this was a good opportunity to fulfill this responsibility.”
Though Father Swift had never met DiMona, he soon learned that all who knew him, “felt fortunate that he had touched their life” and recalled that DiMona “wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and serve in the U.S. Army.”
In speaking with Melissa DiMona, Father Swift said he also learned about the close relationship between mother and son who “often had the same thoughts and … could complete each other’s sentences.”
When the decision was eventually made to have the funeral in St. Mary of the Lakes Church, once DiMona’s body was returned to New Jersey, Father Swift and his parish staff, including those in bereavement ministry, mobilized in helping Melissa DiMona with the arrangements, which included the Mass of Christian Burial celebrated April 16.
Father Swift also noted that parish bereavement meetings for those mourning the loss of a loved one are also available to DiMona’s mother if she would like to participate.
In his homily during the funeral Mass, Father Swift acknowledged, “When Jesus talked about ‘giving his life as a ransom for many,’ he was talking about what he was willing to do for others. In so many ways, a soldier’s heart is synonymous with the Sacred Heart of our blessed Lord. … He was inviting us to live a life that is as concerned about others as it is about oneself. It’s not about me. It’s about the one next to me, and the one next to him. It’s about all of us, and what we can do for each other.”