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A view of 9/11 from the University of Notre Dame

During the week leading up to the tenth anniversary, RENEW International reflects on 9/11 with stories, prayer, and scripture.

September 11, 2001 arrived on the campus of the University of Notre Dame just as it arrived in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa. – with crystal blue, cloudless skies and warm breezes. The Notre Dame students had gone off to their first classes of the day or to late breakfasts, beginning their day much like the folks in the Financial District and the Pentagon who had hurried to their work and meetings. No one had any expectation of the tragic events about to descend on our country.

That morning, I was just calling a friend in Ohio from my room at the University of Notre Dame to ask for hospitality for another friend driving there in a few days for a wedding. When my friend answered the phone, I began making my request, and she interrupted me to say it would not be possible. Her voice sounded strained, and when I asked what was bothering her, she asked if I had my TV on and if I had heard the news from New York. I had not, so she gave me a brief report. I hung up the phone, immediately turned on the TV, and began a day like none I had lived thus far.

Shortly after, students began returning from classes and the dining halls. Some came in quiet tears, some in quiet conversation, some in complete silence. All of them stayed in groups, and anyone walking alone soon had at least one companion. They all had the same shocked look on their faces. The residence halls quickly filled with the sounds of TV newscasters keeping us updated on the unfolding events. There was an air of agitation in the dorms. More and more students began making plans to jump on planes or hop into cars to go and help. Some had relatives back east, but most just saw a need and had to respond. We had to calm them down and explain that there were no roads open into Manhattan or Washington, and that all airports were shut down across the country. Some did not listen, but we expected that. Some made it all the way, but others eventually turned back.

The desire to serve where there was a need came naturally to our students, but their true response came later in the day. That afternoon, the university grounds crew began to set up an outdoor stage with a portable altar, a sound system, and chairs for the priests, choir and musicians, lectors, and eucharistic ministers. As 5 p.m. drew near, quiet groups of students began filtering out of the residence halls. People from the neighborhoods around campus, faculty and staff, maintenance workers and housekeepers, and police and fire personnel gathered close to the altar. The singing began, and we all gathered to remember and to pray for the dead and injured, for their families and friends, for those who would be there to help in rescue and recovery, and for each other as we grieved, feared what might happen next, and hoped all would be well despite the knowledge that all would be changed.

Through that celebration of the Eucharist, we came together as the body of Christ, a community united in its belief that God would hold and comfort all of us in the midst of something beyond our comprehension. We still did not know why it happened and had no clue about what would happen in the days to come, but for an hour or so we felt peace – peace the world could never give us. What we would do with that feeling was left up to us and would continue to be lived out in the years to come.

Ten years later, our prayers continue. Prayers for peace and tolerance, prayers for mercy and forgiveness, prayers for a world that lets God’s rule overpower all others and guide us to that place where our swords can be turned into plowshares. We continue to pray.

Sister Pat is a member of the RENEW staff, a Dominican Sister, and a huge Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish fan.

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