School shootings have prompted debates about gun control and
conversations about mental health, but the recent shooting at Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has added another voice
to the discussion: the high school students themselves.
14, teenagers across the country participated in the National School
Walkout to honor the 17 students killed in Florida and to call for gun
policy changes and an end to violence. Cardinal Ritter College
Preparatory High School, Trinity Catholic High School, and Christian
Brothers College High School were among participating schools in the St.
They and other Catholic schools added prayer to needed conversations about gun control and mental health.
decision to hold a prayer service for peace in the wake of another
school shooting was an easy one for students at Christian Brothers
College High School in Town and Country.
Determining the place to have the service was even easier — the Blessed Mother Grotto, in front of Our Lady of Peace.
reflective service was organized by students and led by the school’s
campus minister, Dominican Father DePorres Durham, who stated in the
introduction that it was intended to recognize the pain and anxiety and
“give voice to our suffering after the senseless act of another school
The students and staff members who attended the prayer
service, many wearing hoodies on a chilly but sunny morning, circled
around the grotto on a high point of the campus overlooking the football
stadium. They listened as the names of 27 schools impacted by shootings
were read aloud and then were silent for 100 seconds at Father Durham’s
suggestion to recommit to being “Men for Tomorrow, Brothers for Life.”
After a half-dozen reflections, they prayed the Our Father and received a
The presenters urged students to write a
commitment to action and place it in a basket in the chapel. The
suggestions included reaching out to someone at CBC who may be
experiencing difficulties or is picked on, expressing love and care to a
family member and more.
Danny White, a senior at CBC, said the
prayer service was intended to show unity. “This was not about political
action,” he said. “This was about standing in solidarity. As a Catholic
school, we stand in solidarity through prayer and offering guidance
Through tough times, he said, “finding that light from God can help guide those who do not know the way.”
Durham said the grotto was selected because it is “a prayer place” and a
site that is a long CBC tradition. Prayer is powerful, but action also
helps overcome feelings of helplessness, he said. “While this is
obviously a very complex problem, one way we can begin is to simply
treat each other better,” the campus minister said. “It begins with
recognizing the dignity of everybody we live with and that we are
responsible for each other.”
For about an hour on
March 14, Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School took to the
streets of Midtown in support students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
School in Parkland, Fla.
Wearing orange arm bands or orange
shirts, students, faculty and staffed marched about three-quarters of a
mile to the corner of Grand Boulevard and Laclede Avenue at St. Louis
University. Most carried posters they created for the occasion, with
messages such as “#StopTheViolence,” “Enough is enough,” and “Blessed
are the children.”
They lined up briefly along Grand, waved their
signs and cheered as passing motorists honked their horns in approval,
before heading back to school.
The march had many poignant
moments. Some students created posters memorializing the victims in
Florida as well as victims of gun violence in St. Louis. Freshman
Malachi Davis made a poster with a photo of 17-year-old Nicholas Dworet
from Parkland, Fla., accompanied by snippets of Nicholas’ plan after
high school to pursue competitive swimming this fall in college.
poster project drove home the harsh reality that Dworet “was really
dead,” Davis said, adding that creating the poster “was hard; he didn’t
deserve to lose his life. … I’m sure he didn’t wake up in morning
thinking, ‘I’m going to die today.’”
He likewise couldn’t imagine
the shooter “waking up thinking that he’s going to shoot another person
and take their life. … It’s really sad. It makes me really think about
Some in the Cardinal Ritter community have lost loved ones
or friends to gun violence in the St. Louis area, including Ronnie
Robinson — the father of 2013 Cardinal Ritter graduate Breonna Robinson.
Two of his sons have died as a result of gun violence in the past three
years: Lonnie, as an innocent bystander of a nightclub shooting in
Illinois; Breyon, whose body was burned and thrown into a dumpster; he
had been shot nine times.
Robinson described the march as “a show
of unity; a lot of people don’t have unity anymore,” he said, though he
feels the unity of the Cardinal Ritter community, which has supported
him through the loss of his sons.
“I’m just honored they invited
me back,” said Robinson, who volunteered at Cardinal Ritter during his
daughter’s years there and beyond.
On the front lines
mental-health debate falls under the purview of Catholic Family
Services, a federated agency of Catholic Charities of St. Louis. With
counselors embedded in more than 120 area schools, about 70 percent of
them Catholic, the counseling service is on the front lines of the
Catholic Family Services counselors give
students, faculty, administrators and staff the tools to help mitigate
mental-health concerns, thereby preventing circumstances that might lead
to such tragic events.
“If we’re teaching the whole child, maybe
some of these events don’t escalate,” said Tom Duff, the executive
director of Catholic Family Services. “Is suspending (students) the
right thing to do, or is it better to work with them and help the solve
The agency certainly prefers the latter over the former.
school partnership program is all about that emotional regulation,”
Duff said. “A lot of times, when kids are struggling, it might not even
be a true mental-health issue. Maybe it’s an emotional-regulation issue;
maybe they’re being traumatized and they don’t have the skills to work
Embedded counselors serve at schools for as little
as a half-day per week to five days a week, depending on schools’ needs.
Through Trauma 101 training, they also help educators identify at-risk
students in need of assistance, and they give students an on-staff
advocate to avoid embarrassment of perceived weakness or inadequacy in
seeking assistance to address toxic stress related to situations at home
or in the neighborhood.
Adding mental-health education to general health education also might pay big dividends.
would happen if we put a big emphasis of mental health?” Duff asked.
“What happens if we have a whole semester on mental health instead of
one day on mental health in health class. What happens if students start
understanding each other better?”
By learning to understand each
other, with the help of counselors, educators and each other, students
will learn that “it’s OK to be different,” Duff said.
Catholic Family Services
By the numbers
8 • Offices throughout the area
75 • Counselors, including 45 embedded in school settings
120 • Area schools (parochial, private and public) with embedded therapists
2,500 • Professionals, including counselors and teachers, trained in trauma-informed care
4,216 • People served per year through the eight offices
11,000 • Dollars per year to embed one therapist in a school for one day a week
12,000 • Students in schools with embedded therapists