PHOENIX — For the family or friends of an individual who dies by suicide, the pain, grief and despair can be devastating. Without a spiritual and emotional support system, the anguish can be compounded with a deep sense of loneliness.

Years later, the scars can remain.

For those who have been jolted by this tragedy, the Diocese of Phoenix is offering a tangible way to find comfort within the Church while honoring a loved one’s memory.

The diocese will hold its second annual Mass of Remembrance for those who have died by suicide on Sunday, Sept. 10, at 9 a.m. at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix. One of several being held across the country that day, the Mass coincides with the start of National Suicide Prevention Week, a campaign sponsored by the American Association of Suicidology to raise public awareness toward prevention.

Nearly 50,000 Americans died by suicide in 2022, provisional data released by the CDC show. That’s the highest number on record, according to the agency. Another 1.7 million people tried to take their lives in 2021, the latest year those figures are available.

Bishop John P. Dolan is inviting anyone affected by suicide loss to join him at the Sept. 10 Mass and to pray for victims as well as those affected by their deaths. The diocese is inviting participants to email to submit the name of a loved one to be remembered and place a flower to honor that individual before the Cathedral’s altar to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the diocese’s patroness.

The Mass will be broadcast live on AZTV Channel 7 and can be viewed online at YouTube or on Facebook.


This is the second year the diocese is holding the Mass. It was instituted last year by Bishop Dolan, less than a month after he was installed.

The bishop’s own story of suicide loss is well-known. As an 8th-grader in the 1970s, Dolan’s older brother Tom, who was around 19, died by suicide. Eight years later, while Dolan was in seminary, his 27-year-old sister Therese and her husband took their lives. Then, in October 2022, the bishop lost a third sibling, his youngest sister, Mary, to suicide.

While devastated, the bishop explained his reason for hope and perseverance through life.
“We continue to survive because we have a certain faith that God has not abandoned us. He walks with us. We trust that God is holding each and every soul who has gone before us, including those who have died by suicide, in the palm of His hand.” “I want people to know that the Church is here to accompany those who are survivors of suicide loss; to let them know they’re not alone in this,” the bishop added.

Dcn. Ed Shoener of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., who has worked with Bishop Dolan on the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, and who lost his own 29-year-old daughter to suicide, said his diocese holds an annual Mass for Suicide Healing and Remembrance. Shoener agrees the prayers and placing of flowers to recognize victims is a simple yet meaningful way to comfort loved ones.

“For Catholics, it’s a powerful symbolic gesture. It brings the light of Christ into people’s lives who are very alone. People who feel isolated.”

“To be able to place a flower before an altar; turning our grief and loved ones over to Christ and to Mary and the saints and their loving arms. It’s therapeutic,” Shoener said.
Last year, more than 1,200 individuals submitted names to the Diocese of Phoenix for recognition.


Since his installation, Bishop Dolan has promoted public education about mental health and a more robust response by the Church to those in need. In addition to his role in the diocese, he is chaplain for the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers and serves on its board of directors.

In his 2022 Homily, Bishop Dolan announced the Diocese’s establishment of an Office of Mental Health Ministry. Fueled by a grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, the diocese opened the office at the diocesan pastoral center in downtown Phoenix on Dec. 13, 2022.

The office focuses on education, accompaniment of those suffering, and advocacy for better policy and funding from the government and other sources, the bishop said. While it does not provide therapy, nor diagnose, the office provides resources and referrals to services.

It also has been educating priests, deacons, women religious and laity about mental health. The goal is to initiate a mental-health ministry in each of the diocese’s deaneries and eventually to reach each of its 94 parishes, said Office of Mental Health Ministry Program Manager Maricel Campa.

“We’ve been able to train over 100 individuals, (including) some deacons, religious sisters, priests and some lay ministers,” Campa said

A total of 15 parishes – one within each deanery — have been identified to initially take part, and Campa said training already has taken place in four, including churches in Lake Havasu City, Prescott and Phoenix. Training also is scheduled in the coming weeks at the Neumann Center in Flagstaff.


One aspect of raising public awareness is the Church’s developing approach to mental health and suicide.

For centuries, the Church operated on the belief that taking one’s own life was a sin.
Such is no longer the case. While the Catechism of the Catholic Church states “Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life” (2280). It goes on to state, “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (2282). Further, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (2283).
Amidst the changes, prayer remains a constant.

Those seeking intercession can call upon the patron saint of mental stress and anxiety – St. Dymphna. Her story can be found here:


“Hear us, O God, Our Saviour, as we honor St. Dymphna, patron of those afflicted with mental and emotional illness. Help us to be inspired by her example and comforted by her merciful help. Amen.”

Campa believes the word is steadily getting out, but much more work lies ahead.
“Within our Catholic community, there isn’t enough awareness about mental health and its effects,” she explained. “I think it has to do with the stigma and the shame.”
“That’s part of what (this) ministry is about: opening those conversations. That’s what Bishop Dolan is creating,” she said.

Campa suggests seeking out one’s local pastor as a first point of contact.
There also are resources outside the Church.

The national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline connects a trained counselor to a caller who’s either suicidal, emotionally distressed, experiencing a crisis with mental health or substance abuse. People who know of someone in this situation can call as well.
Data suggest most are still unaware of the Lifeline, though. An article published May 23 by The Pew Charitable Trusts on its website stated that an April 2023 survey of U.S. residents found that nine months after the Crisis Line’s launch – in July 2022, a mere 13-percent of Americans knew of the Crisis Line and its purpose.

Dcn. Schoener said that throughout crisis, it is important to remember that “God is in control of everything, and that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

“As tragic as (suicide) is,” he said, ‘we should never lose hope.”