December 18, 2015

Reflection / Liz Copher Browning

Prayers continue for healing and comfort as Cathedral High School community grieves loss of student and friend

Jennifer “Jen” Maginot (Submitted photo by Cathy Flood)

Jennifer “Jen” Maginot (Submitted photo by Cathy Flood)

The week started like any other week before final exams at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. Most students had tests, projects and papers to finish before they could even begin to consider studying. The good news was that the long week would end, the assessments would all be completed, the Christmas Dance could finally receive some attention, and finals would come.

But it wasn’t going to be a week like all of the other weeks, because one of our own was slowly getting sick.

Sophomore Jennifer “Jen” Maginot stayed home all weekend, and wasn’t at school because she had tested positive for flu. Things quickly and quietly declined. Some students knew. Calls were made; texts were sent. Jen was at the hospital. Jen was in the intensive care unit.

Finally, Wednesday night, Dec. 9, saw the explosion of Twitter. Jen was really, really sick, and it didn’t look good. And Cathedral High School did what Cathedral always does in times of adversity: we prayed.

Students, parents and teachers gathered late that night at both St. Louis de Montfort, the Maginot’s home parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, and at the altar of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, in the heart of the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood in Indianapolis and the home parish for many of Jen’s friends. Prayer warriors all over the city were at work, praying for healing and praying for comfort.

Early on the morning of Thursday, Dec. 10, Jen Maginot died surrounded by her family.

For a school community who has seen too much loss, students and parents and teachers were in shock. However, the vast majority of students came to school Thursday because we’ve long learned that we grieve best together.

There wasn’t a lot of teaching going on that Thursday. Instead, we wrapped the students in the gift of time to try to find peace.

As a sophomore runner on our 130-plus member cross country team and an active and involved honors student, Jen Maginot had touched many in her short life. Add to that the losses our school suffered last year, and everyone, it seemed, felt her death.

Many of us began the day with Mass in the Shiel Student Life Center. A few hours later, the entire school community came together for a prayer service to honor Jen.

Teammates, friends and coaches spoke of her kindness, her friendliness, and her intellect. All of the sophomores were seated together on the floor and were surrounded by the seniors, juniors, freshmen and faculty. The raw emotion on the faces was palpable; the air trembled with grief.

At the end of the service, as Matt Maher’s song “Hold Us Together” played over the loud speakers, the sophomores stood as one on the floor. However, they were quickly joined by the seniors, who moved off the bleachers silently to stand arm-in-arm with the sophomores, showing them that they were not alone. Before we knew it, all the students flowed onto the floor and stood together, as the song’s lyrics say, “so the whole world would know that we’re not alone.”

One of my students contacted us to see if our club, the Positivity Club—of which Jen was a member—could organize a pre-school prayer circle the next day. And make a prayer chain. And write messages on the sidewalks.

With the blessing of Dave Worland, our principal, plans were made. By 7:15 on Friday morning, before the beginning of an abnormally normal school day, the prayer circle started.

At first, 100 students were there. Then more. Then still more. Every minute or so, we all had to take a giant step backward to hold the hands of yet another student there to honor Jen.

As we finished, the sun started to rise, and at the top of Kelly Hall, the light hit Mary’s outstretched hands on the feast of Our Lady of Loreto, as more than half of our student body of more than 1,200 ringed the Cathedral courtyard in silence, in prayer, and then, finally, together, we sang “Hold Us Together,” our anthem of strength.

That was the end of our week. It didn’t go as planned, and finals aren’t a given because we’ve decided they are optional this semester.

We’ve learned that just as we can grieve together, we also need time to heal. We’ve lost one of our own, and we will never be the same.

(Liz Copher Browning is an English teacher at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.)

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