Many years before she entered religious life, Sister Mary Gianna Thornby was an ordinary high school sophomore at Columbine High School in the suburbs of Denver.
Like many high schoolers, she occasionally struggled with her identity, had experienced some bullying in middle school, and ultimately just wanted to fit in. She wasn’t raised in a Christian home; at that time, God, faith – and certainly the Catholic Church – didn’t register on her radar.
“Growing up, I didn’t really know if God existed or not, or that He had a plan,” Mary Gianna told CNA.
All that changed 20 years ago on April 20, 1999.
Mary Gianna had a habit, she said, of going to the library to study every single day during lunch period her freshman and sophomore years. During her sophomore year, she and a friend even changed their schedules so they would have two hours off during lunch to study together in the library.
That April morning, sitting in art class right before the lunch hour, Mary Gianna said she felt an overwhelming urge to leave school. She says she remembers thinking: “I’m going to go home, and no one’s going to talk me out of not leaving.”
Her friend was confused, and asked Mary Gianna why they weren’t going to the library like they always did. She suggested they go and study for an upcoming test at a restaurant instead, so they walked out of the school and hopped into Mary Gianna’s car, which her dad had only just bought her the week before.
As they were driving away, she looked in her rearview mirror and saw hundreds of her schoolmates running out of the school building.
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