As President of Fairfield now, I’m acutely aware of the lingering impact 9-11 has had on the Fairfield community. There were 14 Fairfield University alumni who were killed in the World Trade Center. For an institution our size – with so many of our alumni and our neighbors working in financial services – 9-11 had a disproportionate impact.
Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.
Hometown: Fairfield, CT
Title: President, Fairfield University
In 2001, I was the Dean of Fordham College in the Bronx, but on September 11, I was in Cincinnati, having been invited to chair a symposium at Xavier University that was scheduled for an 8:30 a.m. start. As I recall, the subject of the symposium was “the impact of globalization on the contemporary world.” No sooner had the panelists finished their presentations, and I was about to give my response, when the organizer came forward and said: “We have just received reports that two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center and another plane has crashed into the Pentagon. No one is sure of the circumstances and we will keep you informed as the day moves on. And now, for a response to the papers, here is Fr. von Arx!”
I can’t remember what I said. Nobody was sure at the time what had taken place. But what do you say? Obviously, our appreciation of what “globalization” means has since been changed forever.
My immediate concern was for the students back at Fordham, many of whom I knew had internships in the financial district, some in the towers. I had a rental car – there were no flights of course – so I called up Hertz and said, “I have one of your cars and I’m driving it to New York.” I crossed the Hudson River at Albany, well north of New York City since the river crossings closer to the city were closed. I remember finally arriving in the Bronx and I could smell it in the air – the fire. From the top of a couple of the taller buildings at Fordham you could look down into Manhattan and see the pillar of smoke rising from the site.
Fortunately, none of our students were affected because 9-11 was a Tuesday and internships happened at the end of the week. But many people at Fordham were directly affected. Over 40 Fordham alumni were killed, and a number of faculty and staff lost relatives. One of our professors lost a son. Other staff members lost siblings, some of whom were with emergency responders. It had a tremendous impact on the institution and our collective psyches – but I always thank God none of the students in my college were killed.
As President of Fairfield now, I’m acutely aware of the lingering impact 9-11 has had on the Fairfield community. There were 14 Fairfield University alumni who were killed in the World Trade Center. For an institution our size – with so many of our alumni and our neighbors working in financial services – 9-11 had a disproportionate impact. We will be holding a service of remembrance for those alumni who were killed on our campus this Sept. 11.
Like some people, it took me awhile before I could bring myself to go down to lower Manhattan to look at the site. For over a year-and-a-half, I couldn’t bring myself to go there.
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