by Marie Elena Giossi
Most elementary school students weren’t born when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. They have come to know about that national tragedy through stories, images and memorials seen and experienced in their homes, communities and in the media.
As the 10th anniversary approached, teachers at Sacred Heart School, Bayside, wanted to find a meaningful way for the school community to commemorate the day.
“The school wanted to do something to honor everyone involved in any way in 9/11,” explained Maryann Cooke, eighth-grade teacher.
The result was a 9/11 tribute quilt, which was blessed at the Opening Mass of the new academic year, Sept. 16. The guest of honor at Mass was FDNY Chief of Department Edward Kilduff, who sat in the front pew with his wife Kathy, the school guidance counselor. The congregation also included uniformed and plainclothes police officers, firemen, emergency medical personnel and military officers – all parents and close relatives of Sacred Heart students.
Representing the diocesan Office of the Superintendent-Catholic School Support Services was Anthony Biscione, associate superintendent.
Forty children carried the quilt in two pieces down the main aisle of church during the entrance procession.
“It is our honor and privilege to remember and recall the heroism and sacrifices of that day 10 years ago,” said Father Thomas F. Brosnan, pastor, before sprinkling holy water upon each quilt.
The sight brought a smile to the face of Cooke, and her fellow teachers, Mary Marsar and Elena Sexton, with whom she recently attended a Newsday FutureCorps workshop.
After the workshop, Cooke said, “We were thinking about different types of 9/11 service projects and we came up with the idea of the quilt.”
Teachers purchased the supplies before school started and presented the idea to Dennis Farrell, principal, on their first day back.
“It’s a great way to commemorate 9/11,” said Farrell, who was immediately on board for this “gesture of goodwill. What really impressed me is that the project was completed in an incredibly short period of time.”
Each student in pre-kindergarten through grade eight was sent home with a piece of white muslin fabric, which they were asked to decorate on the weekend of the anniversary of 9/11.
Cooke anticipated that during those days children would be inundated with images and stories and may not fully understand what had happened.
“This was a way to open the conversation. It’s easier to ask the questions if they have Mommy and Daddy to explain it to them,” she said. On the following Monday, many parents contacted Farrell to express support for the project precisely because it gave families an opportunity to dialogue about the attacks.
In all, students created 468 panels, each measuring six-inches by six-inches, interlocked together by buttons on the reverse side.
Every square tells a story as students addressed the tragedy in their own ways. One student’s father was an elevator operator in the Twin Towers. Her square has the words: “I am so grateful to have my Daddy.”
Another square is dedicated to the memory of Firefighter Sergio Villanueva, Ladder No. 55 and another reads: “Never Forget 9-11, Uncle Rob NYPD.” Others display doves, peace signs and open arms embracing the word “hope.”
Eighth grader Emily Casey’s panel paid tribute to her uncle, NYPD Sgt. Mike Ryan. “He saved people’s lives on 9/11. He breathed in smoke and debris there and on Nov. 5, 2007, he died. I put his badge number 2477 on my square,” she told a visitor.
Her classmate, Colleen Conlan’s square was dedicated to her firefighter father, Peter, a first responder. Her panel featured the Twin Towers, the words: “9-11 Never Forget,” and her father’s Ladder Co. 13 and Engine Co. 22. In conversations with her dad, she’s learned much about that day. “He told me it (Ground Zero) was scary but he still went,” she said.
“I’m happy the whole school got involved, especially the little kids so they could know about it,” she added.
Jillian Foley didn’t know anyone directly involved in 9/11 but she had heard that the anniversary was supposed to be a day of service. She made a panel with the phrase: “9/11/01 – 9/11/11, I will.” That “I will” represented her pledge to “encourage people and make people feel better through service.” She followed through on that by bringing fresh flowers and a thank-you card to her local firehouse on the anniversary of 9/11.
Although thousands of lives were lost a decade ago, Father Brosnan told students that the world also witnessed the “greatest rescue effort in world history. Tens of thousands of people survived that day because of the people who gave their lives, especially the people in this neighborhood.”
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Wounds and blessings, he told children, are two sides of the same coin.
“We saw a terrible wound open up. After that day, on 9/12 and in the days and weeks and years that followed, we saw incredible blessings, people making sacrifices and continuing to make sacrifices. … Blessings always come out of hurt when we give ourselves over to God’s grace,” he said.
Reminding young people that the “community draws strength from helping each other,” Chief Kilduff thanked students for remembering the people and events of 9/11. He called the quilt, which he will eventually entrust to a city firehouse, “truly a great source of joy.”
“We’ll continue to look after you every day,” he told boys and girls, and expressed his hope that one day they “might want to become police officers and firefighters.”
“To have a remembrance during Mass was a great way for students to understand the impact and to go about honoring and remembering the fallen,” he said later. “I thought this was wonderful.”
An NYPD detective who was a 9/11 first responder and has a young son in the school wiped tears from his eyes at the end of the liturgy.
“I think it’s amazing they did this. Some years have gone by and it’s not always in the forefront of our minds. This brings back the feelings and emotions,” he said. “It’s nice to feel appreciated.”