Echoes of hope: Immersed in Uvalde's healing

by Vince Dragone; photos by Catholic Extension

On May 24, 2022, a gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 students and two teachers, and injuring 17 others, leaving the community reeling. Not long after the shooting, Catholic Extension, a nonprofit devoted to supporting poor and remote Catholic communities in the United States, stepped in to provide both financial and physical resources to support Uvalde’s healing.

Exactly one year later, as Jennifer Wortman, the director of faith formation for the Warren County Catholic Community, stepped onto the tarmac in San Antonio, Texas, a flurry of emotions enveloped her. Invited by Catholic Extension to see the work they have done thanks to generous donations from Holy Redeemer Parish in Warren, Jennifer found herself in a town grappling with the aftermath of the horrific school shooting.


"I was there to witness, but I didn't want to intrude," she recalls.

In the face of the tragic event, Jennifer found herself profoundly moved by the community’s response.

“You could tell that they are very united through their parish. It’s their family. They are still in a lot of pain. You can see it in their faces, but they are surviving because of their faith,” she says.

Catholic Extension’s commitment to Uvalde is not new. It started in 1906 with support for the construction of the town’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church and, later, its Sacred Heart Catholic School.

The breadth of Catholic Extension's initiatives in Uvalde came into sharp focus following the Robb Elementary shooting.

"They're not just about constructing buildings, but about fostering a sense of community and unity," Jennifer explains.

The organization had initiated grief counseling sessions, working closely with experienced therapists to provide the necessary emotional support to families, school staff and students. These counseling sessions were designed to create safe spaces where individuals could express their grief and trauma openly. Group therapy sessions allowed community members to draw strength from shared experiences and mutual support. For those requiring more support, one-on-one counseling was offered. Children, especially those who had lost friends in the tragedy, were provided specialized counseling using tools like play and art therapy to help them process their grief.

In addition, Catholic Extension facilitated a scholarship program for Robb Elementary School students who wished to transfer to the local Catholic school. In total, 30 students decided to switch schools, and Catholic Extension covered 100 percent of their tuition — and plans on continuing to pay for their education until their graduation from high school.

Another initiative spearheaded by Catholic Extension was Camp I-CAN, under the leadership of Sister Dolores Aviles, a native of Uvalde. The camp served as a therapeutic retreat, offering students a place to navigate their emotions while also enjoying the innocence of play. A diverse array of activities was made available, ranging from the exploration of fine arts projects for emotional expression to physical activities fostering energy and teamwork.


Catholic Extension called upon the services of 40 nuns from various regions of the U.S. These devoted sisters arrived in Uvalde with a singular purpose — to provide emotional support directly within the community. They stood side by side with the residents of Uvalde, lending a listening ear and a comforting presence during the challenging journey of adaptation and healing. This concerted effort underscored Catholic Extension's dedication to accompanying the community every step of the way on its path to recovery.

"They are transforming lives in these communities," Jennifer notes, emphasizing the importance of recognizing these less visible initiatives.

Returning to Warren, Jennifer felt the urgency to share her experiences, particularly with her students. The lessons learned there — faith, resilience and the power of community healing — are now an integral part of her work as a faith formation director.

“My students hear so many misconceptions about the Catholic Church,” she says. “My mission is to teach them the truth about the church’s work and its impact.”

She also recognizes the importance of the financial contributions to Catholic Extension's mission.

"The funds we raise are directed to places like Uvalde, where they are most needed," she shares, highlighting the tangible effects of these donations.

Reflecting on her journey, Jennifer concludes, “I knew this trip would be a powerful experience, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so transformative. It really ignited a passion within me, and I am so proud of our Catholic Church and all that is being done to help people.”