Spared in Columbine tragedy and drawn to Catholic faith
St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie
(Entered church in 2018)
Jamie Centner, who entered the Catholic Church last year at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, was a freshman at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999, when two teenagers, Columbine High School in Littletond, perpetrated a horrific mass shooting that killed 13 people and wounded more than 20.
Centner cited personal coincidences surrounding the shooting where she felt a higher power was protecting her.
Several months before the shooting, she had had a dream about being “shot at school.” On the day of the shooting, she had a stomachache and wanted to stay home, but her mom reminded her of a track meet that day, so she went to class. She was supposed to eat lunch off campus but couldn’t find her friend. Then, when she went late to the cafeteria, no one was there, but she noticed a duffel bag under a table.
Although she thought nothing of the bag at the time, she was later told by investigators that it contained one of the propane bombs planted by the shooters to blow up the school but which was never detonated.
Once Centner heard gunshots that day, she and a friend tried to escape by scurrying into an elevator just as the shooters were passing by. They threw a pipe bomb at the elevator, but the closing doors deflected the bomb.
“It was by seconds that we missed them,” Centner said. “The elevator was next to the library. They were going to the library when they passed us.”
After safely landing on the first floor, Centner said a teacher pulled them inside a two-story auditorium and told them to slide under the chairs.
“The longer we sat there, my mind began to process what was happening,” Centner said. “I became paralyzed with fear.”
Suddenly, a man wearing a white suit, with white hair and a white goatee, came up to them and said, “You girls will be OK.”
Centner and her friend scrambled out of the auditorium. No one else had any recollection of the man being on campus that day. “The man who said this to us doesn’t exist,” she said. “I struggle to think that is real.”
After the shootings, Centner attended funerals for several students who were shot, and she recalled always feeling “more comforted when we were in the Catholic Church. … I wanted to become Catholic.”
That summer, Centner attended a Christian camp with others from Columbine and was given the opportunity to be baptized. She didn’t think that was the time, but the yearning remained with her.
Her future husband, Dan Centner – whom she began dating at age 16 – also strengthened her idea of being Catholic. “I always felt I wanted to learn more,” Centner said.
Once she was married, her only religious observance was to attend Catholic Mass. Her three sons were baptized Catholic and attended St. Catherine of Siena School. Although she and her husband did not have a Catholic wedding, they eventually had their wedding blessed.
“I had this beautiful family, and everybody was Catholic, and I wasn’t even baptized yet,” Centner said. “I didn’t want anyone to know.”
Finally, Centner “got the nerve” to contact Kurt Garcia, director of the RCIA program at St. Catherine.
“It’s one of the greatest, best things I have ever done for myself – shedding that guilt and shame,” she said. “I wanted to be part of the Mass, and it has given me confidence and so much joy. I now try to find ways to get involved. The more I am involved, the happier I feel.”
She’s learned how authentic the Catholic Church is, with its lasting traditions that date back to St. Peter. She and one of her sons made their first Communion last year.
“Everything we do in Mass has a reason and purpose,” she said. “That is something I really connected with.”
– Christine Bordelon