Catholic schools in the diocese took the National Walkout Day scheduled for March 14 and put their own stamp of faith and prayer on it.
Jacqualine Kasprowski, associate director for secondary education and principal of Cardinal Newman in Columbia, said all of the high schools planned to commemorate the day, but none of them would engage in civil disobedience and none of the events would have anything to do with politics.
“We need to turn the walkout into an act, not of civil disobedience, but a prayer offering for all the children who have lost their lives,” Kasprowski said.
According to an article from Fox News, the National School Walkout planned for March 14 at 10 a.m. called for students, faculty and supporters to walk out of their schools to honor those killed in an attack at a Parkland, Fla., high school last month and to protest gun violence.
A map of participating schools on the event’s website showed that the walkout had grown to an international scale, and included countries such as Ireland, Israel and Mexico.
The event was organized by EMPOWER, the Women’s March Youth branch, however, and Kasprowski said that connection crosses too much into politics. So the diocese personalized the event and created symbolic walkouts focusing on unity and the belief that all life is sacred.
Mary Anne Tucker, dean of students at Bishop England in Charleston, said they emphasized to their students that the March 14 events in the diocese are in no way a political statement.
“We are simply gathering to do what we as a Catholic community do best — affect change through prayer,” Tucker said. “We will pray for the victims who lost their lives, the entire Marjory Stoneman Douglas school community … [and] our nation, our legislators, and for safety in all schools.”
Officials at several high schools said they were approached by students who are concerned about gun violence and wanted to do something to honor all those who have died.
Students helped formulate plans for the 14th, but more importantly, they discussed ways to make an impact on a daily basis, Tucker said.
At Bishop England, for example, youth are reminded “to reach out to those students who need a kind word or a compassionate listener and to look out for one another — to tune in to each other, especially during stressful times,” she said.
Other ways people can make a difference in their own communities is to engage in less social media and more face-to-face contact. Students are also encouraged to be informed and put their particular education to use, one that shapes a well-formed conscience based in Catholic social teaching.
School officials also encourage students to contact their government representatives to let their voices be heard.
“Hopefully, with a student body that truly cares about each other and about the greater community, we can truly initiate the change that we wish to see in the world!” Tucker said.
This is a hope echoed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well. They have called on the nation’s leaders to develop “common-sense gun measures as part of a comprehensive approach” to reduce violence and protect life.
A comprehensive approach would address mental illness and the constant barrage of violent images in our society, especially with youth, said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, and Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, in a recent statement.
Among other suggestions, the USCCB encourages setting a more appropriate minimum age for gun ownership, requiring universal background checks, and banning bump stocks.
The statement also reiterates the USCCB’s support for a federal ban on assault weapons, limitations on civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines, further criminalizing gun trafficking, and more.
Bishops Dewane and Murry praised the advocacy being carried out by young people, including the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“The voices of these advocates should ring in our ears as they describe the peaceful future to which they aspire,” they said.
So far, Catholic schools have been blessed that they haven’t suffered school shootings, but still, officials say they must be prepared for worst-case scenarios.
According to the Diocese of Charleston’s school safety plan, every school must have an active-shooter procedure in place, with appropriate training provided to faculty and staff.
Photo, Miscellany/Doug Deas: Students at Bishop England High School in Charleston gather in the courtyard March 14 to pray the rosary and pay tribute to the victims of school shootings, including the 17 students and teachers who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas just last month.
The following events were held at Catholic high schools in the diocese:
Bishop England, Charleston: Students plan to process into the outdoor courtyard while praying the rosary for the victims of the Florida shooting. Youth have also pledged to reach out in kindness in 17 ways in memory of the 17 students and teachers who lost their lives.
Cardinal Newman, Columbia: Participants will process silently outside and into the gymnasium, where student council will host a service honoring everyone who has lost their lives in school shootings, dating back to the Columbine High School massacre that took 13 lives in 1999.
John Paul II, Ridgeland: Will hold a special prayer service.
St. Anne, Rock Hill: Will hold an all-school Mass, followed by a student procession into the courtyard to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Myrtle Beach: A special Mass was already planned to honor the day that St. Elizabeth Anne Seton was received into the Church. Students and faculty will incorporate prayers for the victims of school shootings into the Mass.
St. Joseph’s Catholic, Greenville: Will hold a special Mass offered by Father Duncan in the school football stadium.
Read The Miscellany on March 29 for more photos and coverage of prayer events at the schools.