Eulogies remember D'Agostino's 'warm spirit, keen mind'

Mourners pack Ascension Monday to hear about a modest man of considerable talent

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The funeral Mass for Peter D'Agostino took place at Ascension Church on a hot Monday morning, the church packed with 200 to 300 mourners, many faces creased with grief.

Family followed the simple wooden casket into church, most with arms around shoulders, protecting and supporting.

Fans whirred overhead and in the back of church passages from Lamentations and Revelation and the story of the raising of Lazarus were read in strong, sometimes quivering voices.

"My soul is deprived of peace. I have forgotten what happiness is," read Lynne Mapes-Riordan, D'Agostino's sister-in-law and the only family member living in the Chicago area, the woman who was stuck on an airplane at O'Hare last Wednesday when news of the murder reached her and who was not allowed to leave the plane because of security policies.

Rev. Bob Oldershaw of St. Nicholas in Evanston, who had met Peter only three weeks earlier, said in his sermon, "I share your stunned silence. What a terrible waste. What an evil, senseless act."

At the funeral home, he said, he heard family and friends describe Peter as "a humble and brilliant man, an author, a seeker, a musician, a father who always seemed to be holding a baby, a deep well, a candy jar who left so much candy behind."

The congregation prayed for a man "who lived with eyes open and a heart engaged in a search for truth and social justice."

At the end of Mass, family members came forward to eulogize their loved one. Vincent D'Agostino called his brother a "modern day Renaissance man." The youngest of five siblings, Peter was "a talented and dedicated scholar" who would talk passionately about his knowledge, but you had to coax him.

"He was modest to a fault," Vincent said.

His brother played violin, ran cross-country for Walt Whitman High School on Long Island, one of the top programs in the country, even though he had no background in the sport. He even landed the lead role in his 9th grade play, where his family was surprised to find him "tap dancing in cowboy boots."

In spite of his academic success, Vincent said, his brother never seemed completely happy until he met his wife, Mary, who "transformed him." They were married almost three years ago, and when his daughter Rita Grace arrived, he became "the perfect father."

"Peter fooled us all," he said.

His sister, Susan, said they used to sit together in the back of the family car on long driving trips, and Peter would teach her to sing harmony. They also ran track together in high school, Peter recruiting her, even though she was older.

"I loved being the harmony to his melody," she said. "The song just isn't as sweet now."

She, too, noted the happiness Peter felt in his marriage, quoting from Jane Eyre: "I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine."

"Everything changed," Susan said, "when they met. Mary will always be our sister, even though you beat us so badly in Scrabble."

Patrick Jennings, Peter's best friend in high school and best man at his wedding, talked about how being an accomplished classical violinist wasn't enough.

"He also wanted to be a great athlete. He became both."

Jennings called his coach and fellow cross-country teammates with the terrible news and was gratified by the outpouring of sentiment that filled his voice mail.

Jennings remembered a warm, approachable "wisecracker" in high school who was "passionate about everything he undertook." As with modesty, he was also honest almost to a fault.

In the last three years since his marriage, Jennings said, "Everything was coming together for him. He was contented and fulfilled, which makes what happened more painful than anyone can express in words.

"Peter gave me a lot of gifts," he concluded. "One is that it will redefine my relationship to Mary and Rita. I will try my best to continue to bring Peter's spirit into their lives."

One of Mary's sisters recalled a lullaby Peter used to sing to his daughter: "Take me in your lifeboat/It will stand the raging storm/It will take my spirit home."

She read a letter from a Union soldier to his wife on the eve of the battle that took his life, followed by three musicians playing the familiar, haunting ballad from Ken Burns' Civil War series on PBS.

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