Ed Cohen | September 13, 2018
A giant hook and ladder truck from the South Bend Fire Department stood on the Main Quad in front of Walsh Hall and Sorin College. Parked nearby were an engine from the campus fire department and various other rescue vehicles. No sirens whooped in the twilight of an overcast fall day, though. The dominant sound was the pealing of bells from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. There was no fire, either. And no firefighters to be seen.
They were all inside the church.
It was October 11, a month from the day of terrorist airliner crashes in New York City, at the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania, and the University was holding a special Blue Mass to honor and ask God’s blessing on local public safety personnel along with the hundreds who perished in the rescue efforts in New York City.
Inside the church a white firefighter’s helmet rested in front of the altar between depictions of Saint Florian, patron of firefighters, and Saint Michael the Archangel, patron of police officers. Nearby stood a wreath that read “Pray for Peace and Reconciliation.” In the front pews in uniform sat the 11 special guests: three firefighters and eight police officers from an engine company and precinct at Ground Zero.
The old stereotype of the Irish cop pounding the beat in Gotham must still have some substance to it, because the group included a Conway, a Concannon, a McNally and a McGill. At the end of the Mass, police Sergeant Eddie Colton and firefighter John Gilhooly approached the altar for a special presentation. Colton was carrying a box.
In a Brooklyn accent tight with emotion, Colton explained that the box contained an American flag that had flown for two weeks over Ground Zero next to the temporary morgue. Either by chance or divine intent, when the group went to the morgue the day before leaving for Indiana to look for a priest to bless the flag, they had found only one clergyman present. He turned out to be a Notre Dame alum, Father Charles Miller, OFM, ’59.
Handing the flag to the celebrant and homilist of the Mass — President Malloy — Eddie Colton said, “God bless you . . . God bless America.”
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