Community leans on faith

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They had the greatest smiles and the best laughs, and their joy rubbed off on their families, friends, soccer teammates and classmates. crossesThree crosses stand on Harry and JoAnne Theisen’s property in Campbellsport, between where the vehicle left the road and ended up during the Feb. 4 crash that claimed the lives of Campbellsport High School students Katie Berg, 16, Caitlin Scannell, 17, and Sabrina Stahl, 15, and injured six other girls. (Catholic Herald photo by Erik Peterson)A little depressed? Caitlin Scannell, 17, would cheer you up.
Wanting a little music? Katie Berg, 16, would sing country songs.
Needing a hug? Sabrina Stahl, 15, was ready with open arms.
The three Campbellsport High students killed in a car crash early Saturday, Feb. 4, were remembered fondly last week by friends, as their families, school and churches prepared for funeral services. Six other girls were injured in the crash that devastated the tightly woven community.
“Caitlin was from our parish and very active in our Life Teen program and was preparing to help put on our 30-hour fast and other aspects of the program and promote it,” said Brad Mintie, director of religious education/director of Life Teen at Shepherd of the Hills Parish, Eden. “She had a bright smile and a big heart. Basically, if Life Teen was doing something or there was a fundraiser, she was involved in it, and was very well liked by all.”
Parish holds candlelight service
The parish held a memorial candlelight service that Saturday evening after Mass and invited all to come to remember, reflect and cry. For two hours teens, family and friends of the nine girls came to pray.
“We wanted a place for everyone to come that was outside the high school,” said Mintie. “We set up journals and papers so the kids could write notes to the girls and put their names up, played music and sat for a while.”
A brief welcoming prayer by Fr. Joseph Juknialis opened the channel for talking and healing. Every 15-20 minutes Mintie said a prayer for each of the girls and allowed the visitors time to grieve and mourn without news media, without pressure, and without fear of allowing their emotions to go. The journals were later brought to the school for students to continue sharing their memories.
“Afterwards, people seemed grateful they had a safe place to go where they weren’t being preached at as to how they should feel,” he explained. “It was important to give them a place to go to get them a place away from school to pray; I didn’t want to preach, but just wanted to allow everyone to grieve.”
A Bible study during the week was another opportunity for the teens to gather and pray, and the next Life Teen night will be devoted to allowing students to share their feelings and to help them cope with the terrible loss.
“Caitlin’s brother, Ryan, also set up a scholarship to be given to young people in memory of the girls,” said Mintie. “I am very impressed with him, and with the way Campbellsport High School has come together and invited the church community to be there all week. The whole community has really come together in support of all the kids.”
Confirmation went on as planned
While confirmation is a time for celebration, the day took on a somber tone as Bishop Donald J. Hying tried to comfort the brokenhearted at St. Matthew Parish the following afternoon.
When the news first broke that Allie Adams, a member of St. Matthew Parish, who was in critical condition, and that Sabrina Stahl’s brother, Nickolos, were both to be confirmed that day, the initial thought was to reschedule the confirmation Mass. However, according to Fr. Neil Zinthefer, pastor of St. Matthew Parish, they decided to continue, as two other parishes were included in the confirmation Mass and it would be difficult to reschedule. Both he and Bishop Hying also hoped that by continuing, it would be the beginning of healing for the community.
“I was surprised that Nick and his family decided to come; but Bishop Hying did a wonderful job of tying in the reality of the catastrophe and the confirmation in a verycrossA cross was erected on the property of Harry and JoAnne Theisen, members of St. Matthew Parish in Campbellsport, at the spot where the vehicle left the road in the Feb. 4 crash that claimed the lives of Campbellsport High School students Katie Berg, 16, Caitlin Scannell, 17, and Sabrina Stahl, 15. (Catholic Herald photo by Erik Peterson) healing consoling way,” Fr. Zinthefer said. “It was a good thing for people who were there and I think it was helpful for them afterwards because many there came over and were ministering to them. They supported them and it represents part of the way our whole community is responding to it. We all know each other and it is good to see that they are reaching out, as many of the families came over to offer their support.”
Torn with the idea of continuing, Beth Schmidt, director of religious education at St. Matthew Parish, said it didn’t feel right to hold the confirmation Mass, but under the advice of Bishop Hying and Fr. Zinthefer, she agreed that it might be a balm for healing.
Bishop’s message was healing
“Afterwards, it did feel like (it had) a very calming effect and we received much positive feedback,” she said. “Nick was confirmed and actually, when I saw (him) and his family show up for practice, it got me through the day because I felt that if they could do it, then I could do it.”
