Living Tributes

Living Tributes

Artwork of a colorful tree in a blue city scape.

Stories of Courage, Generosity, and Resilience on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11.

Trees in the Northeast don’t sprout new growth in autumn unless they are dying and grasping for one more chance at life. Which is why the burst of new leaves on a branch of an otherwise charred and broken Callery pear tree caught the attention of recovery workers sifting through the still smoldering wreckage at Ground Zero in October 2001.

The last living thing recovered from the site, the damaged 8-foot tall tree was transported to Van Courtland Park in the Bronx and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. There was little they could do for it, except clean its wounds and offer it a place to rest and revive.

The following spring, the tree burst forth with new growth and a dove nested in its branches. In 2010, The Survivor Tree was brought home to the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, where it now stands 30 feet tall.

In a 2013 YouTube video, Ronaldo Vega, then a senior project manager for the NYC Department of Design and Construction, points to the blackened, deeply burrowed bark of the lower tree. “This tells the story of 9/11 and before,” he says, then gestures to the smooth upper branches, “and this is all brand new growth after 9/11. The presentation of its very skin talks about the horror of that day and the healing and recovery of that day as well.”

During The Survivor Tree’s years of rehabilitation in the Bronx, seeds were collected to propagate saplings. Each year, through the 9/11 Memorial’s Survivor Tree Seedling Program, three of these saplings are shared with communities throughout the U.S. that have been affected by tragedy.

Like these symbols of hope, the following three stories of courage, generosity, and resilience are testament to our power to heal and grow.

James Costello ’85, Known to All as “Cos”

Gary and Jane (Murphy) McGovern ’85 were grateful that they knew the whereabouts of their friend and classmate, FDNY Captain James Costello ’85, on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. “He was here with us,” said Jane, “so we knew he was okay.”

“Cos,” as everyone called him, had stayed overnight at the McGovern family home in Scituate, Mass. after participating in an annual charity golf outing with Gary on Sept. 10. Jane remembers walking Cos out to his car early the next morning, and feeling happy for their college pal, who had been facing some personal challenges. “I’m feeling really good about where things are now,” he’d reassured her as they hugged goodbye and Cos hit the road.

He was cruising down the highway listening to the radio when news of the terror attacks broke. The firefighter raced straight to lower Manhattan.

In the weeks that followed, Cos was part of the first Task Force Recovery Operation. The FDNY had lost 343 firefighters on 9/11, and stations across the city were severely short-staffed. “He’d work his regular shift and then head straight to Ground Zero for another 8-hour shift, every day for a month straight,” recalled Gary. The strain of that toil, while also attending back-to-back funerals “was unimaginable.”

“I think he had a very strong case of survivor’s guilt,” said Jane, “after losing so many close friends and colleagues.” Coupled with witnessing the horror and being exposed to the toxic fumes at the World Trade Center recovery site, “Cos had a lot to manage emotionally, but he was incredibly strong and, all in all, he handled it well.”

Promoted quickly to Battalion Chief, Cos was the highest ranking Fairfield alumnus in the FDNY when he was invited to represent 9/11 first-responders at the Nov. 2, 2002 dedication of Fairfield University’s on-campus 9/11 Alumni Memorial.

Over the years, the McGoverns, Cos, and their extended “Fairfield family” of tight Class of ’85 friends collected a lifetime of happy memories together – at parties, ski trips, and summer vacations at the Jersey shore.

Still, the weight of Cos’s post-9/11 work affected him deeply – in his late 40s, he retired from the FDNY and enrolled in law school “because he wanted to represent and help firefighters suffering from health issues,” said Gary.

Cos was living in Highlands, New Jersey when he became ill; Gary and Jane noticed he’d lost a lot of weight when they saw him in the summer of 2015. Months later at a party, looking even more gaunt, all he would share was that he was having “stomach issues.”

His friends only learned of his pancreatic and neuroendocrine cancers after Cos died, at the age of 52, on November 25, 2015.

