A mother shares her story of finding God after the tragic Sandy Hook shooting

NEWTOWN, Conn. (CNS) – Jennifer Hubbard started on December 14, 2012, with her routine like any other day.

She made breakfast, made her children’s lunches and beds, took them to school and then looked at the pile of dishes in the sink and the floors and counters that needed cleaning.

The night before, Hubbard and his children, Freddy, 8, and Catherine, 6, were stunned when they baked a gingerbread house, an annual family holiday tradition. With Christmas less than two weeks away, Hubbard was also thinking about the weekend’s top priority: taking the family Christmas picture.

“I wanted this to be the photo that would make someone visiting my family stop and take the frame, captivated by the beauty of my babies,” she thought.

Jennifer Hubbard is seen with her daughter, Catherine, in this undated photo. Catherine was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. She was 6 years old. (CNS Photo/courtesy Jennifer Hubbard)

That morning, a Friday, a friend called her, telling her to “go to school”. It stopped her dead in her tracks. Hubbard knew something terrible had happened and remembers whispering, “Oh my God, help me. Oh my God, help me.

The unthinkable happened and Hubbard’s world came to a screeching halt. Catherine was one of 20 first graders and six adults killed by a gunman who broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The hours, days, weeks and months that followed were a blur. Hubbard was panicked, paralyzed with grief, and surrounded by waves of loss. She even questioned God. “I called God to the mat and said, ‘Why didn’t you stop this?'”

It was after receiving a gift in the mail that she began to understand her own purpose, grace and healing. She had received a Bible and had begun to read the scriptures.

“The Bible is the word of God for us. You want to know who Jesus is, read the Bible,” Hubbard said. “I see the Bible as this beautiful way of living our lives. This is the road map we all pray for.

Sitting at the kitchen table overlooking her peaceful garden, Hubbard spent time each day reading the Bible. She also began to write her own thoughts and revelations about God in a journal. Her first entry after the loss of Catherine, “I dreamed of Jesus last night”, was written on March 14, 2013. She now has a dozen diaries to her name.

In 2021, Hubbard used her journal entries and notes she had written in the margins of her Bible to publish her first book, “Finding Sanctuary: How the Wild Work of Peace Restored the Heart of a Sandy Hook Mother.”

Each chapter, dedicated to a step in Hubbard’s journey to wholeness, includes reflections, questions, and Bible passages to deepen one’s own faith in order to find the peace of God.

Catherine’s tragic death forced Hubbard to forge a new life with Freddy.

A mother shares her story of finding God after the tragic Sandy Hook shooting
Catherine Hubbard is seen in this undated photo. She was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Catherine was 6 years old. (CNS Photo/courtesy Jennifer Hubbard)

As the events of December 14 and after changed Hubbard’s life, she said she received “the graces I needed to walk through this sweltering darkness and meet the light of goodness on the other side.” .

“What my life would be like today if I hadn’t lost Catherine is something I sometimes reflect on,” she told the Catholic Transcript, a magazine for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut. “Would I ever have learned the hard lesson of choosing to trust when life gets turbulent?

“It’s not a lesson I wanted to learn. I would give anything to find my daughter, to see the young woman that a fiercely determined and abundantly sweet little girl could have been.

“However, that’s not the reality,” she said. “I can sit right here in this place of longing and disappointment that this will never happen, or I can believe there’s more. I choose the latter. And so do you.

Today, Hubbard continues to read the Bible and attend group Bible study, finding that his relationship with God continues to evolve. She is a speaker on the Catholic Spirit Radio Network, a retreat leader, an editor for Magnificat magazine, and a presenter for Legatus, an organization for Catholic business leaders.

She worships in Midd-South Catholic, a parish serving Middlebury and Southbury, Connecticut.

Because of the storms Hubbard has been through, she has found her own “sanctuary,” she said.

In the book’s conclusion, she wrote, “The storms will gather, and when they do, I will be sheltered in the peace of my Lord God. And in that knowing, I can embrace the here and now, the joys and challenges of today, and today alone, knowing that they prepare me for whatever tomorrow may bring. And in this knowledge, I am blessed. Blessed abundantly.

In honor of his daughter and her love of animals, Hubbard channeled his own energy to establish the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in Newtown. She is the president and executive director of the non-profit organization.

During her short life, Catherine spent much of her time caring for and rescuing animals and “came face to face with them. There was no hesitation between Catherine and any creature,” Hubbard recalls.

The sanctuary serves as a link between animals, humans and the environment. Red terracotta tiles depicting Catherine’s red hair adorn a colonnaded pavilion. An education center and community veterinarian are planned for the 34-acre sanctuary.

On December 14, Hubbard will pay tribute to Catherine “in a low-key way,” as she has done every year since the tragedy. Most likely, the day will include a visit to the shrine where a Christmas tree, wreath or luminaries will be lit with a select group of people on hand.

This year, however, might be tougher, she noted, because Freddy is in college and likely won’t be able to participate in person. Although being an empty nest was an adjustment for Hubbard, she is happy to report that Freddy is well-adjusted and thriving.

Hubbard recalls her daughter’s first day of school when she entered first grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She now wonders what kind of person Catherine would have become, in first grade in high school.

“This girl was fierce and determined, loving and compassionate,” Hubbard said. “I would love to know what a 16-year-old would be like who had all that compassion and love. I also know she’s good and I don’t have to worry about her.

Editor’s note: Information about the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary is available online at cvhfoundation.org.

Karen A. Avitabile is editor of Catholic Transcript, the magazine of the Archdiocese of Hartford.

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