‘Understand that he still loves you’: Catholics mourn victims of Michigan State shooting

Michigan State Michigan State University students attend a prayer service on Feb. 14, 2023, for those killed and injured at the university in East Lansing, Michigan, on Feb. 13, 2023. | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Michigan Catholics sought solace and support one day after three students were killed in a shooting on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

A Mass was offered Tuesday night at St. John Church and Student Center on MSU’s campus — about two blocks north of the Feb. 13 incident — for the repose of the souls of those who died. In his homily, Father Peter Ludwig reminded the students gathered of God’s love for them in the midst of tragedy.

“I think the great temptation of a night like this is always to wonder where God’s love is, [to] wonder how God could allow something like this and to allow the pain and the hurt that we see to cause us to doubt whether our Father really loves us,” said Ludwig, parochial vicar of the parish.

“My deepest hope for every single person in this room is not to take away the pain or the suffering — I can’t do that, I can’t make this better. … Please do your heavenly father a big favor today — his heart is grieved — please let him know that you understand that he still loves you.”

Two of the victims of Monday night’s shooting had ties to Detroit-area Catholic parishes.

Brian Fraser, 20, graduated from St. Paul on the Lake School Catholic School in Grosse Pointe Farms in 2017 and the family of Alexandria Verner, 20, belongs to Guardian Angels Parish in Clawson, according to Detroit Catholic.

The third victim, Arielle Anderson, 19, graduated from Grosse Pointe North High School and aspired to be a doctor, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The three were killed after a 43-year-old gunman opened fire on campus, injuring five others before apparently taking his own life. The gunman had no known ties to the university, according to the newspaper, and a motive for the attack was still unknown.

Janelle Wheeler, a MSU junior who attended the Mass at St. John’s, told the Diocese of Lansing that she could see emergency vehicles going by her residence during the incident. All by herself, she turned off the lights, shut the blinds, and barricaded herself in the bathroom.

“I always say/do the sign of the cross every time that there’s an emergency vehicle, and I was like, wow I am doing the sign of the cross quite a lot … so it was kind of like a fearful moment because I figured something significant must be happening,” she said.

A holy card is among candles outside of Berkey Hall on the campus of Michigan State University on Feb. 14, 2023, in East Lansing, Michigan. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
A holy card is among candles outside of Berkey Hall on the campus of Michigan State University on Feb. 14, 2023, in East Lansing, Michigan. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

‘Saddest day’ in Michigan

Hundreds of friends and family members gathered at St. Paul on the Lake Tuesday evening for a prayer vigil for Fraser.

“We come here filled with a lot of feelings, a lot of emotions, but we’re not here about those feelings,” the church’s pastor, Father Jim Bilot, told the gathering, Detroit Catholic reported. “The core and depth of our being goes beyond our ability to feel, to think, and experience. That’s where Jesus wants us to be. We can be weary. We can be troubled. We can be angry. We can be despairing. We can be fearful. There are so many layers to what’s going on that there’s not one simple answer to any of the questions we may have.”

At Guardian Angels Parish in Clawson, Deacon Christopher Stark prayed for the victims and led a livestreamed rosary Tuesday evening.

“Today is truly the saddest day I’ve experienced in the state of Michigan,” said Stark, who is also a graduate of Michigan State University and is a friend of the Verner family, according to Detroit Catholic.

Teary-eyed, Stark prayed for the “three young Spartans who lost their lives way too young, senselessly, and we ask the grace and mercy of God to be on their families, and for their souls to find a place of happiness, light, and peace in the presence of God in paradise,” he said.

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“A dreadfully dark day in East Lansing,” Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing tweeted earlier Tuesday. “May the love of Almighty God restore health to the injured; sustain those caring for them; bestow solace on those who mourn and eternal rest to those who were killed. The Catholic community is praying that they rest in peace.”

Father Michael Cassar, parochial vicar of St. John Church and Student Center on MSU’s campus, described the center’s response to the tragedy. In a Tuesday video on the Diocese of Lansing’s website, Cassar noted that the parish’s pastor, Father Gordon Reigle, was at the campus convention center until 3:30 a.m. with other religious leaders, parents, and students offering support.

“Tragedies are real, and you can’t pretend them away,” Cassar reflected. “But you also have to see them wrapped around and somehow absorbed into this love of Christ. And you can’t always see that element but it’s there. And so holding these together and mourning with those who are mourning without losing sight of Christ and his love and realizing that he’s with us, walking through it, suffering with his body, the Church, who are mourning as well.”

St. John’s Catholic Church and Student Center on Facebook thanked other campus ministries and Catholic organizations for their support. Sharing a photo of the University of Notre Dame’s famous grotto with “MSU” spelled out in candles there, it said: “We feel the love from our friends and colleagues — and that has sustained us in ministry throughout the day.”

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