Father Bob

As he stood near the front door of the Sandy Hook Elementary School on the morning of Dec. 14, shattered glass near his feet, Monsignor Robert Weiss knew he was as close to evil as he would ever get.

He said a prayer for the dead near the front entrance and then went back up to the nearby firehouse. It was then that Father Bob, as he is known to almost everyone in the tight-knit community, began to realize the enormity of the tragedy facing the families of the dead and the town itself. The night of the shooting at an impromptu memorial service he told the crowd, "evil visited us but we have to get through it and find some good."

It became a theme for the town. Variations of what Weiss said that night about "choosing good" are now on bumper stickers, signs and logos. (Richard Messina | rmessina@courant.com / March 7, 2013)

Weiss wrote a letter to each family in his parish about three weeks after the massacre. Many have called to see how he is doing, which amazes him given what they lost. Weiss had been ill himself just weeks before the massacre, which many of the parishioners knew.

Weiss was recently appointed to be one five people on the board of The Newtown-Sandy Hook Foundation Inc., which will determine how the more than $10 million donated to the United Way fund since the massacre will be spent.

Newtown Selectmen Will Rodgers said Father Bob was a unanimous choice to serve the long-term assignment.

"He brings a lot of sophistication to the table that might be a little unusual for a small-town priest,'' Rogers said. "I also think everyone recognized that his parish was the greatest single religious community effected by this tragedy."

There has been criticism by the daughter of Principal Dawn Hochsprung over how the United Way, which had volunteered to handle the money, was handling the process of providing funds to the families of the 26 school personnel and children killed at Sandy Hook.

Weiss said the new board is still trying to get a handle on all of the funds that were started. Members have met with officials from other communities where mass shootings occurred, such as Littleton, Colo., where Columbine High School is located, and Virginia Tech, which is based in Blacksburg, Va.

"This is not going to be some sort of perverted lottery for the families,'' Weiss said. "It is important that their needs and the needs of the community as a whole are taken care of."

While serving on that board promises to be a long and potentially difficult process, Weiss said it pales compared to the weeks after the massacre.

Christmas, less than two weeks after the massacre, was a difficult time. It was made more difficult at St. Rose because one of the students killed, Olivia Engel, was supposed to play an angel in the church's living nativity held on Christmas Eve.

Church officials considered canceling the pageant, but ultimately it went on and Olivia's parents attended. At midnight Mass that night, one of the most heavily attended masses of the year, Weiss struggled to come up with words for a homily. Then he thought of Olivia and her family.

"We have seen evil and we have seen good,'' Weiss said. "This shooting will make us who we will be going forward. It is woven into our lives forever and the aftermath of that evil has brought forth the best of this town to the world.''