Twenty years ago — on Sept. 11, 2001 — the SJC Brooklyn community came together as news sank deeper and deeper about the devastating tragedy looming over the city. Longtime faculty and staff say they will never forget the cloud of grey smoke that hovered over the Clinton Hill campus that day, descending from just over four miles away at the collapsing World Trade Center.
In the coming weeks, the St. Joseph’s community united as one and prayed for those who died, including lost alumni, students and friends of the College. Student groups planned vigils, collected supplies for rescue workers and volunteers at Ground Zero, and raised donation money via bake sales and auctions.
And the Board of Trustees postponed its annual Dinner Dance to hold a special event honoring the New York Police Department, the Fire Department New York and other first responders.
Over the years, SJC Brooklyn continued to honor the lives lost in the Sept. 11 attacks with an annual memorial ceremony. In 2005, a memorial plaque behind St. Angela Hall was dedicated by the College, recognizing the alumni, and relatives of SJC alumni, who died during the Sept. 11. attacks, including Jennifer Mazzotta ’00, Paul Rizza ’99 and Richard Catarelli ’76.
Mazzotta was a young trader at Cantor Fitzgerald who was engaged to be married at the time of the attack. Rizza worked as an investors services officer with Fiduciary Trust International. Catarelli was a senior vice president with Marsh & McLennan. Each worked at the World Trade Center.
Friday afternoon, members of the SJC Brooklyn community held a special ceremony in honor of the 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Members of the SJC Brooklyn community remember Sept. 11
Mike McGrann, security director
“I was scheduled to work a 4 p.m.-12 a.m. shift that day with the NYPD. Once I saw what was going on, I headed for the Staten Island Ferry to get into work. I remember the baseball stadium next to the terminal was filled with medical personnel gearing up as a triage center, waiting to take care of any injured that may be sent there. The people were all energized, ready to do their jobs. There were large and small boats going back and forth to Ground Zero, crisscrossing the harbor, carrying people out of the city. Once I got to Manhattan, I walked up to One Police Plaza where I worked. There were thousands of people walking on the highway and the streets, heading toward the Brooklyn Bridge. Everyone was covered in grey dust. Everyone was quiet. Just stunned.”
Susan Straut-Collard, Ph.D., Dillon Center director
“I voted that morning and was walking home from the polling site when I heard something strange. It sounded like a loud ‘boom.’ When I turned, I could see smoke in the sky. I live in Clinton Hill, so I have an obstructed view of lower Manhattan, but not of the towers themselves, from the street. Once in my apartment, I turned on the television and began to watch the news coverage.
It was hard to believe, and there was so much confusion early on about exactly what had happened. I got a telephone call from my children’s elementary school, suggesting that I come to pick them up. They attended a charter school in Williamsburg at the time, and when I got there, all of the students were in the cafeteria, which had large floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the Manhattan skyline. The children had all been in the cafeteria when the towers were hit, and they had a birds eye view of the whole scene.
My four children were aged 6-10 on that day, and one of my 6-year-old sons was particularly affected by what he had seen. He drew pictures of the Twin Towers on fire for months, trying to process his feelings. I personally knew two people who died that day, one police officer and one firefighter. For many years, I participated in the Tunnel to Towers Never Forget Walk in September, as my way of commemorating the tragedy. I also always watch the 9/11 coverage each year. It is definitely an important day in my family.”
Stephanie Dumaine, assistant vice president for advancement operations
“I remember I was driving to Long Island (I lived in Brooklyn at the time). 95.5 PLJ – Scott and Todd in the Morning was on the radio and they said a plane hit the World Trade Center. They assumed it was just a terrible accident and then, when the second plane hit, we realized it was an attack. I listened the whole way there.
When I arrived at the office, which at the time was located near campus (I think it is the wellness building now), everyone was watching the TV and the horror of the building going down. At a certain point, I had to head home to watch my son, who was a toddler at the time. My ex-husband was an NYPD officer and was called in to work, as were many of them. I remember driving home and watching a lot of cars driving on the shoulder heading toward the city. It was such a sad day. I always think about all those people that never returned home to their families. I guess that is why I tell my family everyday that I love them.”
Sister Elizabeth Hill, C.S.J., former St. Joseph’s College president
As told to students in the Voices of SJC oral history project in 2017.
“It was a shattered time. Nobody who lived through would ever forget that day. You remember exactly where you were, what you were doing, with whom you were speaking, when you heard about the first plane, and then when you heard about the second plane, and then you knew. I think the College pulled together beautifully.
We did not have then as many Muslim students as we have now, but we had a few, and I think we reached out immediately. Students reached out to their friends and faculty, and administration reached out to assure them that we didn’t blame them. We didn’t equate them with what had happened; we understood that they were as dismayed and as heartbroken as we were. It was certainly a heartbreaking time. We lost several of our recent graduates of the College and so we had a ceremony to memorialize them over near St. Angela Hall.
We had a number of different things, I remember speaking at different things, always with that effort to reach out and just be reconciling. The Sisters of St. Joseph, who have been part of this College for its entire history of 100 years, our mission is to be instruments of unifying love and reconciliation. It was very important to us as the leaders of the institution that we create that environment, that we immediately cut off any blame games or harsh retaliation or anything like that. And I think, I hope, we never really know what’s going on in somebody else’s heart. I hope that we were somewhat successful in embracing the community in a way that enabled us to go forward together.
I think the fact that we had a number of young Muslim women come here is, to me, a sign that we’ve been successful in doing that. That they do feel at home here, which is important.”
Emmanuel Johnson, an organizational management major and a Navy veteran
“For me, it hits home personally, not only because I am from here, but because my mom was also injured in that moment and because I witnessed it from my school. I watched it from the window of my elementary school classroom. (I went to P.S. 224 right here in Brooklyn.) All of this is always on my mind during this time of year. When I look at my mom, it brings me back to that experience of seeing that happen …
“I remember, later that day, my mom came home with all of this debris on her. I was like, ‘What is going on?’ Because I saw the smoke and everything. She was in the building and she ran down and got out of there. She said she had to go into a store to catch her breath because she couldn’t breathe from the debris. I remember her coming into my school and she was hysterical and then the power went out. A whole bunch of things transpired. But, now, on this day, we pay tribute to those who lost their lives.”