HARTFORD – In the aftermath of the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell and Catholic Charities offered to help the town and its parishes in any way possible.
Archbishop Mansell called the shooting a "a senseless act of violence that claimed the lives of many innocent people," in a statement posted on the archdiocesan Web site.
"Although we will never understand the motivation behind such a heinous act, we must turn to prayer and reflection for the victims and their families during this time of need," he said.
"Keep them in your hearts, let them know that they are not alone in their grief and suffering, and pray that the comfort of God’s love will help them through this difficult time," the statement said. "The Archdiocese of Hartford and Catholic Charities have offered to assist Newtown and its parishes any way that we can," it concluded.
Dale R. Hoyt, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Hartford, said parents and guardians can contact Catholic Charities if counseling is needed. For spiritual counseling, they should contact their school chaplains or pastors.
Dr. Hoyt said that he communicated with all the schools he oversees, ensuring that all personnel were familiar with operational safety plans at each school, even before the full extent of the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School was known.
"On Friday evening at 5 o’clock, I sent out a notice to all the principals with regard to protocol that I wanted them to follow by Monday morning [Dec. 17]," he said.
He also sent each principal a document about school-violence preparedness and prevention that was given to him by Catholic Mutual Group, the archdiocesan property and liability insurance company.
"I also asked them to communicate with the parents and guardians that all visitors will be carefully screened before entry is allowed," Dr. Hoyt said.
On Dec. 18, Dr. Hoyt said, he also sent principals directives issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that included tips on how to talk to students about such tragedies as Newtown’s.
Response from the schools to his outreach has been positive, he said. "The principals have done due diligence in communicating with both the faculty and parents, reviewing protocols, assuring them hat they have safety plans in place. And the parents have been very affirming, knowing that their children have been in a safe environment," Dr. Hoyt said.
Gail Kingston, principal of St. Gabriel School in Milford, said that when school personnel began hearing reports of the shootings, an automated call went out to parents and guardians saying that school personnel would not tell students about the events because the school felt that it was the families’ prerogative to convey the news as they felt appropriate.
"This weekend, I received numerous e-mails from parents, basically being so grateful for what we had done and saying thank you and also saying that they felt very blessed that the children were here at the school and that faculty and staff were all looking after them," she said.
She sent e-mails to parents, saying that she was confident that every member of the faculty and staff in the school building would lay down their lives for their students.
The school faculty will practice their emergency response plan Jan. 18 under the supervision of local police, she said.
The victims and residents of Newtown have been remembered in Masses and prayer services throughout the Archdiocese.
People from around the area poured into an overflowing Most Holy Trinity Church in Wallingford on Dec. 17 to attend a half-hour interfaith service for the children and teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
As Christmas carols and hymns chimed outside, people poured into the church for the moving and somber ceremony. Some 700 participants sat in the main part of the church with another 50 people watching on closed-circuit television in the basement.
Father Thomas J. Walsh, pastor of the parish, captured the sentiments of those gathered by saying, "We come to remember the victims; but we also come for our own healing."
On Dec. 19, the Diocese of Bridgeport, in which Newtown is located, announced the establishment of two funds to aid the community through counseling and St. Rose of Lima Parish.
Funeral Masses for 10 of the victims were celebrated at St. Rose of Lima, Newtown’s only Catholic Church.
A statement announcing the new funds said the St. Rose of Lima Parish Fund will "help the parish as it continues to reach out to families and parishioners in the aftermath of the tragedy and through ongoing programs and services to the parish family."
The other is the "Trauma Response Fund for Catholic Charities, which provides emergency outreach, crisis counseling and ongoing behavioral health services to all those in the larger community who come forward for help," the statement said.