The Catholic community mobilizes to help healing in Uvalde

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Teresian Sister Dolores Aviles speaks to children attending I-CAN Camp in Uvalde, Texas, July 25, 2022. Sponsored by Catholic Extension, the July 25-28 camp offered survivors of the mass shooting of the Robb Elementary School a safe space to heal, have fun, and gently reintegrate into a school setting around their peers. “I-CAN” stands for inner strength, commitment, awareness and networking. (CNS Photo/Juan Guajardo, courtesy Catholic Extension)

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Teresian Sister Dolores Aviles was visiting her family a few blocks from Robb Elementary School in her hometown of Uvalde, Texas on this May day when a cacophony of sirens alerted her that something was wrong. not.

Another human smuggling raid, an unfortunate and regular occurrence in the small town 50 miles from the Mexican border, she thought. Helicopters flew over the neighborhood and a niece called: There’s a shooter at school, where three children in the family were in fourth grade.

“We started to cry, because we knew people in this school; we had three students at school,” Sister Dolores, 66, told Our Sunday Visitor. His nieces, Amarie Jo Garzo, Tess Marta and Eliahana Torres, were shot dead by the shooter.

Funerals followed for 19 children and two teachers, and in pain and grief, Sister Dolores heard a familiar voice – the same one that asked, “Who should I send? she answered when she was called to religious life.

“The Lord is asking me to do something for the Robb children,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “He said, ‘Let the children come to me.’ And then we recreated a summer camp that we organize every summer.

“They are kissed”

She enlisted 12 nuns from Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Kalamazoo, Michigan, as well as half a dozen lay people. Catholic Extension, a century-old Chicago charity, funded the entire summer project and millions of dollars for school improvement.

Camp was held daily in the afternoon and Robb’s children participated in religious activities, arts and crafts, a game room, and fitness activities. “They sweated,” Sister Dolores joked.

“We sang songs, talked and prayed, and ended each day with a meal, and the parents joined us for the meal,” she said. “Parents have been asked to stay for camp.”

HOW TO HELP

To learn more about Catholic Extension and the work the organization does in Uvalde, Texas and elsewhere – and to donate – visit catholicextension.org.

“Sacred Heart School and Uvalde Parish immediately felt the demand that people would want to send their children to a Catholic school that they cannot afford,” said Joseph Boland, vice president of missions. for Catholic Extension, at Our Sunday Visitor. The organization offered scholarships to Robb Elementary families who wanted to send their children to Sacred Heart.

Sister Esther Guerrero was among 12 nuns who worked with Sister Dolores this summer in Uvalde and loved the “innocent children” she worked with. “They have tender faces and they are so resilient.”

The horror of May 24 remains with the surviving students, Sister Esther told Our Sunday Visitor.

“They are gradually talking about it, thank God,” she said. “They are in a safer environment and they are embraced,” she added.

“There was a boy in year two whose brother died, and he only came every other day because that’s all he could handle. A little girl was quite nervous and had stomach aches every day. But she would feel better when the therapy dog, Miracle, came by. The children were all gathering around this dog, petting him and smiling. The children are so adorable, vulnerable. A little girl approached me every day and hugged me.

Sister Esther was transitioning from one assignment in San Antonio to another in May and awaiting reassignment after years of managerial duty.

“I really thank God for the opportunity to be there,” she said. “I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know how or what. I went to a meeting and they were looking for volunteers for Uvalde.

“Our hearts have been broken”

Boland was at Sacred Heart in Uvalde on August 15 for the first day of school. He smelled fresh paint and saw the new faces of the newly arrived students who were greeted by former students and teachers.

On May 24, Boland was in the office of Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, “when there was a news flash on television,” Boland told Our Sunday Visitor.

“Father Jack moaned and said ‘Not yet.’ I looked at the screen and saw what was happening in Uvalde,” Boland said. “We recognized Uvalde – a name unknown to many at the time, but we know him; we know him well.

“This city shares part of our history. We have built or repaired 12,700 churches since our founding in 1905. The fact that Uvalde was among the first to get us off the ground. … We built their Church of the Sacred Heart in 1906 and built their school six years later. Our hearts were broken for their children and their families.

Catholic Extension deployed a team to Uvalde to see “what needed to be done and what could be done,” Boland said. Today, an 18-month effort is underway.

Sacred Heart School doubled its enrollment by providing Catholic Extension scholarships to 55 students at the now-closed Robb Elementary School, slated for demolition.

The Catholic school has been renovated: new fences have been installed, improved security cameras have been installed, ballistic windows have been installed and the classrooms have been updated over the summer by a construction company. professional security who donated equipment and facilities. The cafeteria and the gym have been modernized.

Enrollment capacity is 170 students, with over 100 students now attending the school, including Robb’s dozens of children, and room for more.

“It’s amazing how he works”

The old school’s physical plant was ready on opening day, and emotional and psychological services have been provided to the Robb children and their families since last spring.

“The whole school seems to be enjoying the first…weeks of school,” Sacred Heart principal Joseph Olan told Our Sunday Visitor. “Many school activities are planned throughout the year. The school culture is amazing right now, and it reflects the students’ enthusiasm for being at Sacred Heart.

Olan added, “The atmosphere just keeps getting better. Lots of laughs, project-based learning and love in the classes.”

“God is in our school and all around. Many donors, supporters and members of the community are truly used by God to help the ministry of education at SHCS. My teachers and staff are also really great at bringing the word of God to our students and our religion classes. »

Sister Dolores knows why she responds to the voice she hears.

“He’s so powerful, it’s amazing how he works in our own lives, energizes us,” she said.

Sister Dolores, in particular, needed all the help she could get in May. “I had just come out of COVID and then pneumonia in May. The Holy Spirit was the energy in me.

Boland told Our Sunday Visitor: “One thing the Catholic community has taught me when we interact with people who feel hopeless and helpless is to meet them where they are in their trauma and in their great sadness”.

“I met the parents of the victims, and these children are the loves of their lives, they are proud of their children,” he said.

“I’ve seen kids trying to reassure their parents, saying they’d be OK at their new school… see them joking a bit, a little smile. I hope these are the first smiles of many more to come.

Joseph R. LaPlante writes from Rhode Island.


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