BY HANNAH CRITES
Members of the Franciscan University of Steubenville community gathered on Oct. 25 in the Gentile Gallery to hear Amy Taylor speak about her experiences in Newtown, Conn., during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Of the 26 fatalities in the tragedy, 20 were first-grade children, nine of whom were members of Taylor’s parish.
Taylor graduated from Franciscan University in 2012 with a degree in theology and catechetics. She was a coordinator for Regina Angelorum household and worked at Switchboard before graduating.
She moved back to her hometown, Newton, Conn., to work in the elementary religious education and confirmation program at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Parish. Taylor had attended Sandy Hook Elementary School and knew Adam Lanza, the shooter, as a child, but not as an adult.
On Dec.14, 2012, Taylor went to work and attended a parish staff meeting when a fellow employee received a text saying that something was going on in one of the schools in Newtown. The staff turned on the news, which confirmed that there was a shooting at the local elementary school.
Taylor’s pastor Msgnr. Bob Weiss drove to the town’s local firehouse to counsel parents who were waiting for news about their children. It was at that fire station that the parents of the 20 students killed learned of their children’s deaths.
Hundreds of people came to St. Rose parish that night, said Taylor. The church simply did not have enough room for everyone, so people stood outside and at the windows looking in.
“No one wanted to be home,” said Taylor, “No one wanted to be alone. It was really hard to grasp everything.”
One story that Taylor told was of a girl named Paige whose family was a member of St. Rose’s, and who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School. Paige ran out of her classroom and saw the results of Lanza’s actions. With those images engraved in her mind, she later refused to enter church and struggled to understand why God would let her see and experience such a horrible thing.
St. Rose parish sent their employees out in groups of two to counsel and comfort families that lost children. Taylor counseled the families of Daniel Barden and Catherine Hubbard, and helped them with funeral arrangements in the days following the tragedy.
She described her experience with both families as “like a movie. I saw parent after parent grieve their children. No class at Franciscan could have prepared me for that.”
Still, Taylor said that she would not have been able to aid and counsel the children and families involved with the shooting without the community, presence and grace that Franciscan University gave her.
“From the beginning, Christ allowed us to be a church,” Taylor said, “We have the opportunity to weep and mourn together, but also be joyful and remember their lives.”
Taylor’s time at Franciscan taught her the meaning of community and how to endure and rejoice with others, she said. It taught her how to be present to and of comfort those hurt.
These experiences, coupled with grace and prayer, helped Taylor find emotional strength to be an example of faith in the midst of tragedy.