Over 1,500 members of the New York Irish community gathered together last night in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to grieve the loss of the six Irish J-1 students who died in the balcony collapse last week in Berkeley, and to send healing prayers to the seven injured survivors and all of the families impacted by the tragedy.
The central pews of St. Patrick’s – the 135-year-old seat of the New York Archdiocese, which is currently undergoing renovations – were packed with community representatives, members of the public, and Irish students in New York for the summer on the J-1 visa – the same program as the young people in Berkeley.
The memorial mass, led by His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, The Most Rev. Bishop Gerald T. Walsh, and Reverend Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie, opened with the hymn “Be Not Afraid,” sung by Cathy Maguire, and a Reading from the Prophet Isaiah by Brian O’Dwyer.
Offertory gifts – bread, wine, lighted candles, the crests of the universities of the six victims, and the books of condolence that had been stationed for the past week at the Irish centers in New York – were presented by Irish students and representatives from the Aisling Irish Center, the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and the New York Irish Center.
Another group of students from University College Dublin, the Dublin Institute of Technology, and the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology read the Prayers of the Faithful for those who lost their lives: Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Ashley Donohue, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eimear Walsh, and for the seven injured: Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Seán Fahey, Niall Murray, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin and Hannah Waters.
They offered prayers for the families of all the lost and injured; for the clergy, the emergency responders and the medical staff who tended to the victims of the tragedy; for everyone participating in the J-1 program and for the Irish family in New York and across the United States, whose solidarity in the wake of the tragedy they described as “a comfort to us all and an example of the best of Ireland.”
During the communion service, Irish soprano Mary Deady sang Panis Algelicus.
Barbara Jones, the Consul General of Ireland in New York, offered a special thank you to all the Irish students who filled the pews of St. Patrick’s. “Many of the victims were your school or college friends or friends of friends,” she said. “I hope you feel the love and support of this great church and community and that it comforts you in your time of grief, while you are away from home.”
She read aloud their names, ages, their courses of studies at university and their aspirations and spoke of the deep grief felt by the community for the tragic circumstances of the deaths and the loss of “such young, beautiful, talented people.”
“No parents can look at pictures of these young people without thinking that it could have been one of our own family,” she said, quoting Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
But, she also noted, there is a solace to be found in the way the Irish across the world rallied in support.
“We have been filled with pride by the professionalism of the priests and the people of the Bay Area who cared for the victims and the families when they arrived from Ireland to such an unspeakable tragedy,” she said.
“And because of the human bonds between Ireland and America, the tragedy took on deep connections and unconscious memories: memories of hardship faced by past generations of Irish people who have come to this country, memories of other wrongs suffered by innocent people.
“This unspeakable tragedy connects with tens of thousands of people my age who got J-1 visas so we could travel to the United States, work here and spend some time with our friends and family. Every single one of us can relate to the hopes of these young people: the dream of meeting our potential to the full … to serve, to build our future, to be happy and to be loved.
“In churches in the Bay Area, in Dublin, across the United States and now today in New York, Irish people have gathered and joined to do what we are doing tonight: to pray for them and for healing comfort for their families.
“In my view, our community’s reaction to these tragic deaths has revealed our best selves – both to ourselves and to the world. I mean our hallmark kindness, our faith in god, our resilience in dealing with loss and adversity, our solidarity with others less fortunate than we are, and our instinct to unite as a community – a transatlantic family – to care, comfort and pray for each other.”
Conversations with those gathered for the mass confirmed that unifying instinct.
“Community, charity, that’s what we’re all about, said Steve Kiernan, president of the King’s County chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. “They ask us and we come, especially to this place. We’ve come here many times, protecting his church, literally fighting for this church, so: they call us, we’re here. We came here to support the families.”
Maggie Cardosi, a high school recruiter for University College Dublin in New York, said that she was there to “show our support for the students who were injured and were killed. Also, because I feel I'm part of the Irish American community, to show my personal support as well.”
Bridget Cagney, who had come to St. Patrick’s from Sunnyside in Queens with her husband Jim, said that she was grateful to “have the opportunity to be there in the church as a part of the mass…with all of the other people who came to sympathize.
“And to see all the young people here is so sad but at the same time there's a sense of strength isn't there?” she asked.
“There's a great sense of strength when we're together.”