The news spread
quickly that morning. The World Trade Center in New York City had
been struck by two hijacked planes. The Pentagon had also suffered
an attack. And another plane was down in Pennsylvania.
By 10:30 a.m., mailboxes on the Boston College campuses had been
stuffed with notices, and bulletin boards, doors, walls, and stairwells
had been plastered with flyers announcing that a special moment
of prayer was planned for noon.
Thousands of students, faculty, and staff members assembled on O'Neill
Plaza for the service. The warm September air was heavy and conversations
were hushed. "How could this happen to us?" a student clutching
a baseball cap asked his companion. Students hugged one another.
Some spoke excitedly, having learned loved ones were safe. Others
"I live in New York," said Eric Napoli '04. "It's pretty crazy over
there. I've talked to most of my family and they're okay. But one
of my uncles works in the area and we haven't heard from him yet.
We're just hoping and praying that everything is all right." (His
uncle, it turned out, was safe.) "I don't know what to think. It
doesn't even seem real. I saw the footage and it just seems like
Virginia Lipscy, a first-year student in the Graduate School of
Arts and Sciences, talked about her brother, a student at NYU. "I'm
worried about my family. The phone lines are down and cell phones
are jammed. We've been e-mailing him like crazy. There's just no
communication to New York. I don't know, I'm just trying to stay
calm," she said.
A young man wearing a brand-new Superfan T-shirt and a dazed look
stood alone. His backpack sagged from his shoulders and he gripped
a cell phone in one hand. He kept looking at the phone, then away
from it, then back.
Shortly after the Gasson tower bell struck noon for the 12th time,
the service began. Director of Campus Ministry James D. Erps, SJ,
stepped to the front of the stage that had been set up on short
notice. Fr. Erps acknowledged a "day of sorrow." He asked the crowd
to pray for the rescue workers, firefighters, and police officers
working to save lives at the scene of the tragedy, and then he asked
God to "take into Your arms with loving grace, those who have died."
Next, Campus Minister Rev. Howard McLendon '75 approached the microphone.
"God alone is my rock and my salvation," he said. "Trust God at
all times, my people."
Following McLendon was Campus Minister Melissa Kelley '91. "God,
comfort all of us in our hour of trial, incomprehensible loss, and
uncomprehending sorrow," said Kelley. "Be with our sisters and brothers
on this campus, across the country, and around the world who are
still waiting for answers."
The crowd then observed a moment of silence, which was flecked with
an occasional sob. Afterwards the Liturgical Arts Group sang "Amazing
Grace," and University President William P. Leahy, SJ, addressed
the assembly. "The events of this morning are overwhelming. We cannot
believe what we are seeing on our television screens. We may also
feel fear inside us about what is going on," he said. "We gather
in prayer, to be supportive for one another. We come here with heavy
hearts. We don't know what the rest of the day will bring. But what
can sustain us is our community bond and our faith. We will get
through what we have to get through.
"We are," Leahy said, "one community. We have to keep working against
hatred, terrorism, and sin, and remain respectful of all. Reach
Vice president for student affairs Cheryl Presley encouraged students
to stay on campus and not go home. She urged everyone to look out
for one another, and to call her office with the names of those
who might be in need of support. Presley announced that a support
center had been set up in Gasson 100 for members of the Boston College
community directly affected by the tragedies. Professionals from
University Counseling, the Boston College Critical Incident Response
Team, Campus Ministry, and the Boston College Police Department
would be on hand to sit with individual students and help them sort
out information and try to contact loved ones thought to be missing.
A telephone bank was set up in the basement of Gasson for students
who couldn't get through on clogged or disrupted cell phone systems.
After the prayer service ended, some two dozen students arrived
at Gasson 100 anxiously looking for help.
Earlier in the morning, at a meeting of administrators in the president's
office, the decision had been made to hold afternoon classes as
scheduled, in order to provide students with a forum where, in small
groups, they could begin to process the day's events. And so, at
1:30 p.m., 28 students, most of them sophomores and juniors, streamed
into Campion 303 for Associate Professor John McDargh's theology
class, "The Religious Quest."
McDargh opened the class as he always does, with 10 minutes of silent
meditation, punctuated on either end by three chimes of a small
bell. After the meditation, students one by one voiced their questions,
fears, sadness, and anger, guided by the occasional prod from the
professor--"How do you understand the motive of people who would
do this?" "How should we respond?"
Jon: "America was attacked today. Each and every one of us was attacked.
I came to class today because I am confused. I can't understand
the mind-set of some of these fundamentalist groups who could attack
America in the name of a god they worship."
Joe: "Car bombs are reported in the paper every day. In Israel,
in Afghanistan, in Ireland. But you don't notice them, because they
don't happen here."
Matt: "We're not invincible. We're not as great as we think."
Kelly: "I feel afraid. Not for my personal safety, but of what's
going on. It's just fear."
Joe: "When they blame us for death, they inflict death. When we
blame them for death, we inflict death. But it's hard to understand
the anger it takes to do something like this. America has definitely
fallen off the pedestal in the eyes of the world."
Erin: "This might help us open our eyes and look at what we do to
Brett: "I think the U.S. is a sign of hope. We're the most powerful
nation in the world. I'm glad to be an American. I'm proud of it."
Liz: "As a country it's important for us to react in a thoughtful
and peaceful manner."
Natalia: "Our faith and belief have never been tested before. We
have to realize people are going to look back and say to us, 'What
did you do?' We need to take this as our problem."
After more than 45 minutes of discussion, the class came to an end
and students slowly filed back outside.
In Conte Forum that evening, at 7:30 p.m., some 4,000 students and
other members of the Boston College community came together for
a Mass of Hope, concelebrated by 36 priests. Fr. Erps opened the
homily with a quote from John's Gospel.
"Let not your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith
"We believe in the healing power of God," said Fr. Erps. "And how
we need the healing power tonight. There is much in us that hurts."
He continued with a prayer. "Be with us in our struggle. Help us
to believe St. Paul's words: 'Who can separate us from the love
of God--can disaster, or persecution or peril or the sword?' No,
we overcome it all with Your help. We are BC. It is in times like
these that we come to know most deeply who we are, what we value,
and what we believe. It is in times like these that we reach out
to friend and stranger alike; we reach out by word or touch or gesture;
we reach out perhaps in our own confusion or pain to say to our
neighbor, 'Let not your heart be troubled. Have faith in God, have
faith in me.'"
As the Mass concluded, the congregants were invited to speak out
loud the names of loved ones on their minds. As the names--of a brother,
mother, uncle, friend--were called out, 4,000 Boston College students,
faculty, and staff joined hands.
Catherine E. Burke
A moment of prayer at O'Neill Plaza on September 11. Photo by Lee
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