“We were shocked,” said Jane, the words catching in her throat. “He was not alone at the time of his death, but alone in his suffering.” The FDNY officially determined that Battalion Chief James Costello had died in the line of duty from illnesses directly related to toxic exposures at Ground Zero.

Today, the name James Costello scrolls across an electronic screen at the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan, part of a growing list of more than 200 firefighters who have died since 2001 of causes related to their rescue and recovery work at the site of the terrorist attacks.

As part of the University’s commemoration of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the name James Costello ’85 is also being added beside the 14 alumni names on Fairfield’s 9/11 Alumni Memorial – the stone and steel installation he helped dedicate in 2002.

“He definitely deserves that honor,” said Jane.

The Fairfield Alumni Community Responds

In the days that followed the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Fairfield University’s Office of Alumni Relations received a barrage of emails and phone calls from concerned alumni. Some were desperate for information about classmates and friends. Others wished to share updates on behalf of the families of the missing.

A month after the attacks, then-President Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., sent a letter to the Fairfield University community confirming that one parent (Patrick J. Hoey, P’04, father of Sharon Hoey ’04) and 14 Fairfield alumni (see sidebar) had been identified as lost. He announced three ways that Fairfield planned “to memorialize these individuals and to perpetuate the goodness reflected in their lives.”

The first was a special Memorial Mass, held on Sunday, October 28, 2001. More than 1,700 family members, alumni, and friends gathered that day in Alumni Hall to find solace in one another’s company.

Fr. Kelley next shared plans to create a permanent on-campus 9/11 alumni memorial. On behalf of the planning committee, alumnus Ed Condon ’85, wrote to the commissioner in charge of cleanup at Ground Zero and received special permission to access the crime scene to retrieve a steel beam artifact.

Growing emotional as he recalled his visit to the site, Condon described watching firefighters with rakes, combing a ditch for remains while contractors in hardhats sawed off the 23.5” of bent, charred steel that would become Fairfield University’s alumni memorial.

A neighbor of Condon’s, Bill Stanley, worked for the construction company O&G Industries and arranged to have the stone base of the memorial donated and engraved, free of charge. The installation in front of Alumni House was dedicated on Nov. 2, 2002. Family and friends of the alumni victims placed flowers on the memorial, which is engraved with the names of their loved ones and the following inscription:

“May this steel beam, once part of the New York World Trade Center destroyed by terrorists, lead us to reflect on the gift of life so tragically lost there by 14 Fairfield alumni on September 11, 2001. In their memory, may we renew our faith, live in hope and strive for peace.”

Fr. Kelley’s third announcement was that the University would be restricting $1 million of its own institutional endowment to create a September 11 Memorial Scholarship Fund. Directly benefiting qualified students with financial need, the fund was designated to underwrite full tuition for current students who had lost a parent on 9/11, as well as children of alumni and rescue workers killed on that day, should they become Fairfield University students in the future.

Of the 19 children of alumnus fathers who died on Sept. 11, two pairs of siblings have attended Fairfield University on this scholarship.

While the University has never actively solicited funds for the endowed Sept. 11 Memorial Scholarship, 157 donors have contributed to it over the years. Now that alumni children directly affected by the 2001 disaster are past the ages at which they’d have chosen a college if this was their path, funds generated by the scholarship exclusively benefit children of any Fairfield alumni.

Independently, an additional five memorial scholarships were created by the families and friends of University alumni killed in the attacks. To date, thanks to the generosity of alumni, families, classmates, and friends, a total 70 Fairfield students have been awarded scholarships cumulatively valued at more than $900,000 from the following funds:

  • The Christopher Slattery Fairfield Memorial Scholarship
  • The Michael Lunden ’86 Scholarship
  • The H. Joseph Heller and Michael P. Lunden Memorial Scholarship
  • The Jonathan Neff Cappello ’00 Scholarship
  • The Michael R. Andrews ’89 Memorial Scholarship

Charlie Dunne ’89, Brother of Christopher Dunne ’95

Charlie Dunne ’89 always knew he wanted to be a cop, and within a year of graduating from Fairfield, he had joined the NYPD. “I went from Fairfield Beach Road to Times Square,” he said, “which was quite a culture shock.”

