'It's a Different World Now'

By Jeanette Flood

When Amy Taylor tries to sum up the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, the word she finds almost one year later is mercy.

A native of the close-knit, quiet community of Newtown, Conn., Amy had attended Sandy Hook Elementary herself. She began working at St. Rose of Lima Parish, the sole Catholic church in the area, as sacramental coordinator for grades 5-8 soon after graduating from Franciscan University, in Steubenville, Ohio.

Amy was in her office at St. Rose on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, when she heard a cacophony of sirens. When she and the staff learned there was a gunman at Sandy Hook, they prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Later, the priests and religious went to the firehouse to support the families of the victims - 20 children and six adults. Amy stayed at the parish, helping in whatever way she could. A special Mass was offered that evening, and the church overflowed by the hundreds.

On the Monday following the tragedy, St. Rose pastor Monsignor Robert Weiss sent the pastoral and school staff out two by two to visit the nine parish families who had lost a loved one. Amy visited two families and helped in planning funeral services.

Monsignor Weiss says Amy served these families "with compassion and love" and that her presence at every child's wake and funeral "brought much consolation and peace." She was the youngest staff member, but she did everything she could to assist the pastoral care offered by the parish.

"Being new in ministry is challenge enough for any person," Monsignor Weiss points out, "but to be called to stand in the midst of such tragedy as we experienced is a true test of commitment to the Gospel. I am certain that this experience deepened her already strong faith."

Naturally, the shooting took a toll on Amy, as on everyone else. "A lot of fear has built up inside of me," she admits. "It's a different world now." She thinks of Sandy Hook every single day. "My heart sinks when I drive past the school."

Still the tragedy has changed her in positive ways, too: "I realize that life is so short," Amy says. "I count my blessings more; I'm more serious about my faith. I live each day as best I can. It's changed the way I look at eternal life."

Having studied at Franciscan University of Steubenville proved invaluable.

"Nothing could have prepared me for a tragedy of this magnitude," Amy reflects, "but my time at Franciscan and my major [theology/catechetics] prepared me as nothing else could have. My knowledge of the Catholic faith helped me get through this intellectually, and practicing it at Franciscan strengthened me. What I learned both inside and outside the classroom sustained my faith. Franciscan taught me to be mercy to others, to be Christ's hands and feet. Household taught me how to love and to be present. For a lot of the families, that's all I could do. There's nothing that one could say."

Amy's faith isn't based on a claim to understand. "There's no explanation for something like this," she says. "All one can do is surrender. God can make good come out of anything. Those kids didn't die in vain."

And she has witnessed some of the good that God in His mercy is bringing about already. The tragedy has brought people together. Masses are more crowded. People recognize the importance of family, and of coming to church as a family. Gratitude and faith have deepened.

"This kind of thing can cause people to question - which can be good," Amy points out. "We're having conversations about things like free will. There are kids and adults who are looking at the faith more seriously. There are definitely some 'glory stories.'"

Divine mercy has seeped into her own soul. Amy prays a great deal for the families of the victims. But she doesn't forget the gunman, who was, she says, "so broken."

"If any soul needs mercy and prayer, it's him," she says. "I recall what St. Faustina said: 'The greater the sinner, the greater his right to God's mercy.'"

That mercy is spreading, too. There are billboards around the area reading: "We are Sandy Hook. We choose love." And on Divine Mercy Sunday, after Amy and the youth group prayed the chaplet, they saw a huge rainbow over St. Rose of Lima Church.

Jeanette Flood writes from Lakewood, Ohio. This article first appeared in Franciscan Way, a publication of Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is posted here with their permission.

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