By Lois Rogers | Correpsondent

Ask Trisha Straine MacGregor how she came to be one of the few lay persons seated within reach of Pope Francis during the interfaith prayer service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Sept. 25, and she'll answer quite frankly that prayer, and indeed, the Communion of Saints, had a lot to do with it.

When MacGregor, a member of Precious Blood Parish, Monmouth Beach, learned that Pope Francis would be at Ground Zero Sept. 25, she prayed she'd come by a ticket that would onto the grounds by the reflecting pool. There, about 1,000 invited guests, mostly relatives of those killed at the Trade Center like herself and emergency responders – would be invited to with Pope Francis before the service.

Fourteen years earlier, her first husband, James J. “Jimmy” Straine perished in the Sept. 11 attacks along with his Cantor Fitzgerald Colleagues on the 104th floor of One World Trade. In a telephone interview, MacGregor, who was never to receive any of her husband's remains, spoke of how she regards the World Trade Center as his burial place.

She dearly wanted to be present with Pope Francis on this hallowed ground. “This pope is so special, I wanted to be there,” said MacGregor. When, despite all odds, it all came together for her to be present, she took comfort in believing that "Jimmy" placed a role in it.

"I saw signs so many signs that Jimmy was involved in helping me to get there."

Seeking to become part of this encounter at Ground Zero, she sent out the word to the network of 9/11 survivors to think of her if anyone came by an extra ticket.

The night before the interfaith service, her prayers would be answered by a message from Dr. Mary Tranke, a religion teacher in Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft.

While attending the Sept. 24 vesper service with the Pope in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Tranke was unexpectedly offered two tickets to the Ground Zero service by a former divinity school classmate, Brooklyn Auxiliary James Massa.

With tickets to the Ground Zero event such rare commodities, “I knew the right thing to do was to reach out to the survivors and try to find someone for whom this would be really meaningful," Tranke said.

She first offered the ticket to her friend, Sheila Martello, widow of James Martello, who also worked at Cantor Fitzgerald.

Martello was instrumental in helping to form the New Life Support Center for Grief and Loss which began shortly after 9/11 in Holy Cross Parish, Rumson and its new incarnation, Stephy's Place, Red Bank.

But as it turned out, Martello was in Colorado scouting colleges with her son. She immediately emailed MacGregor: “'Mary wants to know if you can go with her.' I said, of course, I'll drop everything.”

Tranke and MacGregor, met for the first time at the 7:30 a.m. ferry from Atlantic Highlands to the New York financial district. During the 40 minute journey, they learned that one of McGregor's sons is in Tranke's Christian Brothers’ home room.

“It's such a very small world,” Tranke mused a few days later.

MacGregor said they were taken by surprise when they arrived at Ground Zero to find that their tickets were not to the outside area around the reflecting pool, but the museum area where they would have close proximity to the pope and scores of religious leaders. In fact, McGregor believes they were among a handful of lay people present.

“We were in the last row of our section and it was such an intimate area,” McGregor said. Once settled, they were not allowed to stand up. But seated at the end of the row, they realized quickly that they would be in a good position to see pope up close.

MacGregor said many people focused on using their video and still cameras during the service. “I only videoed the 9/11 prayer (the pope) recited,” she said. “I wanted to absorb everything, every minute. When he came down the aisle, we got to meet him. He looked at everyone, his face was so full of kindness and he just walked, shaking hands with everyone.

“Mary shook his hand and I squeezed his hand and squeezed it again and said, 'Holy Father, thank you' and he said 'God Bless you' and when he left, everyone was in tears.”

“What happened still amazes me. … For Pope Francis to acknowledge our grief and sorrow, it was really touching. For everyone around us to be so kind and gentle with each other, you even could feel the Secret Service caring for him like he was their grandfather.”

“Fourteen years later, it's good to be (going) in a positive direction and this is an experience that helps do that. This experience will carry me through the rest of my life," MacGregor said.