Newton community mourns murdered elderly parishioners

NEWTON -- The community of Sacred Heart and Our Lady Help of Christians Collaborative has been clinging to their faith and community while reeling from the murder of three elderly parishioners.

Gilda "Jill" D'Amore, 73; her husband Bruno D'Amore, 74; and her mother Lucia Arpino, 97, were found dead in their home on June 25. The D'Amores left behind three children and five grandchildren, as well as other relatives.

The D'Amores were supposed to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary at Our Lady Help of Christians Church that morning. When they did not arrive for the Mass, a friend went to their house to check on them and found the family dead from apparent blunt force and stabbing injuries. A suspect, Christopher L. Ferguson Jr., was arrested the following day and ordered held without bail during an arraignment on June 27.

Paul and Ginny Arpino sent a message to parishioners on June 26, referring to the D'Amores as their cousins and to Lucia Arpino as their aunt. Paul Arpino is the long-time choir director at Our Lady's, and Ginny Arpino is the collaborative's coordinator of pastoral care.

They remembered the way each of their deceased relatives participated in the life of the parish. Bruno D'Amore, who was "known for his big voice and his exuberant personality," could be seen flipping burgers at the parish picnic, while Jill D'Amore took on "the ministry of beautifying our church's environment."

"Without a single day of liturgical training she simply followed her heart, caring for the flowers and decorating for the liturgical seasons. She spent endless hours in the care of our church," the Arpinos said.

They said Lucia Arpino and her husband Alberto sat in the "North End" section of the church for over 60 years. Until the coronavirus pandemic, she never missed a 10 a.m. Mass. The Arpinos said Lucia will be "especially missed" at the upcoming Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Festa weekend, an event at which she had "faithfully" participated in the procession even into her 90s.

In a June 26 statement, Father Dan Riley, the pastor of the collaborative, said they were "immensely shocked and saddened" by the elderly parishioners' deaths, and offered "heartfelt sympathy and many prayers" to their family and friends.

He also expressed "deepest gratitude for the incredible love and support" shown by parishioners, staff, police, counselors, and government personnel, who have been "so solicitous, compassionate, and helpful."

"The agony of this tragedy is all too real. God's love working through you is also real. Likewise, Jesus' resurrection is real. This means that, as we deeply, deeply grieve, we do so with the support of each other and with confidence that, in the end, good defeats evil and life conquers death," Father Riley said.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley was in Rome at the time of the tragedy, but said June 27 that he would offer Mass for the deceased family at St. Peter's Basilica, and that he would remember their parish and the entire community of Newton in his prayers.

"As priests, we serve to minister to people in times of great loss and tragedy. Often words are not enough to help families and friends come to terms with the loss of a loved one. We look to God for answers. We seek to understand. Often, we simply cannot make sense of what has happened. But our faith sustains us, and in this moment of enormous pain, we know that God is with us always," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He said that Gilda and Bruno D'Amore and Lucia Arpino "loved Christ and the Church" and "lived their Catholic faith proudly."

He also expressed gratitude for the parish community and surrounding Catholic communities "coming together to support and care for each other."

"With God's help, we will remember the gift of the lives of Gilda, Bruno, and Lucia," the cardinal said.

A Mass for peace, followed by prayer through song, was held at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in the evening of June 27.

In his homily, Father Riley acknowledged the "shock, loss, and painful grief" that the community was experiencing. But he also pointed to the hope provided by Jesus' Resurrection.

"We are grieving, and at the same time we are not hopeless. We have confidence about the future based on the fact that Jesus is risen," Father Riley said.

He said the deceased are now "where there is no violence."

"Because Jesus is risen, they are in Heaven, where even the beauty of the flowers Jill arranged for Our Lady's, or joy from the taste of Bruno's Limoncello, is surpassed," he said.

He pointed out that the tragedy had brought out the community members' care for each other.

"You embrace each other, listen compassionately, and are not afraid to say to each other: 'I love you.' And I know this love and support will live on long after the media coverage fades. God's love is tender and never ending, and so is your love," Father Riley said.