Priest’s suicide homily, ‘bully’ coach add to family’s grief at son’s funeral

Maison Hullibarger was a straight-A student and a tremendous athlete who ended his own life earlier this month. 

The tragic loss was devastating and the difficulty of burying their son was made harder by a priest’s homily with myriad references to suicide and the unwelcome attendance of a hard-nosed football coach who had bullied the 18-year-old.

“(Rev. Don LaCuesta) was up there condemning our son, pretty much calling him a sinner. He wondered if he had repented enough to make it to heaven. He said 'suicide' upwards of six times,” father Jeff Hullibarger told the Free Press. “There were actually a couple of younger boys who were Maison's age who left the church sobbing.”

At one point Jeff Hullibarger walked over to the priest and whispered, “Father, please stop.”

But he continued.

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"We wanted him to celebrate how Maison lived, not how he died," Linda Hullibarger told the Free Press.

The parents also said the priest tried starting the next part of the ceremony before they could eulogize their son. 

“We had to have the funeral director walk over and stop the organist," Jeff Hullibarger told the Free Press.

Church officials apologized in a statement to the Free Press:

"We share the family’s grief at such a profound loss. Our hope is always to bring comfort into situations of great pain, through funeral services centered on the love and healing power of Christ.

"Unfortunately, that did not happen in this case. We understand that an unbearable situation was made even more difficult, and we are sorry.

"After some reflection, the presider agrees that the family was not served as they should have been served. For the foreseeable future, he will not be preaching at funerals and he will have his other homilies reviewed by a priest mentor. In addition, he has agreed to pursue the assistance he needs in order to become a more effective minister in these difficult situations.

"We have been in contact with the family since learning of this situation, and we will continue to offer our support going forward."

The bereaved family also had to overcome an uninvited guest at the funeral. 

Football coach Jeffrey Wood, who the Hullibarger’s say bullied Maison and their other sons, showed up for the funeral. Wood was asked by a family friend not to attend and was asked to leave when he showed up at the church. 

"We knew Maison would not want him at his funeral,” Linda told the Free Press. “He did not treat Maison kindly. So it was our wish that he would not be there.

He left, then later made a post on social media that got the award-winning coach removed from his role in the football program, school district officials said

“I was just asked to leave a funeral by a family member of a deceased football player. If you need someone to blame, I’m your man, I’m your fall guy,” Wood wrote in a post that has since been removed the Free Press reported. “This is how society is when things go not as planned. We blame others for our own shortcomings. This tragedy is not about me or you. It’s about looking in the mirror as a human being and being real and honest with yourself.”

Wood had been coach for 11 years.

“I can confirm that he is no longer affiliated in any way with the Bedford football program,” superintendent Carl Shultz wrote in a statement. “The District holds all of its staff to the highest standards of professionalism, as personal and professional integrity is the core of our service to our community.”

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