Fr. Matthew Widder and Fr. Mark Niehaus concelebrated a Memorial Mass on Monday, Nov. 21, at Catholic Memorial High School. (Photos by Larry Hanson)

Krissy Hartung could barely hold back tears as she described the events of Nov. 21, 2021, in Waukesha.

Catholic Memorial High School’s marketing and PR/communications associate, Hartung described the events of the Waukesha Christmas Parade before a Memorial Mass held on the first anniversary of the night that changed everything for the community.

“We can’t change the pain but we have faith that even in the sorrow of loss, there is love because we know we will be reunited in heaven with our family and friends,” Hartung said. “That faith and our actions to honor them is how love conquers all.”

Hartung read off the names of the six victims who died after being run over by an SUV driven by Darrell Brooks — Ginny Sorenson, Lee Owen, Tamara Durand, Jane Kulich, Bill Hospel and Jackson Sparks. Each of the six had a blue candle lit in their memory, and a seventh candle was lit to remember all of those who were injured physically, mentally and emotionally by the events of that chilly evening that went from festive to frightening in the blink of an eye.

Catholic Memorial students, faculty, staff and families participated in the parade, and the Memorial Mass was a continuation of the healing process. Hartung described preparing for the parade that morning a year ago, fielding calls and texts from parents and students on last-minute logistical items, and scrambling to make sure everything was just right.

“Everyone was chilly but excited and cheering, waving to the crowds around us,” Hartung said. “In a flash, that was changed to fear and chaos. The seconds felt like hours, trying to find everyone, checking on everyone outside our group. That night changed our lives in many ways. An innocence was gone, people were injured physically and mentally. The wave of emotions and questions of why were overwhelming. In those days that followed, we saw so much pain and sorrow, but we also saw strength, support and love.”

She called the tragic events at the parade a defining moment.

“How we react and what we do after those events is what shapes the world around us,” Hartung said. “No matter the situation, our lives are changed by those defining times. For all of us, Nov. 21, 2021, was a defining moment.”

The Memorial Mass began with a moment of silence on the school’s track, where students from Catholic Memorial were joined by students from the Waukesha Catholic School System. Members of the community were also invited to the event, one of at least three high-profile remembrances in Waukesha that day, and several community members did attend.

During his homily, Fr. Mark Niehaus said Jesus knows your pain because he lived that, as well.

“We bring our own need for redemption — that we are all sinners,” he said. “We have all done things that are wrong. We have to be reminded that it is by the grace of God that we do good. And we desire that (with) anything that might harm our neighbor, or that (with) anything that we might do that is difficult or wrong, that we ask that the Lord teach us, always, always, that the good of our neighbor is precious. Taking care of those next to us is so important. And we have seen the community of Waukesha rise up.”