Mass honors first responders - Catholic Courier
Father Jim Fennessy (left) greets members of the local fire department during a Sept. 27 Mass for first responders at St. Mary Church in Waterloo. Father Jim Fennessy (left) greets members of the local fire department during a Sept. 27 Mass for first responders at St. Mary Church in Waterloo.

Mass honors first responders

Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians swarmed into St. Mary Church in Waterloo on Sept. 27, yet there was no urgency in their gait as they walked in, and not a single siren could be heard.

Rather than responding to an emergency at the church, these first responders were there to participate in a special Mass in celebration of public servants who protect the community.

“These are very special people. They are always there, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I want to recognize these people,” explained Sister of St. Joseph Mary Christopher, who coordinated the planning for the Mass.

The daily newspapers and televised newscasts are full of stories of first responders being killed or injured on the job, and in some areas first responders have been the targets of disrespect and even violent attacks, Sister Christopher said.

“We always have memorial Masses after something happens, but we should be praying for these people now. Their families need the prayers now,” she added.

With that thought in mind, Sister Christopher approached Father Jim Fennessy, pastor of St. Francis and St. Clare Parish in Waterloo and Seneca Falls, and asked him if she could have a Mass said for first responders in those two towns. Father Fennessy suggested she broaden the idea to also include first responders from nearby Geneva. The concept gradually evolved, and before she knew it Sister Mary Christopher was planning a special Sunday afternoon Mass, and inviting first responders from all three locations, as well as their families.

“There’s a lot of work involved in this, but it was so worth it and I don’t regret the effort at all,” she remarked.

Waterloo firefighters Ted Townson (from left), Matt Baylor and Jim Clark take part in a Sept. 27 Mass for first responders at St. Mary Church in Waterloo.

Working with a team of volunteers, Sister Christopher put together a program for the Mass and selected appropriate and universally known hymns, such as “Amazing Grace,” “America the Beautiful” and “Prayer of St. Francis.”

Approximately 150 people attended the Mass, including quite a few uniformed first responders, according to Sister Christopher, who volunteers in Seneca Falls, Waterloo and Geneva. In his homily, Father Fennessy thanked the first responders for their service and told them how much the community appreciates them, she said, and chiefs from two of the local departments presented the gifts to him a few moments later. Father Fennessy offered a special prayer for the responders in each category, and Sister Christopher handed each responder a card bearing a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel as well as a small medal of St. Michael.

“It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” Sister Christopher later told the Catholic Courier. “People even stopped me in the grocery store to say thank you. It really is meaningful for families.”

There was a good turnout at the Mass, and the first responders there seemed to genuinely appreciate the recognition they received, agreed Patricia Battley, who helped Sister Christopher plan the Mass. Battley, who belongs to St. Francis and St. Clare Parish, said the first responders deserve all the thanks they can get because residents rely heavily upon them, and their jobs have become even more difficult as the environment they work in has become increasingly hostile.

Fellow St. Francis and St. Clare parishioner Janet Brown said that as an Air Force veteran, she can attest to the importance of thanking people who put their lives on the line to serve others. Such thanks recently have been in short supply across the nation, noted Seneca Falls Police Chief Stuart Peenstra.

“There were some recognition things that went on back in the Sept. 11 (2001) era, but you hear more bad press as of late than you do good,” Peenstra said. “It’s discouraging. I would say 99 percent of the officers are out there trying to do the best work they can every single day.”

Peenstra said several officers from the Seneca Falls Police Department attended the Sept. 27 Mass. They hadn’t known what to expect beforehand, but came away feeling gratified, he said.

“They thought it was great. It’s nice to be recognized for trying to help,” Peenstra said.

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