The message from Bishop Hying was meaningful to everyone, but especially to Nick, who he addressed personally, explained Schmidt.
“He talked about life being a series of lights and shadows and he told Nick that he gave him credit for coming that day,” she said. “I think that showed everyone that was there just how strong you can be at these times.”
While none of the deceased were from St. Matthew Parish, the impact of the accident has hit them hard, especially since Fr. Zinthefer lost three other members of their small parish the same week and was trying to plan those funerals in between trying to come to terms with his own grief and consoling grieving parishioners.
“It has been so difficult; there has been a great loss here. But I am encouraged to see that Allie is out of ICU and that things are looking up for her; she has been a great help to us each week in our Sunday morning preschool religious ed program,” he said, choking back tears. “I am impressed with our community and how everyone is being so supportive. The girls who are recovering will heal, but their psychological wounds will take much longer. All of the parents are hurting – we have had a number of parents who have endured the death of a child and they have mentioned how this opens up all those wounds, but at the same time allows them to reach out to others who are now going through the same thing.”
Tragedy hard on first responders
One of the difficult aspects of the accident about which many are unaware were the number of first responders, rescue and fire department personnel who arrived on the scene and knew the nine girls. To help grapple with their loss, Fr. Zinthefer attended a counselor-led session at the Campbellsport Fire Department.
“The counselor went around and asked everyone to share about how this accident affected them. It was very moving to hear because these people all know each other,” he said. “So many people are connected and even though the parish might not be directly connected, the kids are close to many of our families through school. My youth director is doing wonderful work at the high school and has been there for anyone who needs help.”
When Harry and JoAnne Theisen, members of St. Matthew Parish, woke to flashing lights in their bedroom window at 3:45 a.m., both knew immediately that something terrible had happened. Looking out their window, they were horrified to see the crushed vehicle that had once held the nine girls. While they couldn’t  have prevented the tragedy, the couple wishes they had heard the impact and been able to do more than stand behind the rescue workers.
“We just wished we could have been there to hold their hands and to let them know help was on the way and that they were not alone,” said JoAnne. “But we had to find out like everyone else about who was involved and what had happened.”
Throughout the day memorials were erected, crosses and flowers sheltered by the hundreds who stop by to kneel, pray and reflect on the lives lost and those changed. While emotionally difficult to view the memorials from their front door, JoAnne believes that they offer consolation to them and to the others who visit.
“I see young people coming by all the time to kneel and pray by those memorials, and it does seem to help in a way,” she said. “As tragic as this has been, our community has been drawn together and it doesn’t matter who you are, what you believe or what church you attend, we are all family and we all care about each other.”
The Theisens attended Mass that first Saturday evening and JoAnne was not sure she would be able to fulfill her role as lector and went to Fr. Zinthefer for moral support.
“I just wasn’t sure how I could get through it and said to Fr. Neil that it was going to be a rough one,” she explained. “He said, ‘Yeah it is, but we gotta do it,’ and afterwards he gave me a hug and said,‘We did it.’”
Community pulls together
Whether standing in the halls offering hugs, a shoulder to cry on, or a few silent glances of encouragement, Schmidt spent the first part of last week at Campbellsport High School serving as a rock to grieving students and staff.
“We provided food for the students all day as they came in and out of the grief counseling sessions and just trying to give any assistance we could,” she said. “The food was provided by the community and it was like the fishes and loaves miracle, as the food kept coming forth and it was like a never ending supply.”
Reaching out through her own grief was difficult as she knew most of the girls involved in the accident, but she also knew that the students needed her to be strong.
“I knew Sabrina, as she had gone to school with my son since kindergarten, and most of the other girls,” she said. “The other two who died, I knew through Allie, who was such a pretty, bubbly girl who was always helpful and kind, especially to the little children she helped in our preschool program. Once some of this calms down in the community, we want to have a Mass of healing here at the parish – it will be greatly needed as we all search and look for understanding.”
Another way St. Matthew was reaching out was to help with Katie Berg’s funeral. She was buried from Campbellsport Alliance Church and, according to Fr. Zinthefer, the parish human concerns committee supplied the food for the reception following her funeral.
“The people from our parish are just reaching out to help in any way they can,” he said, wiping back tears. “I wouldn’t be able to do anything because of all the funerals and loss here this week, but thankfully, others are reaching out. It is difficult to get through these tragedies; and I try not to think about it so much. We prayed for everyone this past week and began our Mass with a ceremony of lighting the candles to commemorate all the lives that have been lost and changed. But it has been a challenge for everyone.”

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