It is said that we can't control what happens to us, only how we react to our circumstances. Barbara La Porte, who graduated recently with a Master of Arts in theology from Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology, is a poignant and powerful example of that philosophy in action.
In April 2007, La Porte experienced the worst that any parent could suffer and had every reason to question God. Her 20-year-old son, Matthew, was one of the 32 victims in the Virginia Tech University massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Losing him put the Dumont, N.J. native on an emotional and spiritual journey that she says she didn't want to take.
"Initially, I was faced with the questions: Why did God allow this to happen? Can I trust Him or do I blame Him?" La Porte wrote in the school's weekly Theology Student Update. "Through God's merciful grace and compassion, I was able to quickly discern my need to embrace God and not erase Him from my life. Now my son was with Our Lord, and I knew that by pursuing peace, beauty and truth, I would be drawn into their embrace."
Her pursuit of peace initially took La Porte to the Seton Hall University Seminary's Theological Education for Parish Services (STEPS) program in 2009, which was being offered in nearby Ridgewood. After completing the certificate program, she enrolled to complete her Master of Arts in theology degree on campus.
"Now that I have the degree, you find out that there is no end to what you can uncover about God and your faith," La Porte said. "The whole time that I was studying, I felt that I had my son next to me. You pray for inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and I felt that since my son was with Him, that we were doing it all together."
La Porte recently graduated, walking proudly onstage at Jubilee Hall to receive her graduate hood from Monsignor Joseph R. Reilly, Rector and Dean of the School of Theology. In the audience were her husband, Joseph, and daughter, Priscilla. Pinned to her lapel was a photo of Matthew.
"I wanted others to know that he was part of my success," she said.
La Porte says she has met "many nurturing and wonderful people" in the course of her studies, some who know her story and others who do not. She says everyone at the university has been welcoming and kind, and that her time at Seton Hall was therapy for a wounded soul.
"I needed to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually. Only by being lifted up to a world beyond our eyes could I contemplate where Matt had gone before me," she wrote. "It was a good strategy. The God I learned about didn't disappoint me, and I will continue to pursue Him, for in His eyes I have only just begun."
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