A Father’s Journal: Charleston tragedy underscores why sanctuaries matter
Updated 7:54 am, Thursday, July 2, 2015
I vaguely remember seeing the story on the shooting in Charleston online as a news flash. I did not click on it. I am clicking on fewer and fewer stories in the news these days. The more stories I click on, the more depressed I get.
A while later I saw “shooting in SC church.” I don’t know what denomination SC is. We are RC, Roman Catholic. I still was busy with whatever I was doing and did not click. I then saw “Mass shooting in Charleston.” My daughter Caroline goes to college in Charleston. But still no click.
Then we got an email — something from her college about lockdown procedures. Then, my wife who is on the parents’ email list, saw it going crazy. I started clicking like mad.
I talked to my children about it afterward. I was not that interested in a shooting, and as the story built, I still was not that interested. Until it hit home.
When the story developed and the gunman’s friends told reporters his original target was the College of Charleston, my daughter’s college, I selfishly began to pay attention. Did it really take all that to get my attention?
What got my attention and got me to click? That is was a black church and the gunman was a white racist? I was pretty busy at work that day. That nine people died? Not yet. That it was in Charleston, and the original target was my daughter’s school? Now that got my attention, and I started to take notice.
Downtown historic Charleston is very compact, and my daughter had to go by the old historic Emmanuel AME church several times a week on her way to classes. She is back home now for the summer. The memorial for the church’s minister was held in the college arena.
Caroline had a rough entry into the College of Charleston, with some roommate problems, so for the first semester of her freshman year, she spent quite a bit of time at the library. The library was her salvation that rocky first semester. When more of the shooting story came out, Caroline recognized the name of one of the nine victims — Cynthia Hurd, one of the college librarians. Caroline doesn’t really remember interacting with her very much, just that she was one of the librarians that made the library a comfortable, welcoming place. Which in turn made her college a comfortable, welcoming place. We are indebted to Cynthia for this gift.
Caroline and our whole family have found a safe place in libraries, Starting with our favorite library, the Pequot Library. When it is closed at night we go to the main town library, or we used to go to the Fairfield Woods branch when were waiting for the kids to get out of choir rehearsal on Wednesday nights.
As a family, we have also found refuge in churches. We are Irish Catholic Jews, so it is a bit more complicated than with a library. But we have found solace, at St. Anthony’s RC church on South Pine Creek. We also feel comfortable in synagogues.
Reading about the shooting, it was clear that the Emmanuel AME Church was, for the victims, their special place, their place of refuge. They were ministers and lay people. They welcomed the newcomer into their sanctuary and he sat with them for an hour in this historic place of refuge. They invited him to pray with them. I do not know what was going through his mind as he prayed with these people for an hour. He then opened fire on them.
Politicians and pundits of every stripe are trying to use the tragedy to prove some moral. Some moral that they had before the shooting. I don’t know if there is a moral, or a reason, or any sense found here.
I am just grateful for the sanctuaries and the keepers of them.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at