Diocesan News

Praying For Safety

National Walkout Was Time of Prayer for Catholic Schools Throughout the Diocese


Exactly one month after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., students at St. Francis Preparatory H.S., Fresh Meadows, held a solidarity and remembrance prayer service in their school gymnasium and auditorium. High schools throughout the diocese also held similar school-wide events calling for an end to gun violence. See photos below. (Photos: Melissa Enaje)

March 14, one month after the deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla., students around the country walked out of their classrooms as part of a nationwide school protest demanding an end to gun violence and school shootings.

Hours before the 10 a.m. call time across all time zones in the U.S., the community at St. Francis Preparatory School, Fresh Meadows, also held a school-wide solidarity and remembrance prayer service and started their day in one place: their school chapel.

“Sometimes in the world that we live in, we can feel overwhelmed, we can feel very small in the things that we do, even in a big school like this our voice can seem just one among many,” said school chaplain Father Ralph Edel. “We got to believe that as a small group of very dedicated people that our dedication and our hope and our belief in the Gospel is what’s going to help us stand out and shine as a real important voice whether it’s about this issue or any other issue.”

The Book of Remembrance, which is usually placed in parishes during the month of November for All Soul’s Day as a way of praying for deceased loved ones, was laid out for the St. Francis Prep community March 14 to write the names of those they knew who were affected by different forms of violence, including gun violence.

The community was invited to enter into the Book of Remembrance the names of family, friends or neighbors affected by gun violence.

After the Mass, those who participated went back to their classrooms in order to join the entire student body for the services being held indoors. With more than 2,000 students opting out of their regular schedules, faculty divided students by grade and led them into both the school gymnasium and auditorium.

Organizing the day’s planned activities was an initiative started by three seniors – Rebeca Oliveira, Cesar Santana and Samantha Berlanga. They individually approached Principal Patrick McLaughlin with inquiring minds about how their school could showcase solidarity with young people around the country. After several productive meetings, both the administration and student leaders agreed to what became a day that didn’t sacrifice students’ safety by walking out of school or students’ integrity by limiting what they had to say about the topic at hand.

“They deserve all the credit for this,” said McLaughlin.

“We just hung onto their coattails and ran with it. But they came up with the words, the thoughts and the action to do something today. It came from the student body. I think that’s what the kids in Parkland, Florida, would want at this point.”

Having her voice heard was the main driving force behind why student leader Rebeca Oliveira, right, helped organize the initiative at her high school. Principal Patrick McLaughlin, center, encouraged the students to take actions built upon a Franciscan foundation of joy, hope, respect and peace.

As the crowds settled into the two locations, McLaughlin spoke to the sophomores and juniors gathered in the gym while school president, Brother Leonard Conway, O.S.F., simultaneously spoke to freshman and juniors in the auditorium.

The principal’s opening remarks acknowledged the Parkland students calling to improve school safety. Yet he also encouraged the students to take actions built upon a Franciscan foundation of joy, hope, respect and peace.

“Instead of walking out of our school building, we are gathering as a united school community and a Franciscan family of students, staff and faculty as an opportunity to walk up to people and give each other the respect they deserve,” McLaughlin told the crowd.

“Walk up and defend someone who may be getting bullied… walk up to a teacher or a coach and thank them for what they do, walk up to another person who may have a different point of view and seek to understand them, walk up to 14 students and three adults today and say something nice in honor of those who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.”

In tangent with the call for different acts of kindness, having her voice heard was the main driving force behind why student leader Rebeca Oliveira helped organize the initiative at her high school.

“It’s a matter of coming together and working with the people who are supposed to work for us, who haven’t been working for us, and … I mean the politicians,” said the senior. “They haven’t been working for our safety and our purpose no matter what side of the aisle we’re on. We have to come together and tell them we don’t want that. We want to be protected. We don’t care how much money an organization is giving you, we are alive. We’re people. We’re more important than your fancy houses and your mansions.”

After Oliveira spoke to her peers on the podium, faculty member Gina Rizzi called 17 student volunteers to stand in the front of the gym behind a table that held candles for each person killed by gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. on St. Valentines Day. Echoing across the wooden floors in a crowded quiet gymnasium, name after name was said and flame after flame was lit in remembrance.

