They came from around the corner and across the globe to pay last respects Friday to a local boy who grew up to be a Marine and gave his life performing one of the Bible’s most basic commandments.
Marines wearing dress blues, Bishop Carroll High School football players dressed in the school colors of green and gold, and hundreds of other mourners crowded into St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in west Wichita for the funeral of Marine Capt. Chris Norgren, 31. He was killed May 12 when the Marine helicopter he was piloting crashed while delivering disaster relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nepal.
Honoring Norgren and all those who serve the nation “is perhaps the most noble thing we have done as a young parish,” Father Dan Spexarth said.
Norgren’s life and death mirrored that of the woman for whom the seven-year-old parish is named, he said.
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Catherine of Siena “had the greatest love for the sick and for the poor,” Spexarth said. She died in the 14th century after contracting bubonic plague while tending victims of the disease.
“She died at 33, caring for those who were in such great need, like Chris,” Spexarth said.
Norgren graduated from Bishop Carroll in 2002 — along with two of the priests who helped celebrate his funeral Mass on Friday — before serving as an assistant football coach at the school and joining the Marines.
About 20 Carroll football players attended the funeral dressed in their jerseys, and Carroll alums were sprinkled throughout the crowd.
Norgren was among six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers who died in the crash of a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter in a rugged, remote area of Nepal. They were part of a U.S. relief mission deployed soon after a magnitude-7.8 quake hit April 25, killing more than 8,200 people. It was followed by another magnitude-7.3 quake on May 12 that killed 117 people and injured 2,800.
On the day of the crash, Norgren’s helicopter was delivering rice and tarps in Charikot, the area worst hit by the second quake. It had dropped off supplies in one location and was en route to a second site when contact was lost, officials said.
“Chris did not set out 13 years ago to win the praise and gratitude of two nations; but he has – of Nepal and of America,” Spexarth said.
A delegation from Nepal came to Norgren’s funeral, bringing a floral arrangement to the service and a card for the family he left behind.
“We are deeply humbled by your son’s selfless act and we are deeply sorry for your loss,” the card read, Spexarth said.
As Spexarth eulogized Norgren, men and women alike wiped away tears.
The gospel for the Mass was from Matthew 25, which says in part, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me … ”
“These are the things that are important to God – things that Chris believed in and was attempting to do when he and his brave companions perished that day,” Spexarth said. “Chris said himself, ‘Find something bigger than yourself and devote yourself to it.’”
Spexarth urged those gathered to honor Norgren to “use Mathew 25 as a playbook.”
Nelson Mandela often said “Don’t live small lives,” Spexarth said, and he encouraged the crowd to heed that advice.
“Take the gifts God has given you and share them with others in whatever way you can,” he said.
Following the Mass, a lengthy funeral procession made its way from St. Catherine’s south on Ridge Road to 13th, then west to Maize Road and north to Resurrection Cemetery. Dozens of men, women and children lined the route to pay their respects, holding American flags that flapped fiercely in the hearty southern breeze.
Norgren was laid to rest near the front entrance of the cemetery. Even with three school buses transporting mourners to shorten the procession, the line of cars was so long that vehicles were still entering the cemetery even as the prayers at the graveside service drew to a close.
Family members were able to maintain their composure as they huddled under a green tent offering shade on a sunny, humid June day. But when a Marine Corps honor guard fired a 21-gun salute and the mournful notes of “Taps” began, they couldn’t hold back the tears.
Many in the crowd watching nearby wept along with them.