Hundreds of students at St. John Villa Academy were all ears as Officer Steven McDonald told his story of survival and forgiveness. It was part of a special mass Tuesday for All Saints Day and the year of Mercy.
"Honestly, I thought it was so inspiring how after what happened to him, he's able to forgive the man did this to him," said student Francesca Saccomagno.
Thirty years ago, Officer McDonald was shot three times by a 15-year-old boy while on duty. He suffered severe injuries that left him wheelchair-bound as a quadriplegic for the rest of this life. He says his decision to show mercy and forgive saved his life.
"As I was telling the children, if I didn't forgive him, it was 30 years ago, that I wouldn't be alive today," said Officer McDonald.
"To hear his story from his own mouth, to hear that he was so forgiving, it was very moving," said student Caroline Travers.
Since then, it has become part of McDonald's life's mission to share his journey to encourage young people. Officer McDonald says he wants to inspire the students to forgive. He also handed out a book called "Why Forgive" by Johann Christoph Arnold, which features his story of forgiveness among 50 other similar stories.
"It is 30 years later, and he's this person that is now spreading the word about gun violence and how it really affects people," said Travers. "It really touched me."
The school invites guests, like McDonald, who have overcome challenges, to speak at mass to impart life lessons to the students.
"I love that because it gives us different opportunities to learn different things about people," said Saccomagno.
"Certainly, when I forgave the young teenager who shot me, I was freed of many of the things I carried inside of me," said Officer McDonald. “I'm a better person for it."
A key takeaway from his message: forgiveness is not a weakness, it is strength, and you're always a winner when you forgive, never a loser.