by Marie Elena Giossi
Within hours of the Twin Towers falling, Patrick and Mary Sullivan knew their youngest son probably didn’t make it out alive.
It was a harsh reality for the Breezy Point couple. They had just seen their son over the weekend. His car was still parked in their driveway. And on that Tuesday morning, as he did every morning, he called his parents’ home. He was running to a meeting and spoke briefly with his father, planning to catch up with his mom that afternoon.
Just minutes after his call, the Sullivans heard a radio report stating that a plane had crashed into the North Tower. Patrick, 32, worked on the 104th Floor at Cantor Fitzgerald.
They ran to their balcony, where they could see Lower Manhattan on that cloudless morning. “We saw the smoke and my wife said, ‘Those buildings are going to come down,’” Sullivan recalled.
While he tried to allay his wife’s fears, he took out his binoculars. “It looked like an explosion when the first building was coming down. Still, I thought Patrick had time to get out. …
“We don’t know how he died up there but it must have been terrible if people were jumping out windows,” said Sullivan, a retired NYPD officer.
After the buildings fell, telephone calls began. Their eldest son, Gregory, an NYPD officer assigned to the legal bureau, ran to the scene. The family heard survivors were taken to local hospitals. They called but there were no records of a Patrick Sullivan.
Gerald, their second son, ran from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Two weeks earlier, he had left his job at Cantor Fitzgerald, where he’d worked with his younger brother and their cousin, Peter Milano, a senior vice president.
“I knew if we didn’t hear from him in an hour or two that…” Sullivan said, his voice trailing off. “We never got any remains. There was nothing left.”
Patrick perished along with his cousin and 656 colleagues.
Because he had lost his brother, Gregory was temporarily assigned to work at Ground Zero with NYPD chaplain, Msgr. Robert Romano, a family friend.
The Sullivans lived in Bay Ridge when Msgr. Romano was assigned to St. Anselm’s parish. He’d known Patrick as a student at the parish school and was his Confirmation sponsor. He watched Patrick become a young man at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, where he was track star. And he shared the family’s pride when Patrick’s academic and athletic pursuits led him to Georgetown University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics.
During those days after 9/11, and over the last decade, Gregory said Msgr. Romano was “pillar of strength for our family. He always calls my mom on Patrick’s birthday and Mother’s Day,” Gregory said.
Gregory admitted that never finding his brother’s remains “leaves you with an empty feeling.” But he’s never doubted his faith, he said, because “monsignor helped put things into perspective, that God has a plan for each of us.”
The family had a memorial Mass and later a funeral Mass at their church, St. Thomas More, Breezy Point. A lock of Patrick’s hair, which his mother had saved, was buried in a family grave along with any hopes for his future.
But ask Patrick’s family and friends and they’ll tell you that his love and loyalty, especially toward his family, continues to be felt.
Shortly before Sept. 11, Gregory and his wife had found their dream home in Westchester but they couldn’t afford the down payment. At the time, Gregory was an NYPD officer, attending law school and raising three small children.
“Patrick gave us the down payment a week before he died. We met by the World Trade Center,” Gregory recalled. He didn’t feel comfortable accepting money from his little brother, but “Patrick said, ‘You take this. It’s for your family.’ He had this big smile on his face.”
Today, Gregory has a law practice near that home, where he and his wife are now raising their four children. “It’s all because of him,” he said.
Though Patrick never saw the house, his smiling face is immortalized in a photo above the mantle so he is never forgotten.
As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approached, time had not dulled the family’s pain.
“This is a really tough time. Some people say they have good days and bad days. We have a struggle. Some times are tougher than others,” his father said.
On Sept. 11, the family attended the Ground Zero memorial service, where Gerald presented some of the names. That evening was spent in the warm embrace of neighbors and friends at the Breezy Point 9/11 Memorial.
When asked how his faith has been affected in the years following the tragedy, Patrick Sullivan said he didn’t know if losing his son made him more or less religious, though he and Mary continue to attend Mass daily. They spend their free time saving lives with the Breezy Point Volunteer Fire Dept.
“A friend asked if God had given us a deal to send us a beautiful person for 32 years and then take him back,” rather than not have had Patrick at all, “would we take the deal. We would,” Sullivan said.
“God gave us Patrick for 32 years and in those years, he never once disappointed us. I hope he’s in a good place now.”