Students prayerfully reflect on Florida school shooting

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

The Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., like most difficult issues, has the potential to create divisiveness, said Bridget Murphy, principal of Assumption High School in Davenport.

Lindsay Steele
Assumption High School students in Davenport hold vigil candles as they listen to a message from Father Jake Greiner during a prayer service March 14 in the gym.

On the one-month anniversary of the tragedy, which took the lives of 17 students and faculty members, Assumption wanted to acknowledge the students’ pain and share with them the power of love, compassion, kindness and forgiveness, void of any political stance. The school accomplished this through a prayer vigil, complete with encouraging messages from students and clergy. “Our effort was very much geared toward unification, as we firmly believe that together we are much stronger,” Murphy said.

Assumption students gathered in a dimly lit gymnasium the morning of March 14. Seniors Shannon McNeal and Gillian Marbury read the names of the 17 victims and their ages. A student or staff member of roughly the same age of the victim picked up a pillar candle and lit the wick.

After the 17 candles were lit, the candle-bearers helped to spread the “light of Christ” in Gillian’s words, with the rest of the students and staff who were holding vigil candles.

Father Jake Greiner then shared a message of encouragement with the students and staff, whose faces were illuminated by the flames. “Our God is so great, he is so good, he is so powerful, that he can even bring good from some of the worst things we’ve ever seen. And that has to be our hope,” he said. “All of you are standing here, probably feeling as if there is nothing you can do to change what is going on. But you can. Our national discourse on this situation has said that prayers and thoughts are not enough. I think all of us would agree. But here’s the difference. Prayer and thought, and our faith, have to transform our actions. We don’t stop (there), but we prayerfully think about how we can respond. …By engaging in this problem, and any other problems, through faith, you can transform this world.”

Shannon encouraged her fellow students to be kinder to each other and support people who may be struggling. “Over the next several days, we’d like you to make an intentional effort to connect with at least 17 people with whom you have not previously connected. I know many of you may feel uncomfortable doing this. But the significance of this exercise is to let everyone know that they have someone they can turn to.”
To conclude the vigil, the students walked outside and surrounded the statue of Mary in back of the school. Fr. Greiner led the students and staff in praying the Hail Mary.

Murphy was encouraged by what she heard and saw at the vigil. “This prayer service was yet another example of a time as an educator here when I was so thankful to be in a Catholic school.  It is so important to be able to integrate our faith into everything we do.”

What schools are doing

These are examples of what Catholic schools in the Diocese of Davenport have done to remember the 17 students and adults who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14:

Holy Trinity Junior/Senior High School in Fort Madison on March 14 offered students and faculty the opportunity to walk 17 minutes outdoors in remembrance of the 17 individuals who were killed. Father Marty Goetz led the group in prayer as he read the names and ages of the victims.

Prince of Peace Catholic School students in Clinton participated in a prayer service March 14 during ALICE (active shooter response) training.  Students and staff spent time with local law enforcement talking about active shooter situations and identifying options for safe actions.

Burlington-Notre Dame earlier this month hosted a prayer service in the gym.

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