Thomas V. Wolfe speaks words of comfort to the SU community
in Hendricks Chapel.
Love and Support
By Rev. Thomas V. Wolfe
the morning of September 11, the doors of Hendricks Chapel were
opened and a single candle was placed in a tall floor stand at
the head of the center aisle. The lights of the chapel burned
around the clock, and for the next 48 hours the University chaplains
rotated shifts to attend to the needs of students, faculty, and
staff. Everyone was in some measure of shock. There were more
questions than answers, and many awaited news of their loved ones.
In a world that appeared to be falling apart, the Hendricks Chapel
staff and chaplains sought to create a place where people could
come to catch their breath, reflect, pray, or talk to someone.
In moments such as these, the chapel becomes a place of intimacy
amidst the complexity of the larger institution. It’s one of the
ways SU embodies its core value of caring.
The afternoon of the terrorist attacks, the
University community gathered in the chapel. People needed to
be together to draw strength from each other. There also was a
great need for accurate information about the day’s events and
to communicate the University’s efforts in caring for its on-
and off-campus constituents. By 3 p.m. the chapel was already
full, and streams of students, faculty, and staff continued to
pour in from the Quad. More seats were made available in the choir
section, and students sat on the floor, stood in every corner,
and sat on window ledges. More than 2,000 people were present.
Chancellor Shaw and Vice Chancellor Freund
spoke to the immediate concerns of the University community, and
Kevin Morrow from SU News Services provided up-to-date information
about the tragedy. The chaplains offered prayers and readings
from the sacred texts of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and
the wisdom contained in the texts reminded us that people of other
generations had also experienced and reflected on great tragedy.
In the face of so much uncertainty, the chapel was a place where
we could collectively present our feelings and begin to bring
order out of chaos. It was a place for us to once again discover
the center that holds.
In the ensuing days, the Hendricks Chapel
staff assisted with several University-wide initiatives. They
offered prayers at a student-organized candlelight vigil on the
chapel steps, and sponsored a service titled “Standing Together:
An Interfaith Response to Terrorism and Violence.” The participants
made paper peace cranes, strung them together, and hung them on
the front of the chapel. Some chaplains helped address the potential
for hate crimes and offered services and spiritual guidance to
members of their own faith communities. At times like these, large,
unsettling questions permeate a community’s consciousness, and
people ask deeper, more difficult questions of their religious
traditions. Spiritual formation at these moments is not in the
answers, but in the affirmation of the person’s search.
In the first few days following the attacks,
we heard stories of those who had escaped physical harm at the
World Trade Center or the Pentagon. Later, we began to learn of
those who had not been heard from—dread was shared by all, and
grief was the predominant feeling. By this time, we knew that
many SU alumni, family members, and friends had lost their lives.
Community-wide efforts gave way to more personal responses addressing
In the spirit of the University as an extended
family, I traveled to Lubin House in New York City, and later
to Greenberg House in Washington, D.C., to meet with alumni and
surviving family members and friends. The hospitality of these
centers allowed for human care grounded in the collective experience
of having shared life and learning at Syracuse University. I offered
spiritual support and a time of remembrance and common prayer.
In the wake of these tragedies, it’s been important for people
to gather, tell of their experiences, and speak of their loss
as a means of beginning the healing process.
Our nation, world community, and University
have begun the long healing process. To assist this, we held an
interfaith memorial service on October 8 for the SU and ESF campuses.
Again, the single candle remained lit, and prayers, readings,
and music were offered. Nearly one month after the day of the
terrorist attacks, we were back in the chapel as a community,
and this time some of our alumni were connected to us through
a live web cast. By this time, we had begun to comprehend the
scope and impact of the events, although there were still many
questions to be answered and fears to be faced. We lit 43 candles,
both in memory of those who had died and in vigil for those still
missing. Most importantly, we surrounded each other in love and
No one has remained unaffected by these tragic
events. Through gatherings, ritual, and human touch, we’ve begun
to remember again that no measure of loss and fear can outlast
our human propensity to hope and to live lives of meaning.
Rev. Thomas V. Wolfe is dean of Hendricks Chapel.