Shannon Remembers 9/11 Heroes at Blue Mass
By Louise Brass, Observer Correspondent
September 20, 2018
SHANNON—About 250 people of all faiths attended the Blue Mass and 9/11 Remembrance service held at the fire station, here, Sept. 11.
 
Held annually since 2002, the gathering honors first responders and all those who  gave their lives to save others on Sept 11, 2001, and at other times of trouble.
 
Father Michael Bolger, pastor of St. Wendelin Parish,  celebrated the Blue Mass. The memorial was initiated by the late Leverne Keppen, a founding member of the Knights of Columbus Council 12841, and his wife, Betty.
 
First responders follow the instructions of Christ in the Gospels, Father Bolger said, when Jesus said everyone should, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  
 
It doesn’t matter if the person in need of assistance is of a different race, political bent or orientation, the pastor said.
 
Bill Spoerlein, chairman of the event since 2013, said remembering the sacrifices that first responders make is important, and people should never forget the heroism of responders on Sept. 11, 2001.
 
“This is something that needs to be done,” he said of the exhibits and parade floats, which the fire department provides.
 
This year the floats included a replica of the Ground Zero cross which was seen standing after terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers in New York.
 
Spoerlein was on hand to make sure everything was in place for the processional from St. Wendelin to the fire station. 
 
Participating in the procession were first responders, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Brownie Troops of Northern Illinois led by Katie Reifsteck, local and state politicians, Knights of Columbus, Father Bolger  and altar servers.
 
For the event, a huge American flag flew over Rt. 72, and the large cross replica, draped with the Stars and Stripes, was placed at the side of the gathering for Mass.
 
The St. Wendelin choir, led by program director Dan Payette, sang “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” as Father Bolger processed to an altar on a small stage, walking through an honor guard of Knights of Columbus.
 
In 2001, the entire nation witnessed the massive World Trade Center buildings collapse in billows of smoke and flames after being hit by two planes. The scenes caused Americans to realize how very important first responders are to everyone, Father Bolger said.
 
The Church has always recognized and blessed those who serve our communities, he said.  In 1934 in Washington D.C., the first Blue Mass was celebrated. It is called a Blue Mass because most first responders’ uniforms are blue, he said.
 
But Father Bolger lamented the loss of respect by some for police, fire fighters and paramedics, especially since the 1960s. In the aftermath of 9/11 that attitude changed ... for a time, he said. That gratitude has been waning in recent years, he said.
 
Many men and women in blue — and the other shades of first responders’ attire — have dedicated their lives to the safety of others, he said.
 
“We invoke God’s grace to strengthen these public servants in their duties,” he prayed, adding that holy Scripture reflects fundamental duties to serve others.
 
“Jesus teaches us to do two things in our lives — only two things: First love and serve God. Equally important and second, love and serve our neighbors as we love and serve ourselves,” he said. “Everyone is our neighbor. Everyone.”  
 
It doesn’t matter to first responders who the person in need is, or whether they are like them or not, Father Bolger said, stressing that the nation needs unity and respect for the beliefs of others. 
 
It is a fundamental American right, he said, to defend to the end your right to express your opinion and state your beliefs, regardless of race, political bent, or other differences. 
 
“On this Patriots Day, I think we need to simply re-commit ourselves to this American principle. First responders help all in need, regardless of their beliefs. Our nation must do as the first responders do, as our nation demands, and Jesus commands. Go and do likewise,” Father Bolger said as he ended his homily.
 
Also participating in the Mass, giving readings and  offering prayers were Fire Department Chaplin Ellis Boughton and Knights of Columbus Mike Jones and Mike Rood.
 
At the end of the service, Fire Chief James Klinefelter rang a bell that was placed near the altar. 
 
“This was an attack on the United States of America. What has happened over the last 17 years? Have we forgotten what that day felt like? Are we thankful for what we have?” he asked.  
 
“Will it take another Sept. 11 to remind Americans that this is the land of the free and home of the brave?” the fire chief asked. 
 
“Remember to honor those who keep you safe.  Let’s remember our comrades every day — our men and women in blue — not just once a year.”
 
As the American flag at the fire station was lowered for the night, Allen Krieger and Matthew Wiederkehr played Taps.