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One year anniversary of Uvalde school shooting, Catholic Extension renews its commitment to support the community

Archbishop Gustavo GarcÌa-Siller of San Antonio comforts people in Uvalde, Texas, outside the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center, where students had been transported from Robb Elementary School after a shooting May 24, 2022. (CNS photo/Marco Bello, Reuters)

UVALDE, Texas — One year after the Uvalde mass school shooting, which left 19 students and two teachers dead, officials with Chicago-based Catholic Extension visited the Texas city to renew the organization’s solidarity with a community still in the process of healing and announce its financial and tangible support will continue.

“Catholic Extension has a deep and rich history with Uvalde,” Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, said in a statement May 24. “Today we are renewing our commitment to continual support — in the best ways we can — to promote ongoing restoration in this faithful community we love, now and for the years to come.”

Since the May 24, 2022, tragedy took the 21 lives at Robb Elementary school, Catholic Extension has provided financial and tangible resources to support healing in the tight-knit Uvalde community.

“Though one year has passed, there’s still work to be done; the focus is now to build up the ‘New Uvalde’ as they look toward the future,” Extension said in a news release.

During the visit, Father Wall and others with Catholic Extension attended a community Mass celebrated at Sacred Heart Catholic Church by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio.

“Each of us is here. That means that love won,” the archbishop said to the crowd that included family and friends of the 21 people who lost their lives. “God’s love wins,” he affirmed to family members who wore shirts with the faces and names of those killed last year.

Following his homily, the names of the deceased were read as a candle was brought to the altar by loved ones. At the end, 21 candles stood at the foot of the altar as the Eucharist was celebrated.

To date, Catholic Extension has awarded 30 full scholarships to children of Robb Elementary who sought to transfer to Sacred Heart, the local Catholic school. Catholic Extension also launched Camp I-CAN, led by Teresian Sister Dolores Aviles, a Uvalde native, to provide students a safe place to heal and simply have fun, with activities ranging from fine arts projects to physical activities.

Additionally, Catholic Extension deployed 40 nuns from all over the U.S. to provide onsite emotional assistance and walk together with the community as they create their “new normal.”

During their trip to Uvalde, Catholic Extension officials announced the nonprofit will extend scholarship support until the children graduate from high school; fund another year of Camp I-CAN; and ensure that children and families have ongoing access to counseling services as they continue the grieving and healing process.

“Catholic Extension’s support has been a gift from God,” Sister Aviles said. “When I first spoke with them, I expressed my vision of gathering the children together and helping them to smile again and have fun.”

“This has been a beautiful, beautiful experience, and now we’re able to have another year of Camp I-CAN,” she added. “Thank you, Catholic Extension, for what you have done to help us.”

The nonprofit agency and Uvalde share a long history. Uvalde was one of the first communities Catholic Extension supported after the organization’s founding in 1905. It helped build Sacred Heart Church in 1906 and Sacred Heart Catholic School in 1912.

During a group lunch with priests and religious sisters from across the U.S. at the St. Henry De Osso Center, a center where children are provided trauma intervention through art therapy, the Catholic Extension group reconnected and visited with Noah Orona and his parents, Oscar and Jessica Orona. Noah was shot and survived the Robb Elementary shooting and was the first Sacred Heart scholarship recipient,

“Welcome to Uvalde,” Oscar Orona told the Catholic Extension group. “I sure wish it was under different circumstances, but we’re all here with one common goal: to continue with the healing process, because our community is still hurting. The one-year anniversary is a recognition, but the struggle continues. It is by the sheer grace of God that our son, Noah, survived, and we thank God every day for shining his everlasting light on him.”

Orona, who thanked Catholic Extension for its support, recounted his son’s experience, and as Noah continues to heal from both the physical and emotional wounds, he said he and the family are now focused on one thing for their son: Noah’s future.

“We could not be happier with the education Noah is receiving at Sacred Heart Catholic School,” he said. “Noah was reluctant to return to a public school, but now he is embracing his education and classmates without fear and has been a large part in his healing.”

He added, “Every day is a new day for us, and while we still have challenges to face, God is our compass. And with that, we cannot go wrong.”

Since its founding in 1905, Catholic Extension’s mission has been to build up Catholic faith communities in underserved regions by raising funds to help these communities. It helps construct churches in U.S. mission dioceses, many of which are rural and cover a large geographic area. Many have limited personnel and pastoral resources.

Besides Uvalde, Catholic Extension has supported 1,400 other church communities in rural Texas and along the U.S.-Mexico border.