Ms. Hennessy: Creating a Legacy for Luke

Sofia Espaillat, staff writer

New Providence Middle School is full of hardworking and caring teachers, dedicated to providing their students with an innovative learning experience and a motivating environment. However, most students never get the opportunity to learn the entire story of their educators. When it comes to Ms. Hennessy, this teacher has deep roots in the NPSD and has faced a challenge like no other. 

For 29 years, Ms. Hennessy, previously Mrs. Gregorio, has been teaching at the middle school. While many assume that going into teaching may have been an easy decision, it required Ms. Hennessy to think: “My first semester [I] was a sociology major, and then I kind of, like, didn’t know what I would do with that. Teaching was more concrete.” 

In addition to being involved in New Providence for so long, Ms. Hennessy has lived in Union County her “whole life, other than college.” She grew up in Union, and currently lives in Clark. She has a 23-year-old son, Kyle, who “went to the Marines right out of high school” and a 20-year-old daughter, Maeve, who is a sophomore at the University of Delaware.

Ms. Hennessy also had a son, Luke, who passed away on December 26, 2000, just three days before his scheduled birth date.

“We went to the doctor [on] December 26,” said Ms. Hennessy, “and there was no heartbeat.”

She described it as a “freak thing,” stating that there was a knot in Luke’s umbilical cord. If Luke was born just a week earlier, it probably wouldn’t have happened. 

The time of Luke’s passing was a major low in Ms. Hennessy’s life. She decided to take control of her grieving process by reaching out to groups that could help her. Ms. Hennessy said that she would “go on message boards about it and […] went to some grieving groups.” 

However, most of these opportunities were for people who lost an older child, not one who had not yet been born. Ms. Hennessy said that “nobody knew what to do with [her],” and that she even questioned the importance of Luke’s death. Very quickly after Luke’s passing, it became clearly evident to her that “people just don’t really talk about stillborns.” 

Despite this realization, there was a single person who was Ms. Hennessy’s rock. It was a teacher at NPHS that had lost her daughter the same way, just two years prior to Luke. Her name was Sally Mastras and she taught high school physical education.

“Without Sally,” Ms. Hennessy admitted, “I would have been crazy. Bridget [Sally’s daughter] may not have impacted many people’s lives, but it certainly impacted mine.” 

A little over a year after Luke’s death, Ms. Hennessy decided that she wanted to do something in honor of Luke, but that would also impact another student’s life. She knew that “his life [would] never touch anyone’s but [her family’s] if [she didn’t] do something.” 

Her idea was to create a scholarship that a senior would receive the day of their graduation, now known as the Luke Gregorio Memorial Scholarship.

Ms. Hennessy said: “I just noticed people were taking something bad and turning it into something good. That’s a good message for seniors.” 

In fact, one of the high school’s own teachers received this honorable award: Mr. Mallory. Ms. Hennessy recalled how she had to get Mrs. Thompson, who was in charge of the scholarship program at this time, actually threaten him to show up! Not only was Ms. Hennessy grateful for the gratitude he expressed that night, but also a card he wrote her years prior.

“His language arts teacher had her students write me cards [when it happened],” said Ms. Hennessy. “He wrote me a card that was literally, like, it was crazy. […] He wasn’t afraid to talk about it. He wrote a card that an adult would have been uncomfortable writing.” 

Currently, over 21 years since Luke’s death, Ms. Hennessy is still using his passing, one of the biggest challenges she had to overcome, as a way to empower others. Not only does she participate in charity walks for miscarriages, but she also personally helps fellow mothers who have had a similar experience. 

Ms. Hennessy said that she has “a friend through Facebook…she’s friends with this young couple who had a baby.” Due to complications at birth, the couple’s baby only lived for about a month. “When he died,” she said, “I’m friends with the aunt. […] I Facebook-messaged her and said if she wants to talk, she can call me.” 

Aside from this, Ms. Hennessy is even open to talking with mothers she doesn’t even know. She and her church have created “this thing where if this happens to someone else, they would call [her].” 

When asked if she has any advice for mothers who are currently grieving the stillbirth of their own child, Ms. Hennessy said the main thing is to simply reach out.

“If you need to, whether it be someone, like, going through it or, you know, a therapist, definitely seek out, don’t be afraid to talk about it.” 

While dealing with a challenge, for some, might be a seemingly impossible thing to do, something good can always be taken out of it. Ms. Hennessy has left a legacy for Luke through her perseverance, and a message for all New Providence students to remember wherever life takes them.