Clergy comfort students, community after tragic high school shooting

LAKE ORION, Mich. (CNS) -- Many were not Catholic, but they arrived at St. Joseph Catholic Church the night of Nov. 30 nonetheless -- first a trickle, then a steady stream.

Soon, a sea of varsity jackets and sweatshirts emblazoned with Oxford High School's mascot, the Wildcats, overwhelmed the vestibule of the Lake Orion church.

Hugs were exchanged and cathartic tears were shed. Friends separated in fear hours earlier reunited, and parents consoled one another in their grief.

Earlier in the day, a gunman -- alleged by authorities to be a 15-year-old Oxford High sophomore -- took the lives of three Oxford students and wounded eight other people in the worst school shooting in Michigan history.

As the community came together at St. Joseph, the closest Catholic parish to Oxford, just 4.4 miles away in neighboring Lake Orion, the parish's regularly scheduled Tuesday evening liturgy became an impromptu occasion of healing for a community that will need plenty of it in the coming weeks and months.

"This is truly what a strong community does. We come forth. We bond together. We hug one another," Father Jim Kean, pastor of St. Joseph, told the nearly 1,000 parents, students, parishioners and community members who gathered for the Mass. "We turn to those words that on a day like today aren't particularly easy to say: 'I love you.' 'How are you?' 'Are you OK?'"