WASHINGTON –– Students at Boston colleges in particular felt the impact of the April 15 Boston Marathon explosions and after the tragedy just down the street from many of these campuses, they gathered to pray for victims, raise funds to support their recovery, and simply to talk and share their grief and disbelief.
Msgr. John McLaughlin, a Catholic chaplain at Boston University, told Catholic News Service that he celebrated Mass on campus just hours after the explosions. He got the idea for Mass on his way back from ministering to those at the marathon site and word spread just by text messages that it would take place.
"By the time I got there, it was full," he said April 17.
Since then the students also have taken part in an interfaith vigil, but as he pointed out they primarily just wanted to talk about what they had gone through.
"There is a flood of students just wanting to talk to someone," he said, emphasizing that they are overwhelmed by the whole situation. One student who volunteered in the medical tent to help runners was particularly shaken up.
One of the three people killed by the explosions was Boston University graduate student Lu Lingzi. The school has set up a memorial scholarship in her name. A second victim of the bombing, Krystle Campbell, 29, was a former student at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The third victim was a child, 8-year-old Martin Richard of the Dorchester area of Boston.
Many area college students ran in the marathon. Even more watched it from the sidelines. Some students received minor injuries and others were more seriously wounded by the blasts. A Boston College graduate and his wife were both seriously injured and the college is conducting a fundraising drive to help pay their recovery expenses.
Immediately after the bombings, some campuses were locked down. Four days later when one of the suspects was at large, all Boston colleges were closed and students were told to stay in their dorms.
Sean Collier, a patrol officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was killed April 18 allegedly by one of the suspected marathon bombers, identified as two brothers originally from the Russian republic of Chechnya. One of them, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was later killed in a shootout with police.
The second suspect, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, was listed as a registered student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He was still being sought by police.
While campuses were closed April 19, Emmanuel College, founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was making landlines available to students since cellphone service in the area was sporadic.
Msgr. John McLaughlin, a Boston archdiocesan priest who is in his second year as chaplain at Boston University, told CNS he has been telling students "over and over that good overcomes evil."
When they ask where God was when the bombings occurred, he tells them God is "in all those who have helped and cared for others" and reminds them that without the fast response of so many people, many more would have died.
Msgr. McLaughlin stressed that the tragic event was "not on the scope of 9/11" but it cut to the heart of Boston's major celebration where so many people gather on the sidelines to cheer on the runners and have barbeques.
Immediately after the explosions, so many people checked on one another through texts and social media, he said, which "shows the resiliency of Boston and the strength of people in this."
Kristelle Angelli, director of Catholic campus ministry at Emerson College, just down the street from the marathon's finish line, likewise noted how students primarily just want to talk about their experience.
She said some Emerson students ran in the marathon, but most were cheering or just there to be part of the experience. Those who had been near the site of the explosions but had coincidentally walked away, are particularly grappling with why they walked away uninjured.
"They're shaken, but at the same time they have amazing spirit," she told CNS April 18. "They have real resilience, wanting to make sense of what happened but also wanting to make the Boston Marathon better next year."
She said the university has sponsored events to pray for victims and have discussion.
Aside from the large-scale gatherings though, she said the students mainly want to share their stories of where they were that day, which, she pointed out three days later, "already feels like a month ago."
At Jesuit-run Boston College the day after the explosions, students gathered in front of St. Ignatius Church, near mile 21 of the marathon route, to sign get-well posters for two of the school's graduate students injured by the blasts and attend a "Mass for Healing and Hope" in the church. On the day of the marathon, the church had been a temporary sanctuary for stranded marathon runners.
In his homily, Jesuit Father William Leahy, the school's president, said they had gathered in "shock, sadness, fear, hurt, sorrow, bewilderment and, I suspect, anger as well."
He urged them in the midst of such a tragedy to "represent faith and hope and healing for those most in need of it."
Members of the Boston College community had raised nearly $400,000 by midafternoon April 19 to pay for the medical costs of Patrick Downes, a 2005 Boston College graduate, and his wife, Jessica, Kensky, a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, who were both seriously injured by the blast.
Downes, a Boston native, was active in campus ministry and directed the school's Kairos retreat program for students.
"When he was here, Patrick was the kind of B.C. student who would light up a room, who led by his presence," said campus minister Daniel Leahy.