He doesn’t really remember how his younger brother Chris, whom he described as “definitely a musician at heart,” ended up at his alma mater. But with his guitar never far from reach, Christopher Dunne ’95 also earned his undergraduate degree at Fairfield. By 2001, both Dunne brothers were working in New York City — Chris as a computer programmer for Marsh McLennan in the World Trade Center, and Charlie as a cop by day and a law school student at St. John’s University by night.

On Sept. 11 of that year, Charlie and his fellow midtown precinct officers learned from the news on TV that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. As the horror of the terror attacks unfolded, he was dispatched to the far west end of 42nd Street. With no cellphone reception, he remained out of contact with his family until he finished work around 11 that night.

There was no “in-between“ that day, no broken legs or arms — either you made it out of the towers or you were gone, said Charlie. “I knew what floor my brother worked on and I did the calculation; he was gone.” He went straight to his parents’ home in Garden City, Long Island, and broke the news to them that Christopher had died.

Fairfield University's 9/11 Alumni Memorial located in front of Alumni House on campus.

Dedicated on Nov. 2, 2002, Fairfield’s 9/11 Alumni Memorial is located in front of Alumni House on campus.

Charlie spent the next eight or so weeks at Ground Zero, assigned to work he described as “nothing dramatic or heroic.” Looking back, he speculates that his relatively short stint downtown might have spared him from the post-9/11 illnesses that have afflicted so many recovery workers.

He graduated from law school in 2002 and retired as an NYPD inspector in 2010, the same year he was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of New York. When his political appointment ended seven years later, Charlie returned once more to lower Manhattan, to accept the position of executive vice president of security, fire & life safety at the National September 11th Memorial & Museum.

“A lot of people who went through that day, when they heard about my job, they were shocked. They never wanted to go back. But I’m glad I worked there,” said Charlie, who left after three years and now works in the private sector, “it was a real special place.”

Respectful of their parents’ wishes, the Dunne family’s grief over losing Christopher has always been a private affair. “Chris had no wife, no children, so there was no constant daily reminder,” Charlie said. “But every family grieves differently.”

Chance encounters around town sometimes connect Charlie with living tributes to his brother. “It’s kind of jarring to run into my brother’s friends – they’ve grown up, they have families.

A couple of them gave their sons the middle name ‘Christopher’ after my brother. When I see them, I wonder what would have happened if he’d made it; would I have more nephews?” A good friend of Charlie’s also named a son in honor of Christopher, and Charlie is the young man’s godfather: “My friend named him Matthew Christopher, after my brother, and my godson is now a freshman at Fairfield – that’s kind of cool, isn’t it?”

Fairfield University remembers all of those who died on 9/11, and especially our 14 alumni.

  • Michael R. Andrews ’89
  • Jonathan N. Cappello ’00
  • Christopher J. Dunne ’95
  • Steven M. Hagis ’91
  • H. Joseph Heller ’86
  • Michael G. Jacobs ’69
  • Michael P. Lunden ’86
  • Francis N. McGuinn ’74
  • Patrick J. McGuire ’82
  • William E. Micciulli ’93
  • Marc A. Murolo ’95
  • Christopher T. Orgielewicz ’87
  • Johanna L. Sigmund ’98
  • Christopher P. Slattery ’92

Other Articles in the Fall 2021 Issue

Letter from the President

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Aquila’s Nest Vineyards

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Provocative Teapots

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Welcome Back, Fr. Mac

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New Name, New Vision

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Alumni Profile: Joe Murtha, BEI ’92

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Alumni Profile: Loan Le ’14, MFA’17

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Donor Profile: John Thompson III and Monica Moore Thompson, P’23

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