Boston strong

Leawood catholic struck by solidarity throughout events in Boston


by Jessica Langdon
jessica.langdon@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — If one overwhelming theme has struck James P. O’Sullivan since two bombs shook Boston on April 15, the Kansas City-area native finds that it is solidarity.

People came together not only in Boston to help with immediate needs, but many reached out from across the country.

Calls checking on him, said O’Sullivan, poured in all day from Kansas City, Chicago and elsewhere, which he found a very “comforting experience.”

“I was shocked by what happened [at the marathon],” he said. “No one expected that.”

O’Sullivan is working on his doctorate in ethics at Boston College and has called the city home for four years.

O’Sullivan, nephew of archdiocesan pastor Father Pete O’Sullivan, grew up in Leawood. His mother is assistant principal at St. Thomas More School in Kansas City, Mo.

News sinks in

In the aftermath of the bombings that killed three and wounded more than 170, it took a day or two to really process all that had happened, said O’Sullivan.

But the reality of the situation really hit home when school resumed and students started sharing where they’d been when the bombs went off.

“There were immediate calls for blood drives at Boston College, and I know that was the case at a lot of schools and businesses,” said O’Sullivan.

Prayer services, Masses and other events quickly came together.

“I was struck by the sense of solidarity and resilience,” he said.

O’Sullivan attended a prayer service at Boston College and watched the ecumenical, national service on TV on April 18. That service really demonstrated to him the support coming from all over the country.

Even as members of the Boston College community grieved and offered their support in the days that followed the bombing, they looked at the tragedy from another angle.

“Being at a Jesuit university, there’s a big push to say, ‘What is the Catholic view on this?’” said O’Sullivan. “They also wanted to place this in global perspective.”

And from that point of view, they realized, “This was one among many terrorist attacks that happened that week.”

He pointed out car bombings that killed dozens in Iraq as an example.

“This is an opportunity for us to realize the level of violence in the world and to get a deeper sense of solidarity with the people this is a daily reality for,” he said.

Unprecedented situation

Like much of the country, many Boston residents went to bed the night of April 18 knowing that a police officer — later identified as 26-year-old Sean Collier — at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had been shot and killed.

Overnight, it became clear that his death and a carjacking appeared to be related to the same suspects wanted in the Boston Marathon bombing.

By the time many got up April 19, one suspect — 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev — had already died in an explosive gun battle with law enforcement, and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was loose and believed to be in the area.

O’Sullivan, who lives near the Boston College campus and along the route of the marathon, got a text message early in the morning alerting Boston College students not to go to class or outside.

So he stayed inside, occasionally checking the latest developments on the search on TV and his phone.

The sheer number of law enforcement agencies and officers was shocking, he said.

“In that sense, it was kind of like a military state for the day,” he said. The situation literally shut down the city, with law enforcement telling everyone to stay in.

Not everyone agreed that should happen; some took it as an overreaction, he said.

“It was clear by late morning they were very serious,” said O’Sullivan. “They didn’t want you to go outside.”

Relief, questions and compassion

O’Sullivan was relieved that night — as were countless others — when word came that the second suspect had been captured.

Watching the celebrations and elation that followed, he understood that people were glad the situation had ended, but worried about the potential for an eye-for-an-eye type of reaction.

While accountability is important, it’s also important not to turn to revenge but, instead, to rely on the Catholic tradition requiring a certain level of forgiveness, he said.

He sees in Boston now that many people are eager for a sense of normalcy to return.

And many, he knows, plan to attend events to honor and continue to support those affected by the violence.

Through everything, the gestures of kindness made a very real impression.

“I think the biggest thing that I noticed was a real palpable sense of solidarity and just the many different ways the people reached out to one another,” O’Sullivan said. “In the face of this horrific event, there was also a juxtaposed sense of deep humanity and deep compassion that came out.”

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