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  • Sister Mary Gianna Thornby

Columbine survivor reflects on Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

By J. Basil Dannebohm

As a teenager, like many of her peers, Sister Mary Gianna, then known as Jenica Thornby, struggled with some of the most basic questions concerning human life, including what life was about, who she was, and what she was living for. She had a daily high school routine - without fail, she spent her lunch hour studying in the library. One day in late April, however, she was overwhelmed with a strangely intense intuition to forego her daily visit to the library and instead, leave campus. Little did she know that strong intuition would change her life forever.

She was a 16 year old sophomore at Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999, the day two of her schoolmates opened fire killing 12 students, one teacher, and wounding 23 others.  Jenica narrowly escaped being in the library, the center of the tragedy, by trusting that inner prompting that urged her to leave school that day, only minutes before the shooting.

“What made me leave school that day?  I always went to the library,” Thornby wondered. “I remembered being told, ‘God must have a plan for your life!’”

Indeed, God did have a plan. But Jenica, not coming from a religious background had no clue who God was or what He desired of her. After a difficult journey, she went on to attend Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio where she found God. Later, she became a Catholic nun. A member of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ religious community based out of Prayertown, Texas. She resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she is assistant to the administrator of the Ark and the Dove Retreat Center.


Sister Mary Gianna offers the following reflection on the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School:

It is heartbreaking to hear again and again of so many school shootings, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  My thoughts and prayers are with all those hurt and wounded by this tragedy and with our country at this time.

react-text: 984 Why so many school shootings?  /react-text

How have we as a nation gotten to this place in our history? 

What are we to do?

react-text: 989 I think back to the early 1960s when prayer was taken out of school and public places.  When, prior to this date, education was based on good morals and the Bible was included as a text book.  Where have we gone since then? /react-text

I believe this is a wake-up call for our whole society at large of the need to turn back to what is most important and essential in life.  On this St. Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of the call to turn back to God with our whole heart in repentance and to love one another.  Tragedies like this are a call for us to indeed once again become "one nation under God."  I believe as we return to God in prayer and the relationship He has created us to have with Him as our Father, and as we recognize and foster the importance of the family and the need to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger, we will see a better world.  Only by coming to know God and His love, and who we are as His children, will we be able to love each other and recognize the beautiful dignity of each person.

At the Columbine High School  memorial, one student wrote, "The hardest part to understand was kids killing kids."

I believe each of us can make a big difference in the world.  Rachel Joy Scott, the first person who was killed at my high school, wanted to start a chain reaction of compassion and kindness.  She said, "I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way and show compassion, it will start a chain reaction of the same.  People will never know how far a little kindness will go" (Rachel Joy Scott).  Rachel wanted to reach out to the new kid in school, to those who were being bullied, to those who had no one to sit with them at lunch, and to those who had some form of disability.  Her life has had a huge impact on the world and continues to do so to this day.  When asked if she believed in God before her life was taken, she responded, "You know I do!"  Let us do the same.  Let us reach out to one another in love.  Only in Heaven will we see the difference each of our lives have made in the world and how far a little kindness can go.  "You just may start a chain reaction" (Rachel Joy Scott).

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