PHOTOS: Courtesy Laurie Kegley / MTFD
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ - More than 250 police officers, firemen, first aid volunteers and EMTs, Coast Guardsmen from Sandy Hook and National Park Service representatives received the plaudits and appreciation of at least 250 local residents who crowded into St. Agnes Church Wednesday night for the 13th Blue Mass, an annual event planned to both honor and show appreciation to all emergency service men and women and to offer continued prayers for their safety and well being.
John Flynn, a member of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes parish and a former Coast Guardsman, started the tradition 13 years ago at St. Agnes and continues to head up a team of volunteers who make it a highlight of the year for all involved. Flynn and Brian Anderson, both members of the Rev, Joseph Donnelly Knights of Columbus, also created striking panels for each of the aisle side beams in the church with the logos of each of the facilities being honored at the Mass.
The Bishop McFaul Assembly, the 4th degree Knights of Columbus, provided a guard of honor for the men and women being honored, and together with the NJ United Pipe Bands, escorted the honorees to their seats.
Atlantic Highlands police and volunteers closed off the streets surrounding St. Agnes Church in advance of the Mass, to allow for honorees and their guests to gather and mingle on the street safely.
The Rev. Fernando A. Lopez, pastor, officiated at the evening mass and gave the welcome address, homily and final benediction. In his homily, Father Lopez noted he himself had a career as a police officer prior to becoming a priest; he also expressed profuse thanks to all the emergency workers and the entire community for their spirit of cooperation, community, assistance and friendship. It is only camaraderie such as this, the pastor said, that allows an event such as the Blue Mass at St. Agnes to have everyone come together in such huge numbers. Volunteers working under Flynn’s team for the activities throughout the evening presented pins with symbols representing the offices of first responders as the congregation left the church.
In addition to the United Pipe Bands, music was presented by Corina Pauta, and CWO Seth A. Hunt, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Station at Sandy Hook, led the pledge of allegiance. Walter Curry and John Kardel, ex chiefs of their respective fire departments, did the Biblical readings for the Mass and Colleen Kelly, chaplain of the Leonardo First Aid Squad, led the General Intercessions.
Evidence of how appreciative local residents are of their emergency responders was reflected long and loud at the end of mass, when the United Pipe Bands and 4th Degree Knights once again led the honorees leaving procession. For the seven minutes it took for all to file out and pass others in attendance, there was resounding applause and expressions of thanks.
Following the mass, a buffet dinner hosted both by the Blue Mass Committee and Bernie and Kathleen Sweeny, was held at the Shore Casino, Municipal Yacht Harbor.