KENDALL PARK, New Jersey — Daniel Mark Anderl had just celebrated his 20th birthday.
A lifelong Catholic and the only child of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas and defense attorney Mark Anderl, Daniel Anderl gave his life to protect his mother and father, taking the shooter’s first bullet directly to the chest, when a man holding a package on their front door step opened fire into the family’s home on July 19.
“All of us here remember when we heard of the horrific news of Danny’s death and how he died,” said Father Robert G. Lynam, pastor of the family’s parish, St. Augustine of Canterbury in Kendall Park. “Jesus said ‘there is no greater love, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (Jn. 15:13) — Danny did that. There is no question in my mind, from Mark’s testimony to me, that Daniel offered his life for his father and his mother.”
Speaking during his homily to those gathered in the church and those watching the private livestream of the Sept. 26 funeral Mass from a nearby tent, set up to respect social-distancing measures and situated just steps away from the Catholic parochial school where Daniel Anderl spent eight years of his childhood, the pastor said that “faith is a gift.”
Since the day of their son’s death, “it has been the gift of faith that has sustained Esther and Mark. It has been the shining example of Daniel’s faith and selfless love that has sustained all of us,” he said.
As he arrived at the hospital that day, as Mark was in the operating room, the pastor said that he saw Daniel’s mother become “Mary at the foot of the cross.”
“In the blessing of Daniel’s body that night, in that room, it was Jesus being taken down from the cross,” he said. “On that night, I shared with Esther, ‘There is a woman here with us. Her name is Mary, the mother of Jesus. She knows your pain. She knows your sorrow,'” he said.
Reassuring the mourners present, Lynam said, “Mary is here with us. She knows faith; she knows sorrow; she knows pain, but she always knows Easter joy. Allow Mary to embrace you, as a mother, with a gift of love and the gift of her faith.”
The day after his death, Daniel Anderl’s school friends, together with Lynam, gathered to pray in the church, in the place where he was baptized into the Catholic faith as an infant and would later go on to receive other sacraments, such as first Communion and first confession.
Together, they shared stories about the life and friendships they had with Daniel Anderl and lit a candle in his memory, which burned on the altar for weeks until a funeral Mass could take place.
Looking toward the back of the church and then glancing again at the candle, Lynam said he would often see the candle’s reflection in the glass at the back of the church as he celebrated Mass and remember, “That is the light of Danny that is burning brightly now in heaven — there’s no question about that.”
As Daniel Anderl’s friends were praying in the church that day, the day after his death, his parents were in the hospital and “Esther received Communion along with her family who were in her room,” said Lynam.
“Mark, who was in intensive care, was able to receive a small piece of the host and then he shared those powerful words to me: ‘I have forgiven the shooter,'” the priest said, echoing the wounded father’s words to those present.
At a Mass later on, the priest recalled that Esther “said to me, ‘I have forgiven the shooter three times and many more times since then,” he said. “Mark and Esther, there by the grace of God, you were and are able to say those powerful words.”
Lynam fondly recalled his interactions with the family at parish Masses.
“Esther is a great listener when I preach,” he said, noting that as Esther and Mark took their place in the pew, “Daniel would be walking around doing ushering and greeting people.” He was “constantly walking, walking, walking,” he said, gesturing around the church and drawing laughter from the mourners.
Lynam said these weeks since Daniel’s death have called to mind how the disciples mourned the loss of Jesus as they journeyed down the road to Emmaus.
“They were filled with sorrow, doubt, and questions. They were depressed. Has that not been our experience over the past weeks and even now as we gather today in prayer?” said Lynam. “He comes to them in their time of need. He comes to us now in our time of need.”
The funeral Mass for Daniel Anderl came just days after the New Jersey State Assembly unanimously passed A.B. 1649, legislation known as “Daniel’s Law,” that would bar the online posting of judges’ and prosecutors’ home addresses or phone numbers.
News reports said Roy Den Hollander, the suspect who shot and killed Daniel and seriously wounded his father, had the home address of the judge and targeted the family because of his disdain for Salas and her role as a federal judge. The shooter killed himself before he could be apprehended.
St. Augustine of Canterbury Church and the outdoor tent were filled with family and friends, dignitaries and church leaders, among them Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York; Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, who celebrated the Mass; U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey; New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal; John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America; and countless others.
Addressing Daniel Anderl’s parents, Dolan said: “How often have we heard you say, since that Good Friday through which you traveled, that ‘we couldn’t have done it without our faith. Our faith is what has seen us through.'”
“We know one of the essentials of that faith is that God brings good out of evil and this is an unmitigated evil, but the Lord can bring good from evil,” said Dolan. “Esther and Mark, the whole world bowed its head in prayer when they heard the sad news about Danny and the whole country has been inspired by his selfless act of sacrifice as he reminded them of Jesus on the cross. So, you see, God has already brought some good out of this.”
Daniel Anderl was remembered for having “lived his Catholic faith” and for a life of selfless love. He was known to spend time in prayer in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, receive the sacrament of penance and reconciliation regularly, and attend daily Mass at The Catholic University of America in Washington, where he would have been a junior this year.
It is his “great gift of faith” that leaves his loved ones behind both heartbroken and inspired, said Checchio.
“Esther and Mark, you raised such a lovely young man and the whole world can see what was in his heart by his actions,” the bishop said. “We’re so indebted to you and the good work you did, the love you brought him up with in your home, and the good work and cooperation of this parish, St. Augustine of Canterbury School, St. Joseph High School and Catholic University of America.”