The somber silence was broken when sophomore Roselyn Santana and Brother James McVeigh, O.S.F., invited the assembly to recite the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, calling upon the Lord to help them act as instruments of peace.

Senior Samantha Berlanga sung the national anthem and afterwards shared her thoughts on the day’s event.

“I think a lot of people get really hung up on ‘well this is what I believe,’ and I think after this, we’ve definitely turned it into more of a conversation,” said Berlanga. “It’s amazing that we’re a Catholic school and that we can come together and turn to God and pray, and then say ‘God gave us mouths so we could speak up,’ and now we all know we can speak up and be heard by everyone equally.”

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United in Prayer

By the time the clock hit 10:17 a.m., students at the Fresh Meadows high school returned back to their regularly scheduled program. But by day’s end, nearly every diocesan high school in Brooklyn and Queens also carried out alternative school walkout events as a community of faith. Many shared their actions and photos across social media (See the centerfold).

Nazareth R.H.S. students heard from senior Gama Droiville who survived a shooting that left him blind in one eye. According to the East Flatbush school, he addressed his fellow youth by sharing “how real the threat is” and how they “must be inspired to unite by the survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S.”

Nearly 700 students, faculty and staff filled the lawn at The Mary Louis Academy, Jamaica Estates, for a prayer service that included student-led reflections and the recitation of the 17 names from Parkland.

Members of the Honor Society and Student Government from Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, coordinated a remembrance program, which included wearing red T-shirts that had the number 17 and a heart around it across their chests. Reflecting the vision with their shirts, they also assembled outside in their athletic field to form the number 17 in a heart.

The community at Bishop Kearney H.S. organized a small walkout that occurred after the schoolwide prayer service. Students, faculty and staff walked around the Bensonhurst block surrounding their school with signs that said “Protect Our Schools” and “Keep Students Safe.”

The community at St. Agnes Academic H.S., College Point, gathered in their gym for a candlelight vigil. Seniors read the names of the 17 victims from Parkland, Fla., in order to “show solidarity in remembering those that have lost their lives to gun violence” and serve as a call-to-action to “elected officials calling for meaningful, proactive change,” according to the school. (Photo © St. Agnes Academic H.S.)

(Photo © St. Agnes Academic H.S.)

At 10 a.m., nearly 700 students, faculty and staff filled The Mary Louis Academy lawn for a prayer service that included reflections by four students along with the recitation of the names of thsoe who were killed. (Photo © The Mary Louis Academy)

The community at St. Edmund Preparatory H.S., Sheepshead Bay, gathered in prayer in their school auditorium for “all victims of gun violence in our communities and our schools.”  (Photo © St. Edmund Prep H.S.)

A special remembrance program was coordinated at Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, by members of the school’s Honor Society and Student Government groups. The entire student body formed the number 17 in a heart. Senior Evan Katsefas performed “God Bless America” while students and faculty read the names of the victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. in Parkland, Fla. (Photo © Holy Cross H.S.)

17 - the number of students and faculty killed at Stoneman Douglas High School. (Photo © Holy Cross H.S.)

(Photo © Holy Cross H.S.)

(Photo © Holy Cross H.S.)

After a prayer service at St. John’s Preparatory School, Astoria, students were given directions on how to contact their elected officials. (Photo © St. John’s Prep H.S.)

(Photo © St. John’s Prep H.S.)

A prayer service was held at the chapel in Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge. School chaplain Father Sean Suckiel, center, led the students in a morning prayer of solidarity.(Photo © Xaverian H.S.)

Fontbonne Hall Academy, Bay Ridge, held a prayer service that “supported the end of gun violence.” The choir performed “Rise Up” by Andra Day after students gave speeches. (Photo © Fontbonne Hall Academy H.S.)

(Photo © Fontbonne Hall Academy H.S.)

(Photo © Fontbonne Hall Academy H.S.)

At the end of the prayer service and student performances, the Fontbonne Hall community tied orange ribbons around the gates of the school to "show school support for the end of gun violence in schools." (Photo © Fontbonne Hall Academy H.S.)

After a prayer service at Bishop Kearney H.S., Bensonhurst, the community took to the streets calling for “stricter gun control laws”and school safety. (Photo © Bishop Kearney H.S.)

