Service honors 9/11 victims and families
Tom Naatz | Tuesday, September 12, 2017
On Monday night, community members gathered on South Quad for a memorial service honoring all of those who died in the 9/11 attacks. The service, held on the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attack, took place under the flagpole and began at the symbolic time of 8:46 p.m., 12 hours after the first plane hit the Twin Towers in New York City in 2001. Former University President Fr. Edward Malloy, who was Notre Dame’s president at the time of the attacks, led the service.
“This service will help us remember those who died and their surviving family members,” he said.
After Malloy welcomed attendees to the service, a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) color guard presented the American flag, before members of the Notre Dame Marching Band played the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “Taps.” The music was followed by a moment of silence for the victims. Malloy then offered a prayer for the deceased, their family members and first responders. He also offered thanksgiving for the worldwide outpouring of support following the attacks. He prayed that no such calamity ever comes to pass again.
“I was in my office in the Main Buidling when the first plane hit and my assistant alerted me to that reality,” Malloy said. “And then, like most Americans and people all over the world, we watched everything as it unfolded, almost live. What I remember the most was the sense of uncertainty. ‘When would this all end?’ and ‘Were all of us at risk?’”
Eventually, Malloy said, administrators reached a decision to have a Mass, as “we always do during crisis or celebration.” The Mass took place at the same place beneath the flagpole on South Quad. A sign of the tension following the attacks, ambulances were summoned to “prepare for whatever might happen,” Malloy said.
The Mass itself, Malloy said, was a show of the community’s solidarity.
“The Muslim Student Association was off to the side because we wanted them to know they were part of our community and they were welcome here,” Malloy said.
Before the Mass, Malloy said he remembered walking around the lakes contemplating what he could say that would be “appropriate for this horrifying occasion.” He thought of the statue of Jesus in front of the Dome and its open arms.
“When the time came for the Lord’s Prayer, instead of holding hands, the ten thousand people who were there yoked arms like we do at the alma mater,” Malloy said. “It provided a great sense of solidarity, and comfort, and mutual support.”
At the Mass’s conclusion, there was a feeling that no one wanted to leave, Malloy said.
“We felt when we were together we were stronger than we were simply speculating somewhere apart,” he said.
Malloy described the scene at the first home football game — against Michigan State — following the catastrophe. He offered a prayer on national television and American flags were distributed. At halftime, the Notre Dame and Michigan State marching bands came together and played “Amazing Grace.”
Malloy travelled to New York as a guest of the police and fire departments to survey the damage. He spent two days at Ground Zero watching first responders “put their lives at risk” trying to recover bodies. He also brought an ambulance from the South Bend area to give to St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York, which had lost an ambulance and attendants in the attacks.
Ten years after the attack, another Mass was held between the library and the stadium.
“We would have a procession from the Mass to the Grotto. I expected maybe 20 or 30 or people would go after the long period of time we had spent together,” Malloy said. “The procession lasted for a couple of hours as people brought their candles to the Grotto. And so we tonight do the same thing; a beautiful expression of faith, hope and of support. It’s one of the ways that your generation can relate to that generation that suffered these horrible events.”
Malloy said that Sept. 11, 2001 was his most memorable day at the University.
“Of all the things I did as president, it was the most memorable day in my time at Notre Dame,” Malloy said.
Following the conclusion of Malloy’s reflection, the assembled crowd processed in silence to the Grotto to close out the service.
As Malloy stated, most current Notre Dame students are too young to remember the events of that late summer day in 2001. Nevertheless, many students said they attended the memorial service as a way to reflect on the past.
“The service is a nice thing on 9/11,” sophomore Bridget Ralph said. “I wanted to remember and reflect in some way.”
Junior Keenan White, student government’s director of faith and service, did most of the planning for the event. She said that preserving past traditions was a key priority.
“We did a lot of research about what was done in the past,” White said. “A lot of the same things were done and at the last prayer service. So just speaking to priests and various people who’d been there, reading old Observer articles, just to make sure that we were kind of following that same framework just for tradition’s sake.”
White, a South Bend native, said there was a particular emphasis on emulating the 10th anniversary service that Malloy described.
“My mom and I went for a run past the Grotto and they were having that procession past the Grotto and like Fr. Malloy said it lasted hours,” Malloy said. “It was thousands of people. We backtracked the way they were coming. It went from the Grotto to the library. We tried particularly to emulate that element of it.”
White said that Malloy’s presence made the event even more special.
“Fr. Malloy had celebrated the first Mass when he was president and the 10th anniversary,” White said. “It was important to have him there. He does that beautiful reflection, especially about going to New York, brining the ambulance. It was really important to me to have Fr. Malloy presiding.”
White ended by describing the meaning of putting on such an event.
“It’s a big day for our nation to remember in the first place, but we have such a large population of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut kids here at Notre Dame who remember because they have friends and family members whose lives were lost,” she said. “So I think it’s really important that we continue celebrating this even when we no longer have students who can remember it themselves.”