Monsignor Robert Weiss: 'I'll Always be the Newtown Priest'

PHOTO: In this Dec. 14, 2012 photo, Monsignor Robert Weiss, of St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, celebrates mass at a vigil for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.
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One year after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Monsignor Robert Weiss of St. Rose of Lima, the only Catholic church in Newtown, Conn., carries a shade of grief that is uniquely his own.

"I think we're going through the authentic stages of grief," Weiss said. "I'm encouraging people not to judge anybody. As I say, 'One day you could be up and the next day you're down.'"

For Weiss, the past 365 days have been filled with peaks of hope and plenty of valleys as he grapples with his own post-traumatic stress from rushing to the school on the morning of the horrific shooting.

"I'll always be the Newtown priest. I think that's going to take time."

Nine of the 26 victims were St. Rose of Lima parishioners. After the shooting, Weiss had the grim job of informing families that their children had been killed in the elementary school massacre.

"These were not anonymous people. They were part of our life here," Weiss said. "This took a toll on me…really took a toll on me."

In Photos: Sandy Hook Shooting

While Weiss, who marked 40 years in the priesthood this year, said the massacre never made him question his faith in God, it has made him think about his faith in other people and his place in the Newtown community.

Time hasn't yet healed the wound of Dec. 14, 2012 for Weiss and he said it's something that will probably always be there with him.

Weiss said he has considered requesting a transfer to another parish, a new start.

"People have asked me, 'What do you think is best for you?'" he said. "I say, 'It's truly too soon to answer that. Even if I'm not here, I'll always be the Newtown priest. I think that's going to take time."

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In January, St. Rose of Lima added an additional service to its schedule. Weiss said he has seen more people come, and most importantly, he said, they come together as families.

How Weiss handles the tragedy in his homilies is also something he carefully thinks about.

"Some people need to talk about it. Some people never want to talk about it," Weiss said. "It is who we are now. The reality is here and we can't deny that."

Comfort Dogs to the Rescue in Newtown

On Dec. 14, there will be no town-wide event to mark the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre and no mass reading of the names of the victims.

Instead, the community has chosen to honor those who lost their lives "in ways that are quiet, personal and respectful," First Selectman Patricia Llodra wrote on her blog.

Weiss said he plans to spend the morning at mass. Later in the day, he said the parish will dedicate a bronze cast bell as memorial to the town and then host their annual living nativity.

Last year's living nativity was scheduled for Dec. 15, one day after the massacre. First grader Olivia Engel, who was one of the 26 victims, was supposed to play an angel.

"The first anniversary could be a little bit of a pull-back for some," Weiss said. "But people are looking forward, saying, 'What can we do now to keep the healing happening?'"

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