9-11 Reflections – Profile: Jean Santopatre

Submitted by Web Communications on September 7, 2011

In true Fairfield University spirit, the campus community came together and held a mass on the chapel plaza. The mood was somber and we felt powerless and didn’t know what we could do … an impromptu Mass on the chapel plaza was what we could do.

Jean Santopatre

Town: Bridgeport, CT

Title: University Photojournalist

 

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September 11, 2001 was a day of crisp blue skies, white puffy clouds, and no humidity! It was a spectacular day!

I dropped my son Dylan off at Kindergarten at St. Ann’s in Bridgeport and headed into work at Fairfield University. I heard a news flash on the radio that a plane hit the WTRC in New York City. I thought, oh, a small plane must have clipped the building…but when I arrived at Bellarmine Hall, the halls were abuzz and the TV’s were on in various offices reporting what was really taking place at the World Trade Center. Our Public Relations team huddled together in Doug Whiting’s office to watch the events unfold until the University closed and went into lock-down.

We were in shock. St. Ann’s called me to pick up Dylan, they were closing the school. I didn’t want to sit at home with Dylan for us to process this alone, so together we headed back to the University.

In true Fairfield University spirit, the campus community came together and held a mass on the chapel plaza. The mood was somber and we felt powerless and didn’t know what we could do … an impromptu Mass on the chapel plaza was what we could do.

I remember Dylan and I hanging out with Nancy Habetz, Director of Public Relations, in her office. My husband was in Pictou, Nova Scotia working on a ship, and the borders were closed. It was such an eerie feeling.

We all stayed on campus until early afternoon and then we all went home to watch updates on TV. It was the most heart-wrenching experience I had witnessed in all my 22 years as a newspaper photographer. As I sat on the couch, holding Dylan close to me, tears streaming down my face, he asked, “Mommy what is wrong?” His hugs helped sustain me in my fear, sorrow, and bewilderment.

That day, my parents happened to be on their way home to Long Island from my sister’s house in Virginia Beach, and were listening to CD’s on their way home. They had no idea what happened until they hit northern New Jersey and all the bridges to New York were closed. There were no cell phones then, and none of us heard from them. I kept praying they would be safe. All of a sudden a car pulled into my driveway and it was my mom and dad! I was so relieved! My dad broke down in tears. He fought in the Pacific in WW II and never thought that war would break out on American soil.

Quickly, Fairfield University received the sorrowful news that 14 alumni had perished in the attack. Quickly, memorials were put together, and we actually received a piece of the steel from the WTC which became incorporated into a memorial stone honoring those 14 alumni. It is permanently at Alumni House and was dedicated with a Mass and blessing on October 28, 2011, in Alumni Hall.

As a photographer, covering tragic events stay with you forever, and  a New York Daily News colleague,Dave Handschuh was literally knocked off his feet and ended up in ER heading down to the WTC that day to cover the news. Covering these memorials for the past 10 years does not get easier, as the pain sears  through my soul and heart each year at our campus memorial. However, I am grateful that  my family, friends, and colleagues were spared this unfathomable grief the families of those who perished face year after year.

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