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Memorial for slain teacher held in New York: Her kindness ‘was supernatural’

Originally published on Dec. 27, 2014 on PennLive.com

There were whispers of rage, confusion and frustration in the back of the church; but the loudest cries, the most prevailing messages, were those of love.

Nicole Mathewson was loved. She loved. Love was who she was.

That’s the Nicole Mathewson, 32, that was brought to the forefront at the memorial service on Dec. 27 in her hometown of Owego, New York — not the Conestoga Valley School District teacher who was killed during a burglary of her Lancaster City home, allegedly by a 16 and 25-year-old.

The focus was on her life, not her death.

And what a life it was.

Approximately 200 people filled the halls of the Owego United Methodist Church to share memories of Mathewson, of her laughter and of her smile. They comforted one another with hugs that went on for minutes.

They shared remembrances, most of which focused on Mathewson’s caring nature.

Ann Rodriquez, whose photograph of Mathewson in full laugh has become Mathewson’s official portrait, spoke of how Mathewson surprised her one Saturday with a shopping trip to Wegmans and Trader Joes.

“I had just been diagnosed with Celiac’s disease not long before that. That was before there was gluten-free food in a lot of the grocery stories,” Rodriquez explained. “She gave me an allowance to spend. She wanted me to see that there was Ann-friendly food I could have, I just had to look for it.”

Another friend talked of the time Mathewson supported her through the loss of her child, telling her that the baby would always be a member of her family in Mathewson’s book. Another shared the time Mathewson gave him words of comfort and enlightenment that helped him with marital problems. And another laughed as he recalled Mathewson showing up at his daughter’s butterfly-themed birthday party in full butterfly costume.

“Her kindness, her love and joy and compassion at times seemed unnatural, and I believe it was,” said Jamie Groff, a friend of Mathewson’s, later. “I believe it was supernatural. Nicole’s heart was driven by the Holy Spirit, by God.”

Faith was a large part of the conversation at the memorial service, with many speakers emphasizing Mathewson’s Christianity.

“You can’t talk about who she was without lifting up her faith in Christ,” said Reverend John Martin, a childhood friend of Mathewson’s who delivered the eulogy.

While many appeared to struggle with Mathewson’s death and how her life was lost, the speakers at the service — Mathewson’s friends — all emphasized focusing on her life.

“As we laugh and as we cry, as we go through the gamut of emotions these past couple weeks, these next couple weeks, the rest of our lives, I choose to focus on the positive because, if I’m not careful, I get sad. I get hurt. I get angry,” Martin said during the eulogy. “I’m sure there are times to explore those feelings. But today I’m here to celebrate her life.”

“Just because evil [is at work] around the earth and senseless things like this happen, it does not mean God is not beautiful in all He does,” Groff said. “After all, He created Nicole.

“He created the beautiful person that Nicole was,” he continued. “We are all here because we were touched by her — touched by her kind, caring, compassionate heart.”

A memorial service for Mathewson will be held in Lancaster at 10 a.m. on Jan. 3 at The Worship Center, 2384 New Holland Pike.

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