It was the worst kind of Mass, or perhaps the best.
Worse for the Kleenex box that shared space with communion wafers, quickly emptied and replaced; worse for the drawn faces of mourners, the shaky smiles that were only a few words away from tears.
But it was better for the packed pews and crowded staircases, the biggest crowd Seton Hill University's St. Joseph Chapel in Greensburg may see all year. And when the resolute line of women's lacrosse team members swallowed hard, took each others' hands in their own, and laid their bouquet of flowers at the feet of the church -- well, no one could say there was anything but good in that.
Seven hundred or so mourners Sunday attended a service honoring Kristina Quigley, the 30-year-old head lacrosse coach who died in a bus crash Saturday morning while traveling with her team. With wounds on campus still fresh, students and church officials, including Greensburg Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, turned out en masse to pay their respects.
The lacrosse team sat in the front row of pews, clad in their Seton Hill Griffins jerseys. It was only a day after their tour bus ran off the Pennsylvania Turnpike, killing their coach and the driver, Anthony Guaetta, and you could read that on their faces.
Faith Finoli stood closer than most, helping administer the Eucharist at the close of services. A sophomore at the university, she spent Saturday morning dialing and re-dialing her friends, checking in with roommates, trying to figure out if the team was safe.
A day later, when the broken team arrived home, she felt her duty as a student was clear. When school leaders asked her to help administer rites, she said yes.
"The amount of people who came here today show the strength of Seton Hill," she said.
Twenty-three people were aboard the bus when it ran off the road at 9 a.m. in Carlisle, state police said. Ms. Quigley was flown by helicopter with three others to Penn State Hershey Medical Center, where she died.
She was pregnant, and her unborn son did not survive.
The team was on its way to an afternoon game with Millersville University. It was Ms. Quigley's second season with the team, fresh off of 11 victories last year. School officials aren't yet sure if they'll play again this year.
In a traditional Catholic service centered on rite, there was little room to dwell on the particulars of Ms. Quigley's life. Speakers instead spoke on the scriptural significance of their grief, the unhappy accident that it fell just two weeks before Easter, a time of death and rebirth in Christianity.
"In the face of our ever-so-painful loss, may our prayer be one of great hope," said the Rev. Jeremiah O'Shea, the university's sacramental minister.
To Molly Robb Shimko, the university's associate vice president for institutional advancement, the surest sign of that hope is the empathy she's seen from others: the hundreds of emails, the condolences on the university's Facebook page, the phone call from the first man at the scene of the crash, who watched as the teammates brought blankets and consoled their coach, staying with her until she was taken away.
"It's a day of great sadness," she said, "but also a day of thanksgiving."
Andrew McGill: 412-263-1497 or email@example.com First Published March 18, 2013 4:00 AM