Like so many other communities and families in the tristate area and around the world, St. John’s University suffered grievous losses on the morning of September 11, 2001. Seventy-five alumni lost their lives in the attacks, and more have passed away since due to 9/11-related illnesses.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attacks, members of the St. John’s community, both collectively and separately, prayerfully recalled those who were lost—and reflected on the indelible mark that terrible day left on them.
On the Queens, NY, campus, during the 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Masses on September 10 in St. Thomas More Church, a special prayer of remembrance was read before Mass in front of the 9/11 Memorial Shrine. The church was open all day for those who wished to reflect on the events in the silence of their hearts.
During his homily at the 12:15 p.m. Mass, Rev. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M., Executive Director, Vincentian Center for Church and Society, noted parallels between the events of 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic. “We think about the people who lost their lives on 9/11, and those who have lost their lives due to COVID.” He added, “We think about the people who came forward—the health professionals, the first responders, the police, and firefighters—and those who made it possible for us to move forward as a country. We also remember those same kinds of people who are responding to our needs during the pandemic.”
Fr. Griffin added the 9/11 experience taught us how we can unite as a country. “We should be learning those same lessons in the midst of the pandemic,” he said. “There are similarities and lessons to be learned. We are reminded of our responsibilities as Christians and as citizens.”
At the Staten Island, NY, campus, the United in Memory 9/11 Victims Memorial Quilt is on public display starting September 10 through 12 from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Each block of this 16,000-square-foot quilt is a personalized dedication to a 9/11 victim.
Joseph Sciame ’71Ed, Vice President, Office of Community Relations, noted that this is the third time the quilt will be displayed on the Staten Island campus. The Where to Turn Foundation worked with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s International Quilt Museum (where the quilt is permanently housed) to bring the 9/11 memorial quilt to the campus. Mr. Sciame recalled that many St. John’s employees, including members of his own staff, added panels to the quilt in years past in remembrance of loved ones who were lost.
A longtime employee of St. John’s, Mr. Sciame recalled a pall enveloping the campus for a sustained period of time following the attacks. “It was the beginning of the academic year for our students, and they were struck with a great sadness. Coping was difficult.” He applauded the efforts of Campus Ministry in ministering to the entire University community.
The University’s original Manhattan, NY, campus, located at 101 Murray Street, was most directly affected by that day’s tragic events. St. John’s had recently merged with the former College of Insurance, located three blocks from the World Trade Center, and dedicated the new location the previous June.
Maureen Furlong-Weber, Director, Maurice R. Greenberg School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science, worked at the Manhattan campus, but that morning was traveling to the Queens campus to meet with her new colleagues. Upon arrival, she learned of the attacks and watched the events unfold on television, knowing that her colleagues were in immediate danger.
“Our workplace was under siege, and life as we had known it was likely changed forever,” she recalled. “Our thoughts went immediately to our students there that morning in the residence hall or in classrooms, our colleagues going about their workdays, and our neighborhood just blocks from the towers.”
She added that it felt surreal to not be at her usual location as the events unfolded due only to a twist of fate. No St. John’s employees or students at the campus lost their lives or were injured that day.
Ms. Furlong-Weber remembered the generosity of a St. John’s colleague who invited her to stay at her home in Queens since Manhattan was inaccessible that day. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Manhattan campus became a Red Cross Respite Center to meet the needs of everyone working at Ground Zero, from police and firefighters to construction workers and the National Guard.
More than 9,000 hot meals were served every day; no effort was spared to make it an oasis of comfort and tranquility in the midst of the unimaginable horror with which people were dealing on a daily basis. The campus reopened to students the following January, and, in the interim, they were relocated to the Queens campus.
“At a time when everyone I knew had experienced some level of loss and trauma, it was a consolation to see the University being of great service to the painful rescue and recovery efforts underway,” Ms. Furlong-Weber observed. “The University lost alumni, friends, and family that day. May we never forget them and be of great service in their honor as we go on.”