March 18, 2022

Teen and young woman bond in healing and hope after losing loved ones

Grace Liegibel, left, and Xochitl Murillo have formed a bond of hope and healing after being brought together by heartbreak. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Grace Liegibel, left, and Xochitl Murillo have formed a bond of hope and healing after being brought together by heartbreak. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Their bond began through a connection of tragedy. They both have lost someone they love deeply, someone who left their life far too soon.

Their bond has also grown in a spirit of hope and healing—that some good can come out of their heartbreak.

At 16, Xochitl (pronounced So-Chee) Murillo wants to live her mother’s dying wish that she continues her education at a Catholic high school.

At 33, Grace Liegibel wants to honor the life and joy of her brother, Jack Shockley, who died at 24 when he was shot and killed in an apparent robbery in Indianapolis in August of 2020.

Their lives have become intertwined since Xochitl became the first recipient of a memorial scholarship created in Jack’s honor by the Shockley family—a scholarship that not only provides funds to help Xochitl live her mother’s dream, it’s also a scholarship that has given the first-year student at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis the added gift of having Grace as a mentor.

“When my parents were trying to figure out what they wanted to do with all the outpouring of support that we got after my brother passed, one thing from the beginning was how can we help someone continue their Catholic education,” says Grace about her mom and dad, Cheryl and Steve Shockley. All three are members of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis.

The Shockleys saw the value of a Catholic education in their three children’s lives, giving them a great academic foundation, developing their faith, and providing an extra layer of support from their school and parish community. Still, they wanted to do more than offer a scholarship. They wanted to give each recipient the opportunity to have a relationship with a mentor, someone who would help guide them through their four years of high school.

When Xochitl applied for the first-ever Jack Shockley Peacemaker Scholarship in the spring of 2021, her story touched the hearts of everyone who heard it.

“When I was 11 years old, my mother passed away of cancer,” she wrote as a then-eighth-grade student at Central Catholic School in Indianapolis. “Every day for at least a year, she prayed the rosary, just praying to feel better until she could no longer talk. Before she died, my mother’s wish for me was for me to become a Catholic.

“In the last year of her life, she found Central Catholic School and sent me here. She made my dad promise her he would send me to a Catholic high school as long as he could afford it.”

Her mother’s dream has been made possible by the scholarship in honor of Jack. And Grace becoming Xochitl’s mentor has created a measure of hope and healing for both of them.

They began their once-a-month meetings at Roncalli at the start of the school year in August, and that meeting affected Grace so much that she called her brother, Peter, right after it.

“My thought was Jack would have really, really liked her and found her interesting,” Grace recalls. “She’s so sweet and kind and thoughtful. And she’s also very curious, which Jack would have really liked. So it’s just been wonderful to listen to her. We’re still on the basis of getting to know each other. It’s the first year of a four-year relationship. It’s been positive so far.”

Xochitl has the same reaction. She describes Grace as “the easiest friend I’ve ever made.”

“I actually quite enjoy it,” she says. “I know I ramble a lot, and I like when people listen to me.

“Other than being a good listener, she actually gives good tips. And she helps me come up with more ideas and more ways of doing things. I love her stories about her family and her children. Overall, I feel relieved when she comes. It just relieves the stress [of school]. When Grace comes, I can just talk about non-school things—family-wise, my imagination going wild.”

At the same time, they are aware of the heartbreaking losses that bind them.

“I think she can recognize in me that while our situations are different in many ways, we also have similar experiences that not everyone has,” Grace says. “And even though we’re not talking about that all the time, there’s always the understanding that we share that experience.”

Xochitl’s thoughts of her mother and Grace’s memories of Jack are never too far away. Grace even catches glimpses of Jack in her children, 3-year-old Owen and 16-month-old Nora.

“I was six months pregnant with my daughter when Jack passed. Grieving him and also bringing life into the world was quite the emotional rollercoaster. Watching her grow over the first year of her life was such a blessing not just for me, but for my whole family. And also my son,” says Grace, a graduate of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis who is married to Brandon, a Roncalli graduate.

“It’s difficult, but it’s also wonderful to see Jack in each one of them. That’s been very healing for me personally. My kids have really helped me through this whole thing.”

Xochitl smiles when she talks about her mother’s faith in God. Her expression turns wistful when she recalls how her mother cuddled her during times when she was afraid. And there’s a combination of joy and wistfulness in her expression when she shares that she thinks her mom is proud of how she is doing in her first year at Roncalli.

It’s been a year of good grades so far, a year of stress worrying about her grades, a year of making new friends and pushing herself to be more involved in clubs and activities, knowing her mom would want her to make the most of her high school experience.

Her thoughts also turn to Grace’s parents for creating the scholarship that has led her to pursue her mother’s wish and for making it easier for her father to fulfill that wish.

“They’re brave and great for allowing the memory of their son to still go on,” she says.

The Shockley family’s hope is that Xochitl is the first of many students who will benefit from the Jack Shockley Peacemaker Scholarship Fund.

The plan is for the fund to help at least one new student every year and continue that financial commitment for the four years of their high school education. There’s also the commitment to offer mentors to every student, with many of Jack’s friends already lining up to serve in that role.

In return, the Shockleys hope the scholarship recipients will strive to be a peacemaker in their schools and their larger communities. Xochitl has made that pledge, and she has Grace as a mentor and a friend to share that path with her.

“It will be fun to see how she grows, the friends she makes and the relationships,” Grace says. “My best friends are still people that I had from high school. And I hope that’s the same for her.

“It means a lot that she has allowed me to have this relationship with her. We offered the mentorship as fully her choice. I’m happy she wanted to do it, and that she is getting something out of it because I’m certainly getting something from it.”

Grace smiles wistfully as she says, “And I always think about how much Jack would have enjoyed her.”
 

(For more information about, or to contribute to, The Jack Shockley Peacemaker Scholarship Fund, contact Kim Pohovey in the archdiocese’s Stewardship and Development Office at kpohovey@archindy.org or at 317-236-1568.)

 

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