From Sandy Hook, a Response Rooted in Sorrow and Compassion

A bereaved Catholic mother and a local pastor share their thoughts about how to cope with such horrors.

In a July 27, 2016 photo, Jennifer Hubbard, whose first-grade daughter, Catherine, died during the Sandy Hook  School shootings, is seen in Newtown, Connecticut. Prayer, she said, has not only helped her uncover a closer relationship with God, but has helped her discover a deeper connection with herself, her family and the world around her.
In a July 27, 2016 photo, Jennifer Hubbard, whose first-grade daughter, Catherine, died during the Sandy Hook School shootings, is seen in Newtown, Connecticut. Prayer, she said, has not only helped her uncover a closer relationship with God, but has helped her discover a deeper connection with herself, her family and the world around her. (photo: Carol Kaliff / Hearst Connecticut Media via AP)

The May 24 killings of 19 elementary-school students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, is the worst school shooting since a teenage male killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The day of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Jennifer Hubbard’s life took a drastic turn. She and her husband, Matthew, had two children in the school — 6-year-old Catherine and 8-year-old Frederick. Catherine was one of the first-grade victims. 

Over the years, Hubbard has become a public inspiration for others through her personal story and her writing in Magnificat magazine. She talked to the Register about the Texas school tragedy.

“For the families going through their grief, my heart breaks with theirs,” she said. “They don’t want to hear from me now. They’re numb; they’re trying to regain their breath. My advice is for the people around them and to the community they’re surrounded with: For those impacted most, be by their side not only now, but in the weeks, months and years to come. It doesn’t get any easier. Knowing you have people there for you is the best we can give these families right now.”

Considering her heartbreak, Hubbard shared some thoughts to guide those questioning why this has happened so that their faith remains firm. 

Her experience has been that while there really is no answer to grief and loss, her experience has continued to build her faith and belief. “Whether facing a diagnosis or the loss of a loved one or the death of a child, there is suffering in the world, and we have to trust that God knows our suffering and is with us,” she explained. “Whatever we have in doubts and anger, we have to offer that to him. He will take it from there. He will take what we have to give him, and he will fill our needs.”

 

Pastor’s Perspective

Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, shared his own thoughts about the Texas school massacre. At the time of the Sandy Hook School tragedy in Newtown in December 2012, he was also the pastor. Several of the families and children directly affected were parishioners.

“First,” he explained, “I think it’s a reminder every community has to get rid of the thought ‘it’s not going to happen here.’ We’re living in a world where we have to get prepared” for such an eventuality.

From all his contact, counseling and comforting of Sandy Hook victims’ families as well as the entire Newtown parish, Msgr. Weiss said, “It’s really important for these families to talk as a family.” In such situations, “parents must sit down with their children, talk to them, find out what is on their children’s minds.” 

The Sandy Hook experience has brought this to light, he said, because “one of the failures we had in Newtown is we took too much time entertaining the children, taking them on trips.” Celebrities also came, distracting them from dealing more directly with their tragedy. One result of that process showed up later, as eventually a number of kids went to college but had to return because they did not have that kind of reliance on distractions any longer.

Instead, Msgr. Weiss advised that the immediate thing is “for families to be open and talk with their children. And the result of that is they’re starting to reprioritize their lives.” When that happened to families in Newtown, he said a lot of the men made sure to be home for dinnertime. Once again, families started eating together.

Before Sandy Hook, according to the priest, Newtown was a typical suburban town where everyone was going in 20 directions to attend dance classes, sports practices and other activities. 

“After Sandy Hook, a lot of people slowed their lives down,” he said. “Families started reprioritizing their lives. The families realized how important it was to be together.” They also found there was no better time than a mealtime for important conversations to take place.

Msgr. Weiss added another bit of advice. He said he thought Sandy Hook would change things, adding, “and I was wrong.” A situation like this might make it more appealing to own a gun for protection, he acknowledged. But he said he supports the fight for gun control especially to reduce availability of the types of guns used in such killings.

Amid all of the tragedy, Hubbard urged turning to God, who “is bigger than all our doubts and anger and disappointment, and our faith transcends all of what’s happening,” she said. 

“We will never have an explanation or an understanding why things like the Texas shooting or why Sandy Hook happened. It’s not ours to understand, but to lead into our faith and trust.” 

Right now it may feel like, how can anything good come from this? Hubbard’s answer: “God will bring beauty out of the ashes, and we have to trust [God will] bring beauty out of this.”
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