10-year-old ‘hero’ inspired Rantoul school, community

By: By Tom Dermody

RANTOUL — St. Malachy’s School here is blessed with a caring, talented faculty, but if a vote were taken for 2010 Teacher of the Year, the unanimous winner would be an inspirational 10-year-old boy.

Family and the many friends of young Luke Remington filled St. Malachy’s Gym on April 21 for the funeral Mass of the fourth grader who modeled some of life’s most important lessons during a two-year struggle with leukemia.

“I never taught Luke a thing except long division,” said Julie Quinn, his teacher at St. Malachy’s this school year. On the other hand, she said, “we have learned so much from Luke.”

She and others who knew the baseball-loving son of Brian and Erin Remington tell how Luke modeled joy, faith, and patience while enduring hospitalizations in St. Louis and Chicago for chemotherapy treatments, a bone marrow transplant, and finally a virus that devastated his lungs.

“He never complained,” said Sister Paulette Joerger, OP, a St. Malachy’s teacher who accompanied the school choir on guitar for the funeral Mass. “His spirit just radiated. He was so courageous.”

“Luke has taught me many good things: how to pray, how to trust, how to love one another,” reads one of dozens of tributes that students scrawled in colored chalk on the sidewalks around the school after learning of Luke’s death on April 16.

Classmate Haley Pacunas spoke for many when, during prayers of the faithful written and read by the fourth grade class at the funeral Mass (see related story), she said of Luke, “He was a true hero to us.”

FUNERAL MASS IN SCHOOL GYM
The funeral Mass — celebrated by Father Michael Bies, pastor, with Father Stanley Malinowski, pastor emeritus, as homilist — was an emotional farewell that united the school and community around another lesson their little hero embodied: hope and trust in God.

“Luke today sees God, sees angels, sees us, but we see him only in our thoughts,” said Father Malinowski, who was a frequent visitor to the boy during his illness. He called Luke a “typical 10-year-old” with “a wonderful smile” who reflected the love and goodness of his parents.

He told the story of a boat getting lost in a fog. If Luke could be heard today, said the priest, he would be telling family and friends lost in grief to “steer here, steer here to heaven” by keeping their eyes and lives focused on God’s promise of eternal life.

“Luke brought people of all faiths to God,” said Sister Sara Koch, OP, parish life coordinator and former principal. The Rantoul community rallied in prayer and support around him. St. Malachy’s students prayed for him daily, with Mrs. Quinn reading updates on his condition posted on a “Caring Bridge” site on the Internet.

Sister Paulette recalled how, when Luke was in the first grade, the school had a focus on the missions. Luke studied the Philippines. Three years later, Luke was still saying nightly prayers for the people of the Philippines.

Classmates and young cousins began the funeral Mass procession by carrying carnations to place in a vase in front of the altar. Many in attendance were dressed in red, symbolizing both the boy’s love for the St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball team and the adopted color for “Luke’s League,” an organization created to support the family through t-shirt sales and fundraisers. Luke’s mother is a teacher at Fisher Grade School, which initiated the t-shirt fundraiser.

“EVERYONE LOVED HIM”
“He was just a wonderful child, a great student, and everyone in school loved him,” said Jim Flaherty, principal of St. Malachy’s School.

Last Christmas, he recalled, when the school put on the play “Scrooge,” Luke wanted to play the role of Tiny Tim because “he’s sick and I’m sick, and he got better and I want to get better.” Luke landed the role, which called for him at one point to throw his arms up and proclaim “I’m healed!”

That moment “was a tear-fest in the gym,” said Mr. Flaherty.

At his funeral Mass, a candle burned next to a framed photo of Luke. Beneath the table was a stuffed tiger, the mascot of St. Malachy’s School’s sports teams.

“He was the best fighting Tiger we’ve ever had,” said Sister Sara.

CLASSMATES OFFER PRAYERS
Classmates of Luke Remington wrote and offered the prayers of the faithful for his funeral Mass.

Lucy Rulon prayed “that from heaven he will help kids around the world who are sick to be strong and go on.” Jacob Pierce asked God to remind Luke’s parents that “all the fourth graders are here to support you and comfort you always. Every one of us will be here for you.”

Teacher Julie Quinn prayed “for all who work with children, that we love them deeply through their struggles and through their triumphs, and that we always learn from them just as we have learned so much for Luke.”

One of his best friends, Nick Schurter, couldn’t resist praying for something he knew would make Luke happy: “That the Cardinals will win the World Series, and that the Cubs fans will be able to get over it.”
After the laughter quieted in the grieving assembly, Nick added: “And that Luke’s family will be comforted.”

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