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Deacon says it was an honor to be of service

Posted By September 9, 2011 | 6:00 am | Lead Story #1
CNS PHOTO “Ten years later I look back at it as an honor and a privilege to have been of some service to the firefighters and police who were there. And all of them have been in my daily prayers – and their families – especially two.” Deacon Anthony R. Surozenski, director of the diocesan Office of the Diaconate, was recalling his service at ground zero Sept. 16-21, 2001, just after the terrorist attacks on New York. “We were invited” to go there to help, he said of himself and the rest of the Massachusetts Corps of Fire Chaplains. “At first we thought we were going to be assisting with the delivery of death notices. A chaplain usually assists a police or fire officer,” he said. But, he said, “The need was greater at the morgue.” So he did two 12-hour shifts there, and also visited firehouses and talked with firefighters and people on the streets. The morgue he worked in was a tent into which the remains of victims were brought, he said.

 

 

By Tanya Connor

“Ten years later I look back at it as an honor and a privilege to have been of some service to the firefighters and police who were there. And all of them have been in my daily prayers – and their families – especially two.” Deacon Anthony R. Surozenski, director of the diocesan Office of the Diaconate, was recalling his service at ground zero Sept. 16-21, 2001, just after the terrorist attacks on New York.
“We were invited” to go there to help, he said of himself and the rest of the Massachusetts Corps of Fire Chaplains. “At first we thought we were going to be assisting with the delivery of death notices. A chaplain usually assists a police or fire officer,” he said.
But, he said, “The need was greater at the morgue.” So he did two 12-hour shifts there, and also visited firehouses and talked with firefighters and people on the streets.
The morgue he worked in was a tent into which the remains of victims were brought, he said.
Workers placed the remains on grid-like mats according to where they were found, then said, “O.K. chaplains.” The two chaplains present at the time would then pray over the person’s remains before they were taken to forensics experts in a second tent.
“It was recognizing the dignity of all human beings, no matter who they were, where they were from, color, race or creed,” said Deacon Surozenski, who also serves at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Webster. “We placed their care in God’s hands. We just did a generic prayer, pretty much like, ‘Please accept them in your care. Bless their families. Bring them peace during these difficult times.’”
The two 9/11 victims he especially prays for still are Fire Captain Timothy Stackpole, promoted to that rank the Thursday before the attacks, and Battalion Chief Dennis Cross, of Battalion 57 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
“I just saw their bodies,” Deacon Surozenski said of the two. “One came in right after the other. … I did special prayers for them. … I’m right there. I can still see them.”
Unlike the other victims he prayed for, these men were readily identifiable, he said. Those who brought them in were asked to stand at attention.
“The firefighters that were present actually had tears in their eyes because they knew them well,” he said.
He identified with Captain Stackpole, who had worked at Ladder 103 in Brooklyn, because he himself had once been captain of a ladder company, he said.
Later he called Captain Stackpole’s priest, Father James Cunningham, to ask him to tell the men’s families they were prayed over and everything was done with the utmost dignity, he said.
What would Deacon Surozenski like to say now, 10 years later?
“I hope this never happens again,” he responded, adding, “we always, daily, should be praying for peace.”

Father Precourt was part
of children’s healing camp
By Tanya Connor

A local priest who helped plan a camp for children of September 11 victims saw it to its conclusion this summer.
Assumptionist Father Peter R. Precourt, pastor of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge, told The Catholic Free Press Wednesday about being a chaplain at America’s Camp. That evening he gave a talk about it at Assumption College as part of the school’s observances of the 10th anniversary of the  terrorist attacks on the United States.
America’s Camp was founded in 2002 to provide a free, fun, supportive week-long summer camp for children who lost a parent or sibling in the attacks, according to the website www.americascamp.org. Children and siblings of firefighters or law enforcement officers lost in the line of duty at any time were soon included as well.
America’s Camp Foundation, a legacy program of the Twin Towers Fund, raised and managed funds to operate the camp, the website says. CampGroup co-sponsored it.
Father Precourt said one of the America’s Camp founders, Jay Toporoff, director of Camp Danbee in Hinsdale, asked him to help plan the camp, knowing he’d taught a death and dying course at Assumption College. Mr. Toporoff had worked with him at Assumption, as had his wife, Debbie, and he had presided at their wedding.
The other founders of America’s Camp were Danny Metzger, director of Camp Mah-Kee-Nac in Lenox, where America’s Camp was held for five years before moving to Camp Danbee, and Jed Dorfman, director of Camp Walt Whitman in Piermont, N.H., according to Father Precourt and the website.
Staff included professionals from the Center for Grieving Children in Portland, Maine. Father Precourt said he was an ecumenical minister during the week – he offered a daily prayer service – and on weekends he celebrated Mass for Catholic campers and staff.
In August 2002 they had only 78 campers because many surviving parents did not want to let their children out of their sight, Father Precourt said. At another point the number reached 280, he said. This August they had 169 campers, and 100 former campers serving as counselors.
As the camp was for youth age 7-15, the numbers of eligible campers whose loved ones were killed Sept. 11, 2001 kept dwindling, so a couple years ago the decision was made to end the camp in 2011, he said.
“For me it was very rewarding to watch the children move beyond the grief,” Father Precourt said. He said they grew up to be people who wanted to touch the world, a great change he was happy to be part of.
At first, activities were focused on them, allowing them to reflect inwardly, he said. Later, they were encouraged to do things for others, whether it was making something for terminally ill children or veterans.
“It built from year to year,” he said.
This year, he said, one of them expressed a desire to carry the torch out into the world, and the others applauded.