Friday, August 13, 2010

Religious fervor that flowed after terrorist attacks quickly faded


Five years ago Monday, Holy Family Church in East Taunton became a local “ground zero” for mourning.

The Rev. Francis Grogan

Three people who died when planes from Boston struck the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, had ties to the parish.

The Rev. Francis E. Grogan, 76, of North Easton, had served Mass at Holy Family only the Friday before, after helping out at the church for the previous year.

Peter A. Gay
Peter A. Gay

Peter A. Gay, 54, of Tewksbury, who was traveling on business, was the brother of David T. Gay, who with his wife, Patricia, was then a Holy Family parishioner.

Neilie Anne Casey, 32, of Wellesley, also traveling for work, was the daughter-in-law of William and Mary Jane Casey, who also attended Holy Family.

All three perished on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It clearly touched our parish in a particular way,” said the pastor, the Rev. Jay T. Maddock.

Across the region, even people who didn’t lose loved ones felt the effects of Sept. 11 keenly. Churches and synagogues filled with people for special services that week and on Sunday. Record church attendance was reported throughout the country.

The spiritual fervor quickly faded, however. For the most part, for most people, life has returned to normal, religious leaders say.

“Time tends to heal, and since we haven’t had any other catastrophic events similar to 9/11 in this country, people become quite used to it,” said Rabbi H. David Werb of Temple Beth Emunah in Brockton.

The same thing happened nationally, experts say.

A recent study by the Barna Group of Ventura, Calif., a Christian religions pollster, showed that there was an intense surge in religious activity and expression in the weeks immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, but today the faith of Americans is “virtually indistinguishable” compared to before then.

“In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, half of all Americans said their faith helped them cope with the shock and uncertainty,” the Barna Group said about the study, released on Aug. 28.

“The change most widely reported was a significant spike in church attendance, with some churches experiencing more than double their normal crowd on the Sunday after the shocking event. However, by the time January 2002 rolled around, churchgoing was back to pre-attack levels, and has remained consistent in the five years since,” the research group said.

Worship attendance has dropped since immediate post-9/11 levels among those of other faiths as well.

“Certainly, the crowds that came at the first and second anniversaries have lessened markedly,” said Werb, of Temple Beth Emunah in Brockton. “There are definitely less people attending, though there are some people who specifically come for that purpose.”

The temple, which held special morning services on the first and second anniversaries of the terrorist attacks, will include prayers this year during the regular service at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

The Rev. Mark T. Pattie, pastor of Covenant Congregational Church in Easton, remembers that his church hosted a community-wide, inter-faith service on Sept. 11, 2001, and again a year later.

This year, local churches discussed a similar commemoration, but opted instead to mark the day in their own ways.

“You get back into a routine,” Pattie said. “Not that people are bad or that they really didn’t mean it back then, but the demands and routines of life get us back to ways that are easier for us.”

Maddock said Holy Family’s population has increased from 1,100 families to about 1,500 in nine years, but he attributes that to the growing population in East Taunton, not necessarily an increased interest in religion.

At 8 a.m. Monday, Holy Family will offer a Mass in memory of Father Grogan. Among the parishioners planning to attend is John J. LePage, a 70-year-old accountant from Taunton.

LePage remembered his reaction to the terrorist attacks five years ago.

“I felt startled, of course, and actually kind of ashamed, in the sense that all the people of the world haven’t learned to love one another in the way God has loved them, Christian or Muslim,” he said. “That’s what people need to learn: to love, and to live with the virtue of hope that things are going to get better. That’s what God is really all about.”

Vicki-Ann Downing can be reached at

No comments: