Tragedy to Conversion

Our family attended one of the summer “Holy Family Fests” at Catholic Familyland, a former seminary and now retreat center near Steubenville, Ohio, hosted by the Apostolate for Family Consecration, a Catholic evangelization organization.

Like the many times we’ve gone in the past the family camp/retreat was an amazing faith renewal experience, especially with speaker Justin Fatica with his Hard as Nails ministry speaking to youth.

But then this happened Wednesday night as everyone was preparing to attend a rosary campfire:

Five year old Hannah O’Leary one of ten children from one of the hundred or so families attending was hit by a car. Unconscious, she was revived just long enough for two priests to administer Confirmation and Extreme Unction as first an ambulance and then a helicopter was brought in to try to treat her.

The driver, shocked, fainted as well when he realized what had happened as everyone spontaneously assembled to pray numerous rosaries as they attempted to treat her sever injuries.

The campfire rosary was postponed and replaced by an hour of adoration for everyone instead as the teens were already scheduled to have adoration for the rest of the night, but it was not until near midnight that it was announced that the girl had died.

The first death to have occured over decades of these “Holy Family Fests” operating was horrendous not only for how/what had happened but for the both families involved. As I walked over to join the main body and find out what had happened (I had been in another building and prayed a rosary with a smaller group immediately) we could hear the screams of a sibling as he realized what had happened, how everyone had to jump back when a rescue helicopter arrived, or Fr. Jude, a chapalin from a local hospital near us we had invited walking back with the family of Hannah.

For both families, an uplifting experience of joy and faith had turned into terror, regret, and guilt as the families of both involved were bedecked with self-inflicted blame.

The tone changed dramatically for the remaining day and a half as the death was officially announced before the morning Mass the next day. The homily by Fr. Wolfgang of the Canons Regular – Opus Angelorum focused on the situation and how we in our mortal lives “cannot see beyond the veil” that is God’s will, cannot see the effects only God can see.

Letters to the Families involved

Good can be brought out of tragedy.

This theme was repeated by Justin Fatica who spoke again to the youth encouraging them to use what had happened as an inspiration for personal conversion. We wrote letters like the above to both families to show how what they were going through was affecting others and for them to not give up hope.

For both sides, that is now the biggest threat, despair and continues to need prayers even as Justin’s call brought a positive of sorts to many.


While we assume given the age that Hannah is now truly with Christ, please pray for both families to resist despair and themselves find hope.

May her death not be in vain and as Fr. Wolfgang and Justin hoped be an inspiration to interior conversion.

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