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Oak Lawn family members, young boy laid to rest

Pallbearers accompany casket after services for Contfamily Saturday St. Linus Church Oak Lawn.  |  John Booz/For Sun-Times Media

Pallbearers accompany a casket after services for the Conta family Saturday at St. Linus Church in Oak Lawn. | John Booz/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 10, 2014 6:37AM



One day after 5-year-old Matthew Meier was laid to rest, some 200 family members and friends gathered inside St. Linus Church in Oak Lawn to bid farewell to his grandparents, John C. Conta, 67, and Janice Conta, 68, as well as his uncle, John P. (JP) Conta, 36.

To the hymn “Be Not Afraid,” three caskets were wheeled into the church.

According to police, on Feb. 26, the younger Conta shot his parents and nephew and then set fire to the Oak Lawn home he and his parents shared before shooting and killing himself while in a car in the home’s garage. Investigators have not revealed a motive, but one source told the Chicago Sun-Times that the younger Conta had argued with family members during a birthday party for Matthew the previous day.

The Rev. William Corcoran, formerly of St. Linus Church and now pastor at St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Orland Hills, officiated Saturday’s funeral Mass. Saying he knew the family well during his time in Oak Lawn, he described John C. as a gentle giant and Janice as his outgoing counterpart.

Corcoran commended the couple for their service to the church and said: “We know their lives were far larger than what happened to them 10 days ago. We know the type of people they were, the friends they had.”

He described Matthew as an inquisitive, delightful child who loved to learn, and who frequently tagged along with the Contas.

Corcoran also tackled a question that seemingly loomed large.

“What do you say (at a time like this)?” he said, adding, “You begin with the elephant in the room, the elephant of madness, of mental illness.”

It is easy to understand physical illness, he said, especially when it is well documented.

“If one day, many years from now, (former vice president) Dick Cheney succumbs to heart disease, no one will be surprised,” he said.

The same for Cardinal Francis George, who openly has struggled with kidney cancer, he added.

Sometimes illness is not readily apparent, he continued. Mental illness can take people by surprise, he said.

“But mental illness does happen,” he said. “And when it explodes ... we are astounded and we are angered and we are saddened.”

Corcoran described JP Conta as a bright individual who was good at math and who spent time teaching in California as well as in Thailand, China and Japan before returning to his parents’ house in the south suburbs.

When the events of that fateful day were over, Corcoran said, “I imagine Janice reaching a hand to Matthew and grasping it. And then John reaching a hand to Matthew and grasping it. And then John reaching a hand to JP and grasping it,” he said. “I imagine Janice saying to the three of them, ‘Let’s go meet God.’”

Corcoran said, “That’s what people like John and Janice do — they take that which is broken and with deep faith and love bring it to God.”

On Friday, family and friends filled Living Word Lutheran Church in Orland Park, singing clearly and strongly songs such as “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” to say goodbye to Matthew.

The young boy was remembered as “his mom’s little man and his dad’s buddy.”

The Rev. Steven Lange, who noted the close bond between the boy and his parents, said the preschooler was “a gift of God given back” to him.

A Scripture reading from Romans, selected by Matthew’s family, reminded those gathered to mourn the boy that “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Family and friends also prayed to God for comfort, giving thanks for “giving him to us to know and to love in his time on Earth.”

Lange said that Matthew was “inquisitive, inquiring,” wanting to know how everything worked, then wanting to demonstrate to family once he’d acquired a new skill. Lange said he understood the people sitting in his church were also inquisitive, wanting to know why the boy’s life was snuffed out at such a young age.

“I’m as clueless as the rest of you,” the pastor said.

As with any senseless loss of life, “it hurts, it doesn’t make sense and it’s not fair,” Lange said.

He said Matthew “had a childlike faith, not just in God, but in the people who told him about God.

“That’s all it needs to be,” Lange said of that childlike faith, to “grasp what we don’t understand.”

Burial for Matthew and the Contas was to take place at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.



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