Hamden's response in the wake of the Texas church shooting

By Jenelle Cadigan

It is the fifth deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history, behind Sandy Hook, where 27 were killed, Virginia Tech, 32 killed, Pulse nightclub, 49 killed, and the Harvest Musical Festival in Las Vegas, just over a month ago, where 58 people were killed.

This time, it happened in a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Twenty-six people are dead and dozens more injured after a shooter opened fire. The victims range in age from 18 months to 77 years old.

“It’s horrific,” the Rev. Douglas House of the Mount Carmel Congregational Church said.

Reverend Douglas J. House - Mount Carmel Congregational Church

Reverend Douglas J. House - Mount Carmel Congregational Church

The Mount Carmel Congregational Church sits on the corner of Whitney Avenue and Dixwell Avenue, and has been a central part of Hamden’s religious life since colonial times.

“People go to places of worship for safety, security … and to focus on how God works in our lives, to ask for forgiveness, to create peace, to create harmony, all the kinds of good things that we value in our society,” House said. “And that an individual goes into a place of worship … and takes advantage of the things that those people are there for, and ends up killing them, it’s beyond words.”

One mile down the road, also on Whitney Avenue, is Our Lady of Mount Carmel, one of seven Catholic churches in Hamden. Father Michael Dolan has been a priest for 20 years and although he has only been with this particular church for five months, he has deep emotional ties to Connecticut.

“I was present for the Sandy Hook (shooting),” Dolan said. “I had to go and do the notification to the families of their child, and that was awful.”

He recalled the last time he saw one of those families.

“They were in the rose garden with President Obama, and you know the legislation hadn’t gone through,” he said. “They were so upset.”

Dolan wanted some sort of legislation.

Father Michael Dolan - Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church

Father Michael Dolan - Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church

“People do an awful lot of damage in a short amount of time because of the fire power. You wish they would have gun control, but it’s very hard to push through,” he said, attributing that to the fact that people don’t want their rights taken away, but also adding that it doesn’t have to be that way. “You can have a gun, but do you really have to have a machine gun? It’s amazing. Armor piercing bullets? Really? Is the deer wearing body armor?”

Nearly five years later, gun control legislation still hasn’t passed, which Dolan says has led to parishioners wanting to take matters into their own hands.

“In my last parish I had two parishioners that would say ‘You know, Father, I’m packing in case there’s a problem, I’ll take them out,’” Dolan said, adding that he knows that would never end well.

He says he doesn’t want to give the impression that the church is a target, but it is one, being a public building and a “symbolically charged space” with a wide-open floor plan. He says he wants the church to be safe, but he admits that it’s difficult to maintain safety when you’re welcoming to anyone. Dolan says parishioners have become hyper-aware during services.

“I noticed after the Las Vegas shooting there was a loud noise in church, and I could tell people were like ‘Is it a shooter?’” Dolan said. “United Illuminating was doing construction, and the backhoe hit the sidewalk and they all jumped. You could tell, but I had to keep my composure.”

But House says hyper-awareness doesn’t equate to fear.

“I think it’s human nature. Maybe we’re more aware of our surroundings today than we used to be, but I don’t think people in my congregation and certainly I’m not any more fearful than I ever have been,” he said.

House and Dolan both want the focus to be on the positives during times like these and after events as horrific as this.

“It can happen anywhere, but you don’t dwell on that,” House said. “If you lived your life constantly thinking about terrorism, the terrorists would’ve won, as so many people have said. So you live your life the way you intend to.”

Dolan’s face lit up with a smile from ear to ear as he talked about all the engagement rings he has blessed, the beautiful babies he has baptized, and the many first communions he has given. And then, he referenced Holy Scripture.

“Where sin is, grace abounds all the more.”

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church