My heart and prayers have been with Colorado this week. I've wondered if the Comfort Quilt might be moved from Illinois to Colorado. If so, I'm praying this will be its last move.
"Good deeds have echoes." Amish proverb
One month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, students from St. Hilary Catholic School in Fairlawn, Ohio, created a quilt for students at St. James Catholic School in New Jersey. A number of St. James schoolchildren had lost parents, relatives, and neighbors in the attacks. The children of St. Hilary made the quilt as a way to let those grieving children know that others cared about their loss and shared their sorrow. The patches of the quilt were colored by the children with happy images of hearts and rainbows. Named the “Comfort Quilt,” it was hung in the halls of St. James.
Four years later, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, devastating a wide area. It quickly gained the distinction of being the worst natural disaster that the United States had ever experienced. The St. James Catholic School in New Jersey decided to forward the Comfort Quilt to the St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison, Mississippi. St. Joseph’s had taken in over 125 students who had been forced to evacuate from the hurricane because they lost their homes. And there the Comfort Quilt found a new home.
In October of 2006, one year after Hurricane Katrina, the children from the St. Joseph school knew their quilt needed to provide comfort to another group of children. The quilt was sent to the Old Order Amish community in West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, after the one-room Amish schoolhouse shootings, in which a man killed five girls and injured five others. The children of St. James wanted the Amish families of West Nickel Mines to know they offered their support, prayers, and comfort. The quilt was hung in Bart Township Fire Station 51, the station that acted as first responders to the shootings and became the hub of community care for that emotionally wrenching week.
Everyone hoped the Comfort Quilt would remain at Bart Township Fire Station 51. If it were sent elsewhere, it would mean that another major tragedy had occurred that had affected innocent children.
Six months later, that’s just what happened.
On April 16, 2007, a student of Virginia Tech went on a campus shooting rampage that took the lives of thirty-two faculty and students.
Later that summer, representatives from each Amish family—forty people—who were affected by the West Nickel Mines shootings traveled by bus to Blacksburg, Virginia. They wanted to personally deliver the Comfort Quilt to Virginia Tech. It was carried in a wooden box made by a member of their community, along with a framed history of the quilt and a painted picture of the schoolhouse. A letter accompanied the quilt from the West Nickel Mines community, expressing that they “have felt the same emotions of disbelief, a sense of helplessness, anger, despair, and depression . . . [they] understand.”
“It is unfortunate that tragedy connected our two communities,” said Dr. John E. Dooley, vice president for outreach and international affairs at Virginia Tech, “but we will forever cherish a special bond and friendship with the Amish families of Nickel Mines. They brought to our community a strong message of condolence, support, and forgiveness.”
The university hosted a special lunch for the Amish representatives on campus and invited the families of local victims—two faculty members and a freshman student. “I was initially struck by the contrasts of innovation and technology and the simplicity of our guests,” noted Dooley. “Nevertheless, the bond between us was instant and strong.”
Then Dooley took the families to the memorial to the slain victims on the drill field. “The Amish inspected each and every stone. They already knew the names. I was moved.”
As they presented the university with the Comfort Quilt, the Amish said that since the quilt was now in Virginia Tech’s possession, it would be the school’s responsibility to pass it along in the event of a tragedy elsewhere. But they added that they hoped that the quilt would stay at Virginia Tech and gather dust.
Sadly, the Comfort Quilt has since been moved to Northern Illinois University, to comfort the victims of yet another school shooting rampage.
“But it was here,” Dooley said. “It hung in our campus War Memorial Chapel, where it brought comfort and peace.” He paused. “There was indeed comfort.”
About Suzanne Woods Fisher: She is an author of bestselling fiction and
non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish. Learn more about Suzanne, her books, and Amish Wisdom, her weekly radio show, by stopping by www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.
Excerpted from Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World with permission by Revell Books.