By Karen A. Avitable, Catholic News Service
NEWTOWN, Conn. (CNS) — Jennifer Hubbard began Dec. 14, 2012, with her routine just like any other day.
She prepared breakfast, made her children’s lunches and beds, got them off to school and then looked at the pile of dishes in the sink and the floors and the counters that needed to be cleaned.
The night before, Hubbard and her children, Freddy, 8, and Catherine, 6, were giddy when they baked a gingerbread house, an annual family holiday tradition. With Christmas less than two weeks away, Hubbard also was thinking of the top priority for the weekend ahead: taking the family Christmas photo.
“I wanted this to be the picture that would make someone visiting my family stop in their tracks and actually pick up the frame, captivated by just how beautiful my babies are,” she thought.
That morning, a Friday, a friend called, telling her to “get to the 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 transpired, and Hubbard’s world came to a screeching halt. Catherine was one of 20 first graders and six adults killed by a gunman who forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The hours, days, weeks and months that followed were a blur. Hubbard was panic stricken, paralyzed with grief and surrounded by waves of loss. She even questioned God. “I called God on the carpet and said, ‘Why didn’t you stop it?'”
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 began reading Scripture.
“The Bible is God’s word for us. You want to know who Jesus is, read the Bible,” Hubbard said. “I see the Bible as this beautiful way to live our lives. It is the road map we all pray for.”
Sitting at the kitchen table overlooking her peaceful backyard, Hubbard spent time each day reading the Bible. She also began writing her own thoughts and revelations about God in a journal. Her first entry after Catherine’s loss, “I dreamt of Jesus last night,” was written March 14, 2013. She now has about a dozen journals to her credit.
In 2021, Hubbard used her journal entries and the 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 one step in Hubbard’s journey toward wholeness, includes reflections, questions and Bible passages to deepen one’s own faith toward finding God’s peace.
Catherine’s tragic death forced Hubbard to forge a new life for herself and Freddy.
While the events on and following Dec. 14 changed Hubbard’s life, she said she received the “graces I needed to walk through that suffocating darkness and encounter the light of goodness on the other side.”
“What my life would be today had I not lost Catherine is something I ponder at times,” she told the Catholic Transcript, magazine of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut. “Would I have ever learned the hard lesson of choosing to trust when life becomes turbulent?
“It is not a lesson I wanted to learn. I would give anything to have my daughter back, to see the young woman that fiercely determined and abundantly gentle little girl could have been.”
“However, this is not reality,” she said. “I can sit right there in that place of want and disappointment that it will never happen, or I can trust there is more. I choose the latter. And so can you.”
Today, Hubbard continues to read the Bible and participates in a Bible study group, finding that her relationship with God continue to evolve. She is a speaker on the Catholic Spirit Radio Network, a retreat leader, a writer with Magnificat magazine and a presenter at Legatus, an organization for Catholic business executives.
She worships at Midd-South Catholic, a parish serving Middlebury and Southbury, Connecticut.
Because of the storms that Hubbard has lived through, she has found her own “sanctuary,” she said.
In the conclusion of the book, she wrote, “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 they are preparing me for whatever tomorrow may bring. And in that knowing, I am blessed. Blessed abundantly.”
In honor of her daughter and her love of animals, Hubbard has channeled her own energy to establish the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in Newtown. She is the nonprofit’s president and executive director.
In her short life, Catherine spent much of her time taking care of and rescuing animals and “would get nose to nose with them. There was no hesitation between Catherine and any creature,” Hubbard recalled.
The sanctuary serves as a bond between animals, human beings and the environment. Red terra-cotta tiles representing Catherine’s bright red hair adorn a pavilion with a colonnade. An education center and a community veterinarian are planned for the 34-acre sanctuary.
Come Dec. 14, Hubbard will honor Catherine “in a quiet way,” as she has done each year since the tragedy. Most likely, the day will include a visit to the sanctuary where a Christmas tree, a wreath or luminaries will be lit with a select group of people on hand.
This year, however, may be harder, she noted, because Freddy is at college and is not likely to be able to participate in person. While being an empty nester has been an adjustment for Hubbard, she is happy to report that Freddy is well-adjusted and is thriving.
Hubbard remembers her daughter’s first day of school when she entered the first grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She now wonders what kind of person Catherine would have become, as a junior in high school.
“That girl was fierce and determined and loving and compassionate,” Hubbard said. “I would love to know what a 16-year-old who had all that compassion and love would be. I also know she’s good and I don’t have to worry about her.”
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Avitabile is editor of the Catholic Transcript, magazine of the Archdiocese of Hartford.