After a bus crashed on its way back to New Mexico from a Catholic youth conference in Denver, reports have emerged that the seminarian on board, Jason Marshall, may have given his life to save the kids on board the bus.
According to witnesses and the family of Marshall, the 53 year-old tried to regain control of the bus, after a reported medical incident with its driver, 22 year-old Anthony Padilla.
“He saw the driver in distress, grabbed the wheel and prevented the bus from flipping,” Marshall’s brother Jeff told Staten Island Live. Although studying to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, most of Marshall’s family lives in New York.
His quick thinking and selfless action may have been what saved the lives of the other 13 passengers on board, including 10 teenagers.
"A bus that big and so top heavy carrying that kind of momentum, it could have been absolutely disastrous. It could have been so horrible," Father Rob Yaksich, a priest of the Sante Fe archdiocese, told local ABC affiliate KOAT Channel 7 News.
But that Marshall would have sacrificed his life to save others does not come as a surprise to friends and family who knew him.
“Jason never walked away from any incident if he could help,” Marshall’s mother Diane told Staten Island Live.
Matthew Gubenski was a fellow seminarian of Marshall’s at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. Though they were in different years in school, the two spent at least an hour together every day in their dormitory kitchen.
“It was a pretty close-knit house,” Gubenski told CNA. “I have dietary restrictions so I have to cook most of my meals, and (Jason) likes different food, or he likes to make coffee, and we spent about an hour in the kitchen every day either making coffee or breakfast, or frequently cleaning up other people’s messes.”
“He and I really tried to make that kitchen far more of a social place than most dorm kitchens can be,” he added.
The two became close over their kitchen chats and cleaning up messes. As the assigned kitchen coordinator of the year, Gubenski said he was grateful for Marshall’s help in reminding the other guys to clean up after themselves. An older vocation, Marshall had spent some time before entering seminary as a health inspector for restaurants in New York.
“He was pretty helpful in reminding the guys, ‘Hey, there’s a reason why you wipe up the counter after yourself, it’s because of germs, it’s not just an aesthetic thing,” Gubenski recalled.
A popular guy, Marshall was involved in the school’s Senate, and despite being older than most of the seminarians, Marshall was one of the best athletes, Gubenski said.
But even more valued than his kitchen cleanliness or athletic ability was that Marshall had a way of making people feel listened to and loved, Gubenski said.
“One thing has struck me since (the crash),” Gubenski said. “I knew that (Jason) was good at talking to people...but I didn’t realize how close everyone there felt with him. You hear stories about St. John Bosco, how every single kid in the oratory felt like they were his favorite. Jason was always ready to listen, and really get you inspired, and help you in whatever way you needed to be helped. And I didn’t realize he had done that for so many people.”
One thing that Marshall would get really “fired up” about was the need for good men as priests, Gubenski recalled.
“No matter where it started, there would always be a point in that conversation where he would get fired up and say: ‘Priests have to be men! They have to be ready - they have to be shepherds and they have to be ready to stand up and potentially lay their lives down,’” Gubenski said.
When Gubenski heard that Marshall gave his life trying to prevent the crash, he thought: “That was exactly Jason, for him to get up there. He did what he’d been talking about all year.”
The crash has brought the men from the seminary closer together, Gubenski added. They are checking in with each other now more regularly over their summer break, and they are remembering Marshall with memorial Masses and in prayer.
And they are looking back at what they loved in Marshall, and trying to emulate him in their own lives, Gubenski added, including his love for people and his love for the Lord. Marshall was usually the first person in the chapel, and the last to leave, he said.
“I know that each of us has been inspired to just try to be to other people what we saw Jason doing,” Gubenski said.
In teaching catechesis this week, Gubenski said he was asked by the kids when they should start discerning God’s will in their lives.
“And I said, ‘Right now. You have to ask God right now, what is it you want from me? You have to try to grow in virtue right now.’ And Jason did all of those things.”
The Archdiocese of Sante Fe held a memorial Mass for Jason June 26.
The precise cause of the bus crash is still under investigation.