Military Family Considers Catholic School Home

| January 20, 2011

While Michael Murnane is deployed with the Navy, his wife, Sage, and their children, left to right, Molly, Jack and Gracie, are happy to be a part of the Blessed Sacrament School community.

By Jennika Baines

For the Murnanes, the concept of “family” is a little broader than it is for most people. Of course it includes siblings and parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It also includes the Navy, the branch of the military to which Michael Murnane has dedicated his career. But now the Murnane family includes the community at Blessed Sacrament School in Syracuse, as well. The school has become a new home and a place full of love and support for a family that has had to adapt to a life on the move.

“My son, Jack, will be 5 in December, and this will be his seventh move,” said Sage Murnane, also mom to 9-year old Molly and 7-year old Gracie.

As a military family, the Murnanes move every year or two and have had to cope with Michael’s overseas deployments. “We had deployments before we had kids and that was hard, and I learned a lot about myself,” Sage said, “but now with kids, it’s a whole different experience.”

While the military life has given the Murnanes the opportunity to meet new people, learn new languages and see beautiful parts of the world, this opportunity also comes at a cost. “My kids make friends easily, but they don’t make lifelong friends because they move so quickly,” Sage said. The children have cried at the prospect of having to start over at another school. Sometimes they found it difficult to leave their mother.

In 2009, the family was stationed in Rhode Island when Michael received his orders for yet another move, this time to Germany for three years, but then tragedy struck.

Michael’s father, Wilfred “Shin” Murnane, died unexpectedly. Before the family was to move to Germany, Michael was able to get temporary additional duty back in his hometown of Syracuse through the New York Air National Guard. The move would only be for a couple of months, but the family took the opportunity to move in with Michael’s mother, Carol, so the family could be together during a difficult time.

While the children had always been enrolled in public schools before, Michael had attended Blessed Sacrament in Syracuse and loved his time there. So Michael and Sage decided to enroll the children. They weren’t expecting the connection to be so deep and immediate.

“Within two weeks all of my kids had friends — best friends even,” Sage said. “We had orders to go to Germany in October. We were supposed to leave at the end of the month, but we just fell in love with Blessed Sacrament.”

Family always comes first for the Murnanes, and they go to great lengths to stay together, but this time they made an exception. “My husband went to Germany to find a house, and the kids and I stayed here to finish the semester,” Sage said.

They stayed for the school’s Christmas show on Dec. 23 and then boarded a plane to Germany on Christmas day. Molly’s best friend had arranged for the message “We’ll miss you, Molly!” to be put up on the marquis of The Palace, a movie theater in the neighborhood. The first-grade teacher cried when she hugged Gracie goodbye.

“My kids had a very hard time leaving Blessed Sacrament after only four months,” Sage said. “I’ve never had that kind of experience with a school. It was phenomenal.”

Once the family moved to Germany, the relationship with Blessed Sacrament didn’t end. The children Skyped with their classrooms back in Syracuse. Packages and letters were sent back and forth. Then Michael was selected to serve as a provincial reconstruction team commanding officer, a role which will eventually take him to Afghanistan. The position requires training in Washington, D.C., in the few months before his deployment in the spring.

“So instead of moving our kids to yet another school for just a few months, we decided to come back here for two years,” Sage said. “We talked to the kids about it, and they all said they wanted to come back and live with Nana and go to Blessed Sacrament.”

Sage said she couldn’t believe how warmly her family was welcomed back into the Blessed Sacrament community when they returned this September. People hugged them after Mass. Fr. Kevin Maloney, parochial vicar, welcomed Michael back by name during communion, and the children found lots of “old” friends eager to play. “You would think we had been part of this school for years,” Sage said.

“The emphasis on family and community at Catholic schools helps ease the transition for children from military families,” said Blessed Sacrament Principal Andrea Polcaro. The school has a welcome committee that pairs parents new to Blessed Sacrament with parents who are more familiar with the school. “That way each new parent has someone they can call up prior to school starting if they have any questions,” Polcaro said.

There also is a new student pizza party where current students act as ambassadors and give tours. “Fr. Peter [Reddick] comes over and greets the new families,” Polcaro said. “It’s just an opportunity for our new students to feel really welcome in their new community.”

And it is this community, as well as family here in Syracuse, that Sage and the children will rely on when Michael is deployed.

“My kids are going to be okay, and I’m going to be okay because we have an amazing support group, but I worry about my husband not being able to see [the kids],” Sage said. Michael is an amazing father, she said, and being a good dad is something he loves to do. Tours away from the family are just as hard on him as they are on the children. “I look at him and I don’t know how he does it,” Sage said

It was especially difficult when Michael missed Jack’s birth. “He was on a ship in … somewhere,” Sage said, trying to remember which deployment that was. But Michael will be there for the birth of their newest child in just a few months’ time.

For now, though, Sage and Michael love watching their children enjoy the kind of childhood they had. “The kids going to the same school where Michael grew up, staying in the same place,” Sage said. “We never thought we would have that.”

Jennika Baines is a staff writer for the Catholic Sun.

Category: Bold Initiatives, Featured

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