News outlets have touched on the stories of the Pittsburgh shooting victims. But local media provide a more in-depth look, particularly at one Jewish-Catholic couple.
Even though they’re making news, the couple’s message and legacy following the synagogue massacre is different from that of many others. Several media and political voices are pointing fingers at what they deem culprits in the deadliest attack against Jews in U.S. history, from America’s gun laws to President Trump. But the couple — more specifically, the wife of one victim — is blaming evil while also calling for love.
On October 27, Dr. Richard Gottfried was one of 11 victims killed by a man reportedly screaming anti-Semitic slurs, later identified as Robert Bowers. Gottfried, a 65-year-old dentist, had just celebrated his 38th wedding anniversary with wife Margaret “Peg” Durachko, according to The Washington Post. It would be their last.
“Do not let his death be in vain,” the widow urged in response to her husband’s murder, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. But instead of turning to politics, Durachko’s solution drew on something more tangible: ourselves and those we encounter.
“Drive out evil from your own life and help another to drive it out of their life,” she said. “The only way to combat evil is with love.”
She knows what that means. Love is something she and Gottfried exemplified during their time together — for each other and for their community.
The two dental school classmates married in 1980 and, four years later, opened a practice together. But their work didn’t stop there. Gottfried and Durachko volunteered for Catholic Charities’ free dental clinic and later worked part-time at Squirrel Hill Health Center, where they served immigrants and refugees.
“It wasn’t about him; it was what he can do for others,” Squirrel Hill Health Center chief executive Susan Friedberg Kalson told the Post.
Outside of that, the two mentored engaged couples at St. Athanasius, a Catholic Church. That’s because, while Gottfried regularly practiced his faith and even served as president of the New Light Congregation at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, Durachko was a practicing Catholic.
Fr. Leroy Depietro, a priest at St. Athanasius, called Gottfried a “cornerstone” of his Jewish congregation, the Tribune-Review reported. But he also highlighted that Gottfried would attend Mass where his wife served as a lector.
To the Post, Kalson added, “I think it was part of what made them such an unusual and extraordinary couple. They respect and admired each other’s tradition.”
Gottfried’s relatives backed up that narrative.
“It was impressive how supportive they were of one another in practicing their faiths,” Gottfried’s first cousin, Judy Weitzman, told the Post-Gazette. His 16-year-old great-nephew, Jacob Gottfried, told Time magazine that, “I thought it was so cool that he was so strongly Jewish and she was very strongly Catholic and they were able to make it work based on the love they had for each other.”
That’s the love Durachko is drawing from as she prompts others to love too — to give everything to those closest to us and to our community. And, perhaps, just as she and her husband supported each other in their faiths, the Catholic Church can support the Jewish community in its mourning.
Following the shooting, Pope Francis, along with other Catholic leaders, condemned the “inhuman act of violence” and prayed that “the Most High welcome the dead in his peace, comfort their families and sustain the wounded.” Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles added in a tweet that “we grieve as one Abrahamic family and commit ourselves to opposing wanton acts of cruelty and violence against the innocent children of God.”
Grieve, and then, as Durachko might say, fight — with love.