AURORA – Vehicles lined the perimeter of the parking lot of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, horns honking, and people cheering and waving as they drove by and greeted Sister Lu Haidnick.
Haidnick, who worked for Our Lady of Perpetual Help for 24 years, is leaving the parish to go to Pittsburgh to continue her work. So the community turned out Monday, June 29 to bid her farewell. More than 70 vehicles paraded through the parking lot, many decorated with balloons, streamers and signs, and several people left gifts for Haidnick, who greeted everyone and gave many virtual hugs during the evening. Vehicles included a fire engine from the Aurora Fire Department, several police squad vehicles and Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin. One vehicle’s occupants came up from Youngstown.
"This was an awesome turnout," said Mac Clapp, the director of faith formation. "I’m so glad everyone came."
Haidnick, who grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, has lived in Aurora as well as served as the pastoral associate at the church. She is a member of the Sisters of Divine Providence whose Provincial House is in Allison Park in Pittsburgh, where she is going back to for her new calling. Haidnick said she isn’t sure what her new responsibilities will entail.
The bulk of her work has been at Our Lady, "which is sort of unusual, but it was a blessing," she said. She added she was grateful for a place to work that was close to where her parents lived, so she could also look after them.
Before she joined the Sisters of Divine Providence, Haidnick graduated from The University of Akron with a bachelor of arts in business and physical education. She worked in insurance offices, which helped pay for college, she added.
"I had a life before this life," Haidnick said.
Haidnick worked at Dover High School, where she taught business-related courses and coached volleyball. It was in Dover, Haidnick said, where she met a member of the Sisters of Divine Providence.
"We became friends, and I started exploring the possibility," Haidnick said. "I joined in 1986."
She earned a masters in religious studies, with an emphasis in theology, from the University of Dayton, and served at the St. Joseph Parish in Dover as pastoral minister before coming to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in June 1996.
What will Haidnick miss most about Our Lady of Perpetual Help?
"The hugs," she replied immediately. "More people say how that human touch is so important, and it is. Unfortunately, now we can’t do it. I’m going to miss everyone a lot."
Many people coming to the car parade, a party made socially distant due to the pandemic, had signs saying how much they would miss her hugs. One person gave her two hugs bags, another put the word "hugs" all over their vehicle.
Clapp said the planning for the surprise drive-by party started about a month ago, when the church was planning its parish feast day, which also honored Haidnick.
"One of the parishioners said ‘we should do a parade for her,’" Clapp said.
The surprise event was advertised on Facebook and through email, said Clapp, who added Haidnick was not on social media.
"The Father [Shawn Conoboy] just told her to be here at 7," Clapp said. "We told her we had a special meeting."
Conoboy, who came to the parish in September, said he knew her before coming here. He lauded the connection she had with the parishioners.
"I was glad to work with her the past few months," he said. "I don’t even know all the ways I will miss her."
Gannett reporter April Helms can be reached at email@example.com.