Priest’s response after school shooting called powerful

Monsignor Robert Weiss of St. Rose of Lima Church had a ‘sacramental sense” of outreach  

RYE, N.Y.—The “sacramental sense” of a Catholic pastor’s outreach after the horrific violence that took place at a Connecticut elementary school “has brought the church to bear in the most intimate and powerful way,” said the director of communications for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.

“It’s hard to sum up how powerful his witness and testimony have been, both locally and nationally,” Brian D. Wallace told Catholic News Service in describing Monsignor Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown.

“He has brought a sense of God and the beginning of healing to everything he has done under considerable stress,” Wallace said following the tragic event. “He was the first clergy present at the school, before the world knew what happened. He kept his composure and he worked with families.”

Wallace said Monsignor Weiss was “stunned by the faith of the parents who lost children. People who lose the most sometimes give the most.” He added that the courage, openness and determination of the parents is a gift to the priest.

Monsignor Weiss, his two priest associates, and men and women from the parish staff have “brought tremendous comfort to families,” Wallace said.

St. Rose of Lima has taken center stage in the aftermath of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, which left 20 children and seven adults dead.

Parishioners and community members gathered for a prayer vigil the night of the shootings and flocked to Sunday Masses seeking solace. They looked to Monsignor Weiss and his staff and other Catholic leaders for pastoral outreach in the aftermath of the violence.

Eighteen children died at the school and two others died after they had been rushed to the hospital. All of the children were first-graders. The adults included the principal and five teachers, as well as the gunman.

Police officials identified the shooter as Adam Lanza, 20, and said he killed himself as first responders arrived on the scene.

Many of the dead were Catholic and were known in the St. Rose parish family. Wallace said funerals for eight of the children and one of the adults were held at St. Rose.

Mary Sherlach, the Sandy Hook school psychologist, was to be buried from St. Stephen Church in Trumbull, Conn., where she was an active parishioner. The shooter and his mother also were members of St. Rose.

The diocesan response to the tragedy is based on its experience with earlier traumatic events. Its Catholic Charities agency has a crisis team that works closely with the diocesan safe environments staff.

“Catholic Charities has a very strong behavioral health component, staffed by Catholic professionals. Over the last 10 years, it has evolved as a resource to deal with crises,” Wallace said.

The first response is often presence and prayer, followed by helping people to cope, he continued. “Counseling may not be needed right away. There will be more help down the line.”

“Our Catholic Charities have worked with Catholic school teachers to give them a better handle on how to deal with their fears and our Safe Environments director has talked with some of the parents who lost children,” Wallace said. “The priests are grateful to have that help within our own system.”

The agency has provided counseling services to the Newtown community through schools and individual house visits.

“We are welcomed by people of all faiths and backgrounds. The outreach is unusual, but the situation is more than unusual,” Al Barber, president of Catholic Charities, told Catholic News Service. “Word has spread far and wide that we’re there for the people.”

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