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University vows to never forget

Sarah Mervosh | Monday, September 12, 2011

Between his years at Notre Dame as a student, faculty member and then as president, Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy has been on campus “a long time.”

In fact, the University president emeritus has been a part of the Notre Dame community for nearly 50 years, which works out to about 17,500 days.

Of all of those days, none stand out to him like Sept. 11, 2001.

“9/11, in my 18 years as president, was the overwhelmingly most significant memory,” Malloy said. “Not only because of the nature of what went on, but how the Notre Dame family rallied around and found a way to comfort one another and to celebrate the common life in the midst of all kinds of fears.”

Malloy, like many others, remembers exactly what he was doing when he heard about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers.

“I was in my office and I think it was right after the first plane hit, [my assistant] said, ‘A plane has hit in New York City,’ and so I went in and next thing you know it was two planes and the Pentagon and then Pennsylvania,” he said. “The first thing I thought of was what a tragic loss.”

Jim Horvath, a 2003 graduate, also did not have to work hard to remember what he was doing when he found out about the attacks.

“I’ll never forget it, honestly,” he said. “I had just woken up and actually hopped in the shower … Another person came running in saying ‘the World Trade bomber’ or something like that.”

But Horvath did not fully realize the significance of the event until he turned on the TV and felt the atmosphere in the dorm.

“Everyone was running around saying ‘Hey, did you hear?'” he said. “It was eerily silent, and everyone was watching the TV. If you can imagine a dorm full of people and everyone was doing the exact same thing.”

For many, like Horvath and 2002 graduate Todd Boylan, the initial instinct was to call home and check on loved ones.

Horvath’s uncle worked near the Twin Towers, and Boylan’s father had an office in the World Trade Center. Though the students later found out their relatives made it through the attacks unharmed, they said the initial unknown was stressful.

“I was trying to call but the phone service was already full … Then the first tower went down, and I really started freaking out,” Boylan said. “A long 20 minutes went by [until my dad] called my mom, and my mom called me and said he was okay.”

Boylan said the atmosphere among students was “very somber.” Horvath called it “eerily calm and quiet.”

Malloy, who was University president at the time, canceled classes that day. He said the student body was glued to the TV, watching for updates.

“I mean, I wonder how many people ate dinner that night,” he said. “My guess is a lot of people bought sandwiches and just sat in front of the TV and watched it all night.”

But Malloy couldn’t dwell too long on his emotional reaction to the attacks, which hit his hometown of Washington D.C. He quickly shifted his focus to mobilizing the Notre Dame community.

“First thing I said is, ‘What do we do when we have a crisis?'” he said. “We have a Mass. That’s what Notre Dame does.”

Malloy and others quickly got to work setting up an outdoor Mass to be celebrated by the flagpole on South Quad. He estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people from the Notre Dame and South Bend communities attended.

Malloy used the statue of Jesus standing with his arms outstretched beneath the Golden Dome as inspiration for his homily.

“That image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the arms outstretched, [saying], ‘Come to me with all your problems,'” he said. “I just thought that was a comforting way to think about all of this.”

Malloy said the University invited the Muslim Student Association to the Mass, and the members attended as a group. In his homily, Malloy emphasized the importance of supporting one another and not blaming a particular group for the tragedy of the attacks.

“I was just trying to help create a climate where we knew as long as we stuck together, we could make it through” he said.

Boylan, who attended the service, said the chatter or distractions common during a normal Mass were gone.

“It was really serious,” he said. “Everybody was really confused and scared and [attending Mass] made it easier to deal with.”

Malloy was also struck by the intensity of the group who gathered on the packed quad.

“Everybody looked transfixed. There was a lot of fear in the air,” he said. “When it was over and we marched out, nobody left. I mean, after the last hymn was finished, it was like nobody wanted to leave.”

Horvath recalled the somber atmosphere of the gathering.

“The two things I really remember were how quiet it was … and how students can come together,” he said.

Boylan said he received calls from other students checking in on him and his family, and he did the same for others.

“On a student-to-student level, I think everybody who was from the East Coast called each other,” he said.

The Notre Dame community’s efforts to care for those suffering continued after the day of the attacks.

At the first home football game following the tragedy, Notre Dame honored New York City firefighters and police officers. The crowd raised around $100,000 for the victims, Malloy said.

South Bend residents also raised money to replace an ambulance lost in the attacks in New York City.

Malloy then felt the desire to visit the site where so many lives were lost.

“I decided I had to go to New York and see it for myself,” he said.

About a month after the attacks, Malloy did just that, and one of the officers who the University honored at the football game picked Malloy up at the airport. For two days, Malloy had “total access” to Ground Zero.

To this day, Malloy can still remember the experience — the sights, the smells and the sounds — and what it felt like at the site of the attacks.

“It was just an overwhelming experience,” he said.

To find out more about Malloy’s experience at Ground Zero, watch The Observer’s video blog interview with Malloy at www.ndsmcobserver.com/blogs/nd-minute