A parishioner chose the most appropriate attire for the Memorial Mass in St. Leo the Great Church. Mary Stadnyk photo
A parishioner chose the most appropriate attire for the Memorial Mass in St. Leo the Great Church. Mary Stadnyk photo
Barbara Minervino can’t believe it’s been 20 years since she lost her husband, Louis, in the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Louis had worked on the 94th floor of One World Trade.

That’s because for Minervino, 9-11 is “always right there.”

“I can shut the door of my home to the outside world,” she said, “but 9-11 remains right in front of me. It’s never gone away.”

Yet, in the midst of experiencing many emotions ranging from shock, grief, sadness and anger, Minervino is firm when she speaks of her greatest blessing – having a total reliance on her Catholic faith and knowing that God is always with her no matter what.

“My faith has become magnified over the past 20 years,” Minervino said. “It’s everything to me.”

Photo Gallery: Memorial Mass for 20th anniversary of 9-11 in St. Mary Church, Middletown

Minervino shared some thoughts about that fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001, and the 20 years since, following a 9 a.m. Memorial Mass celebrated in St. Mary Church, Middletown, by Father Jeffrey Kegley, pastor. That Mass, similar to the one celebrated at 10 in St. Leo the Great Church, Lincroft, by Father John T. Folchetti, pastor, was offered in memory of all who lost their lives whether it was in New York, Arlington, Va., or Shanksville, Pa., along with those who were injured, the first responders and emergency personnel and their families. St. Mary and St. Leo the Great Parishes were two of a number of parishes in the Diocese to suffer the loss of parishioners in the attacks

After 20 Years

Along with singing hymns and patriotic songs and listening to words of consolation, the more than 200 faithful of all generations in  St. Leo the Great Church listened intently as Father Folchetti called to mind what those who witnessed the events in real time would never forget: that the attacks that claimed 2,977 innocent lives, happened on a beautiful, blue sky day very much like the day of the 20th anniversary.

With little effort, he said, “everyone in living memory recalls where they were, what they saw and who they were with” as scenes of “massive destruction” in New York, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., revealed the unfolding disaster.

Father Folchetti asked the congregation to be mindful of memorial plaques in the church and on the campus which stand in poignant testimony to the span of years that have passed.

The bronze plaque near the flagpole just outside the church honors all who perished and countless more who died in the days and years to come from illnesses caused by the attacks, he said.

The new plaque situated in the sanctuary on an easel for now, bears the names of the three parishioners – Beth Ann Quiqley, 25, Anthony Ventura, 41, and James Ladley, 41 – killed during the World Trade Center attacks and the 13 service men and women who lost their lives in the airport car bombing during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August.

The deaths should make us all consider, he said, “how many mothers and fathers lost a child … how many people lost friends and neighbors.” What was the effect of the attacks on the “innocent and helpless” and “the many more souls who have died” because of the lingering effects of the toxic substances that permeated the area around Ground Zero?”

“It’s been a long 20 years,” Father Folchetti admitted, “and the pain inflicted by evil men done in the name of religion has not diminished in the hearts of loved ones who still mourn their loss.”

Fighting Evil By Doing Good

The atmosphere around the sprawling St. Mary Parish, Middletown, campus was somber as cars pulled into the parking lot for the 9 a.m. Mass. Outside of parishioners greeting one another with a wave, a smile or nodding their head, there was no talking as they made their way into church. Only the tolling of the funeral bell could be heard. There were numerous American flags posted outdoors in potted planters, including by the life size bronze statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is seated and holding the Christ Child, and by the specially created monument that contains beams that were retrieved from the rubble of one of the fallen towers. A large flag, hanging vertically, was posted above the church entrance.

In his homily, Father Kegley acknowledged the family members and loved ones who had perished in the attacks that were present for the Mass. He also recalled a number of the families he had encountered during the time he served as the parish’s parochial vicar and shared something about a few of those parishioners who had perished, whether it was their commitment to service in the parish, their dedication to their families, or even one parishioner, who Father Kegley said he best remembers for his joyful smile.

“The way we now honor the lives of our parishioners and all those who died in the attacks of 9/11, is by actively advancing the Kingdom of God, by witnessing to others the love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ,” said Father Kegley. “We honor their lives by seeking out the lonely, the abandoned, the poor and the marginalized and bring them the message hope and healing in the name of Jesus Christ.”

After the homily, the names of the parishioners and Middletown residents who were lost in the attacks, all 41 of them, were read, and then Father Kegley asked any family members in attendance to stand and he bestowed on them a special blessing. After the Mass, the congregation was asked to gather by the outdoor 911 memorial for a brief ceremony where Minervino’s daughter, Laina, laid a floral wreath.

They’ll Never Forget

Mass-goers like Lydia O’Brien Mooty reflected on why it was important for her to observe the 20th anniversary by attending Mass and they also shared memories of where they were and what they were doing on that fateful day.

Mooty, a member of St. James Parish in nearby Red Bank, who learned about the Memorial Mass in St. Leo the Great Church after reading about it in a parish bulletin she found in a pile of papers, said she has very keen memories of 9-11.

“I had just become a grandmother. My first grandchild had been baptized that weekend. Sept. 11 was on a Tuesday. It was a magnificent day,” she remembered. But everything changed when her husband called to tell her a plane had just flown into the towers. She was dumbfounded after watching a second plane hit the second tower on TV. “I said, ‘my God, the world is coming to an end.”

Mooty spent the rest of the day in prayer, heading first for St. Mark Church, Sea Girt, where there was an 11 a.m. Mass. She then traveled to the Highlands where the tragedy was visible from across Raritan Bay, and then returned in time for the 5 p.m. Mass in St. Catharine Church, Spring Lake, where “there was not an inch of space.

“It was so crowded, all the children sat on the floor,” Mooty said, adding that she was grateful to connect with her two nephews and two nieces who worked in the area and learned they were safe.

After listening to her mother share thoughts about her father, Laina Minervino recounted her own experience of 9-11.

“I was supposed to be there,” Laina recalled, noting that at the time she had worked in the same office as her father, but that day was assigned to work in another building from where she would participate in a conference call with fellow staff at One World Trade.

“I was supposed to be there but … I’m here. I’m here today, but my father is not,” she said. “I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe this is all part of God’s plan.”