Campus Ministry at Msgr. McClancy, East Elmhurst, sponsored a "Walkout" assembly. The students held a candle lighting ceremony and prayer service in their school gymnasium. (Photo © Msgr. McClancy H.S.)

Students at Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, shared the Marist spirit by gathering together for a “Walk With” prayer service in lieu of the national walkout taking place the same morning. (Photo © Archbishop Molloy H.S.)

(Photo © Archbishop Molloy H.S.)

(Photo © Archbishop Molloy H.S.)

(Photo © Archbishop Molloy H.S.)

(Photo © Archbishop Molloy H.S.)

(Photo © Archbishop Molloy H.S.)

(Photo © Archbishop Molloy H.S.)

Senior Gama Droiville at Nazareth R.H.S., East Flatbush, spoke about how he survived a shooting. (Photo © Nazareth Regional H.S.)

(Photo © Nazareth Regional H.S.)

"I don't want to be next and I don't want you to be next" said St. Saviour H.S. junior Samantha during the Park Slope school's prayer service. (Photo © St. Saviour H.S.)

(Photo © St. Saviour H.S.)


Elementary Academies Participate

The acts of social consciousness were not restricted to only the high school level. St. Bernard Academy, Mill Basin; St. Kevin, Flushing; and St. Brigid, Bushwick, also participated in age-appropriate events under the guidance of Superintendent of Schools Thomas Chadzutko.

According to Dr. Chadzutko, he and a small group of principals in the diocese discussed how academy students could participate in events that fostered dialogue about treating each other with dignity and respect.

He said his goal was to give the children an opportunity to share their concerns not about gun violence, but non-positive environments that were age appropriate in order for the students to come up with how to make things positive.

“We felt from a perspective of safety that they would stay in the building and do a couple of things,” Dr. Chadzutko said. “Obviously remember children of Parkland and their families, but also to focus on prayer, a couple of activities to maybe talk to someone you weren’t a friend with or how to become a better friend.”

Principal Marcia Soria from St. Brigid Catholic Academy said her students focused on peace, justice and respect. One child from each class held a candle as a commitment to live in Christ’s peace. St. Kevin students presented a “Blessed are the Peacemakers” banner that was signed by all the students at the Flushing Academy. They also participated in an activity where they wrote down how they could “be more like Jesus to promote love and kindness in their everyday lives.”

St. Kevin Catholic Academy, Flushing
St. Brigid Catholic Academy, Bushwick
Midwood Catholic Academy

One thought on “Praying For Safety

  1. In reality there is very little difference of opinion on the issue of gun violence ,,BUT,,there is difference of opinion on WHO is presenting the message.There are political hijackers that immediately jumped on the opportunity to make this a political issue and I am disappointed at the schools that were duped into the “solidarity” displayed with the “bad actors”.
    The Shooting in Parkland was 4 weeks ago yet a shooting on Monday had gone off the airways.
    Very shortly after the shooting in Parkland Student Spokesman appeared complete with microphones and sound systems.
    HOW did that even happen if not done by an organization?
    Why would it be necessary to provide “SAFE SPACES” in Catholic schools for students who choose not to participate?
    All these things trouble me as I step back and observe the way we have responded.
    Well,,apparently the “Youth Wing” of the” Women’s March” was the sponsor of the National movement.That organization is funded by” Move On dot com”, an organization that has never passed up an opportunity to take advantage of a tragedy for political reasons.
    By choosing the day of the National “Walkout” our schools have inadvertently aligned themselves with these “bad actors”.
    Our reaction to these events in my opinion shouldn’t be Republican or Democrat ,liberal or conservative but it should be Catholic !
    We Catholics need to be very careful in this hyper political environment to NOT align ourselves with anybody
    but we should demonstrate what we believe, in such a way, that people choose to align with us!
    No one should feel left out or in disagreement and we shouldn’t pick the political left or right in such an issue,but I’m afraid that’s exactly what happened here.
    In the very heated immigration issue Bishop Di Marzio never fails to consider the opinions of both sides .Pope Francis is criticized because he clearly doesn’t choose right or left but does choose a Catholic opinion.
    I think on this issue we were duped into the appearance of taking a side.
    I’m disappointed.