Remembering Sean Rooney (10 Years Later)
Everyone remembers where they were that fateful morning. I was still living with my parents. ES1, then my fiance, had come over as soon as the news broke, so that we could be together. That afternoon, there was in my parents' house, as in many places, a flurry of telephone calls. Everyone was calling everyone else to make sure they were alright.
Our friend AM, who once dated my best friend Pat, called me up. She asked if I had heard anything from Pat's family, since his uncle works in the WTC. I said I hadn't, and proceeded to call his family. I spoke with his mother, who told me a harrowing story.
My best friend's uncle, Sean Rooney, was indeed in the second tower of the WTC. When the first plane hit the first tower, he and his coworkers were told to stay put.
When the second plane hit, they were trapped.
He called his wife, Beverly Eckert. They spent some time talking. Finally, he told her that it was time to say goodbye.
A few seconds later, she heard an explosion, followed by a whoosh. Suddenly, the line went dead.
She turned to her television to see her worst fears confirmed.
A few days later, a memorial service was held at Pat's parents' house in East Aurora. Many stories were told. I spoke with some of his family members to get a few more. Here are a handful, which may perhaps shed some light on this man's life.
Sean Rooney was not a man to waste time. Sean Rooney was not shy. He loved people, he was very outgoing, and he always had one question on his mind: "What can I do to help?"
In the winter of 2000, Sean & his wife drove in from Connecticut to visit. Pat's parents noticed a large object on top of their car. It seems that the last time they were in town, Sean had decided that their bathroom needed a new vanity. He secretly took measurements. Upon his return to Connecticut he proceeded to build one. He then installed it, along with some new tiling. It was called a Christmas present.
He was one of the last true Jacks-of-all-trades. He was known on sight at his local Home Depot. At his own home, their dining room holds a gorgeous table which he built. Every cabinet in their kitchen was installed by him.
His talents also extended to cooking as well. He did all the cooking. One Thanksgiving he made a Turkey dinner for 17 people. Nobody ever turned down one of his meals.
His interests also included golf. Golf was, however, apparently about the only thing he wasn't good at. Nonetheless, he enjoyed it immensely. One day, on a trip to Nantucket, he and Pat's father hit the course. No more than 4 or 5 holes were played before a thick fog rolled in. Sean decided that the course diagram on the scorecards should be accurate enough for navigational purposes. As long as they stayed on the green, they could simply follow the path in the dew to find their balls. They used this method to play the next 4 holes before finally giving up.
One couldn't say enough about his generosity. A friend of his, who lived near him in Connecticut, took a job in New York City. His new abode did not have room for any of his furniture, leaving him with nothing. Sean took his outdoor furniture, which was padded for comfort, and one day drove in and said "here."
Above all, he never dismissed anyone. Not even the person who bagged his groceries escaped his attention. Everyone was treated as a person who was worthy of personal contact. No person was overlooked.
One day, Pat's parents were on a visit to Sean & Beverly's home in Connecticut. Outside the local supermarket, a street person was pushing a cart full of cans. He hit the curb, overturning the cart, as well as himself. His cans rolled out into the middle of traffic. Without hesitation, Sean stepped out into traffic. With one hand, he held the traffic back. With the other, he helped the others load the cans back into the man's cart.
Most of all, through the memorial service and speaking with his family, I saw the love. I saw the love that he had for his family, friends, and human beings in general. I felt the love that he inspired in all those who knew him. Most of all, I felt myself to be a lesser person for never having known him.
Today, his name lives on. With the help of the Jesuits, Sean's family established a scholarship at Canisius High School, which was Sean's alma mater, as well as Pat's and my own. This scholarship goes to an incoming freshman who either graduated from the Catholic Academy of West Buffalo, or lives on the West Side of Buffalo.
This scholarship was dedicated at a ceremony in his honor. It turned out that Sean's high school friend, Tom Fontana, who had watched the entire event from his home in New Jersey, wanted to help out. He brought along a movie he had just completed, Judas, and it was screened at the event. Also at the event, the first student was given the scholarship. This student had fled with his family from Rwanda in 1995. His parents were from different warring tribes. He was the ideal first recipient.
Sean Rooney's legacy continues to touch the lives of those who knew him, and many who never knew him. He was a great man, whose life was cut short by blind hatred. His memory and legacy, however, will live on long after those who murdered him are forgotten. Standing in contrast to those who hate, is the memory of a man who knew only love. Decades from now, when the names of the violent are confined to grade school textbooks, his legacy will touch the hearts and lives of many deserving young students in the hallowed halls of Canisius. Even then, those who knew him will remember a man of infinite kindness, infinite generosity, and infinite love. Today, let us all take a moment to remember Sean Rooney. He was what we all aspire to be.
A tribute video of him is posted here.
The Sean Rooney Memorial Scholarship has been running quite smoothly for several years now. I ran into Beverly, who I always knew simply as Aunt Bev, at the funeral of my mentor, Fr. James P. Higgins. She was attending with the family of the first scholarship recipient. Fr. Higgins had been instrumental in setting up the scholarship. We spoke of how life was going. ES1 & I had only 6 months earlier brought our daughter into the world - on the very same day as Pat and his wife Melonie. We were sad that Fr. Higgins had never had a chance to meet either of them.
Only two weeks later, we awoke in the morning to hear that there had been a plane crash near the Buffalo Airport. We were shocked, but didn't think much of it. When we went downstairs to eat breakfast, ES1 checked FaceBook, and saw Melonie's status that she was still shocked about the news. We didn't speak what we were both thinking. We didn't have to. A few minutes later, Fox & Friends announced that Beverly had been on Flight 3407. The statement from her sister, Pat's mother, was "We know she was on the plane; now she is with Sean."
My own post from the time is here. The official website is here. She was instrumental in continuing efforts to determine exactly what mistakes allowed the murderers to do what they did. Her sisters now carry on that work. Never did any of them ever seek vengeance. The only mission was to make sure that no one else had to suffer what they did. Any who knew them are blessed. We continue to be blessed by the knowledge that their work will live on. What neither Sauron, Voldemort, Palpatine, nor the White Queen understood, they have proven: love does indeed conquer all.
Updated 9:02 PM 9/11/09 to correct flight number
Here is an NPR story in which Aunt Bev describes there conversation with Sean on this day.