If you drove by St. Joseph’s Church on Hooper Avenue in Toms River late yesterday afternoon or early in the evening you probably noticed a long line of people outside trying to get inside. 

Francis Duddy and his parents Dan and Maura (Tommy Farrell)

They came by the hundreds if not the thousands to in many cases say goodbye to a young man who in 19 short years made a lasting impact on the lives of his family, friends and just about all who came in contact with him.   I stood in that line for almost two hours, most of it spent just inside the church’s doors where we moved inches at a time.

I did not know Francis Duddy well, having met him a couple of times at football games where he was introduced to me by his father Dan who is the head football coach at Monsignor Donovan High School.  On one occasion when I came in contact with him I told Francis I would likely forget his name just as I have done with all 7 of his brothers and sisters.  With apologies to Danny, Michael, Keenan, William, Aileen, Annah and Grace the one Duddy child I will never forget is Francis Xavier Duddy.

Waiting in the church I and others watched an endless video with pictures that are now indelible memories.  Francis making his communion, playing football and lacrosse for the Griffins, graduating high school, on family vacations, just being with his friends and family.  There is one common trait in just about all of them: a smile that tells you this was a young man who would squeeze the last bit of fun out of just about every day.

Since his passing in an auto accident last weekend I have also learned that Dan and Maura’s son liked to dance and many of his friends have alluded to that in the memories they shared.  I even came across a video in which Donovan football players had to take a zumba class and right in the front strutting his stuff was Francis. I hope it’s a memory that will last for many of his teammates because it’s a great one.

The show of love and support yesterday should not have surprised me as the St. Joseph’s/Monsignor Donovan community is a close-knit one and in times of sadness comes together.  When you add in the large Duddy and Sheehan families I should have known that getting there at the scheduled start time of 4pm was not soon enough.

As I was walking to the church I ran into Pastor Scott Shaffer who thought for some reason that I was related to the family.  I responded that I’m one of the few Irishman in Ocean County who is not a Duddy or Sheehan relative.

Yesterday though we were all part of that family and we’re heartbroken.

Video by Tom McHale, a  good friend of Francis and a freshman at Quinnipiac. University in Connecticut.