January 23, 2015

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Message of Christ’s victory guides teacher to help students in tough times

By John Shaughnessy

Matt Hollowell stood in front of his first period classroom, struggling to find the words to help his students—and himself—deal with the heartbreak of one of the most shocking mass killings at a school in the United States.

Less than 24 hours earlier, a lone gunman walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, and killed 20 students and six adult staff members before shooting himself.

As a math and physics teacher at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis, Hollowell always starts his classes with some kind of prayer, but he felt at a loss of what to say or pray that morning until, he believes, God provided the words for him.

“I told my students that as sad as the events were that took place just the day before, the thing that comforts me is that the battle between good and evil had already been fought and won 2,000 years ago when Jesus allowed himself to be crucified,” Hollowell recalls.

“From that moment on, there will never be any doubt that good is the ultimate victor. I then concluded my brief reflection by reading one of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.”

From that heartbreaking day came one of the most rewarding teaching experiences for Hollowell—the 2014 recipient of the Saint Theodora Guerin Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for a Catholic educator in the archdiocese.

“Five months later, on the last day of school, I came back in my room, once all the students had left for home, to find a card sitting on my desk,” he says.

“Upon opening the card, I read an extremely thoughtful thank-you note from a student who was in that first period class. The student concluded her note by writing, ‘I will never forget the lesson you taught us by saying that evil was defeated by good over 2,000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross. Thank you for sharing that with us. It made everything so much better for me that day.’ ” †

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