Easton Priest Gave Comfort in Tragedy
September 08, 2011
by John Quattrucci
In late August 2001, the Rev. Francis Grogan was visiting relatives in Framingham when he pulled out his latest gadget.
"Father Francis had recently purchased a video camera," Grogan's cousin, Bill Dalton said. "He was absolutely obsessed with it. That's how he was. If he was interested in something he'd act like a kid with a new toy."
Grogan, 76, would soon be flying out to California to visit his sister, Anne Browne, and he wanted to record greetings from his relatives.
"He walked around the table and made us all say hello to Anne," Dalton said.
Grogan then played the tape back so everyone could watch.
"He also showed us some practice footage he had taken," Dalton said. "Several days earlier, he had shot video of the headstones at the Holy Cross priests' cemetery at Stonehill College. He was panning around to different headstones. He came to an open spot and said ‘Someday, I'll be buried there.'"
Two weeks later, Grogan was sitting in Logan Airport. He had originally been scheduled to fly coach on a Delta flight to California, but a friend who worked for United Airlines upgraded him to a first-class ticket on United flight 175.
Father Grogan boarded the Boeing 767 that morning along with 55 other passengers and nine crewmembers. Among the passengers was Garnet "Ace" Bailey, a member of the Boston Bruins' 1970 and 1972 Stanley Cup champion teams, Robert LeBlanc, professor emeritus of geography at the University of New Hampshire and Heinrich Kimmig, chairman and chief executive officer of BCT Technology Ag.
Also on board were three men from Saudi Arabia; Hamza al-Ghamdi, Ahmed al-Ghamdi and Mohand al-Shehri; and two men from the United Arab Emirates; Fayez Banihammad and Marwan al-Shehhi.
Francis Edward Grogan was born May 13, 1925 in Pittsfield, Mass. He served in the Navy during World War II and earned degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Fordham University.
Ordained in 1955, Father Grogan spent the next 46 years in God's service, touching the lives of hundreds of people along the way.
He began his duties in 1955 as a registrar and teacher at Stonehill College in Easton.
From 1969 to 1976, Grogan served as a chaplain and teacher at Holy Cross High School in Waterbury, Connecticut where he met an undergrad named George Leidig.
"He was a great guy,"Leidig said. "I got to know him really well. He was very different from other priests. He didn't toe the party line. I think his time in the navy gave him a different perspective. I always felt he knew a little bit more about life.
"He was incredibly humble. He had no ego. He was well-educated and he really cared about people."
Tony Lauzon got to know Grogan at his next stop, at Sacred Heart Parish in Bennington, Vermont.
"He was the assistant pastor while I was in grade school,"Lauzon said. "He was a very warm, caring person. He made you laugh-and he could make you think. He really influenced me. He had the ability to make people feel special."
From 1991 to 1997, Father Grogan was the assistant pastor at Holy Cross Church in South Easton, Mass.
"Father Grogan was possibly the most contented man I have ever met,"said Holy Cross Deacon George Zarella. "He was the so thankful for the smallest things. I've never met anyone, in any profession, who was so satisfied with his life."
About 30 minutes into Father Grogan's flight, al-Ghamdi, al-Shehri, Banihammad and al-Shehhi breached the cockpit and overpowered the pilot and first officer. Al Shehhi, a trained pilot, took over control of the plane. The aircraft deviated from the assigned flight path for four minutes before air traffic controllers noticed at 8:51 a.m.
Several passengers made phone calls from the plane, alerting the world to what was happening on board.
"She felt it was meant to be that they were sitting together on that flight,"Zarella said. "Father Grogan was such a prayerful person, such a calming presence. She took consolation that in some way, during those last dreadful moments, that Father Grogan provided comfort to those on board."
At 9:03 a.m., United Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
"I had received a call from my sister that a plane had hit the World Trade Center,"Grogan's cousin, Bill Dalton said. "I turned on my TV just in time to see the second plane hit. I saw Flight 175 hit the tower live."
Two weeks after 9/11, Grogan's sister Anne, the person he was flying out to visit that September morning, took a train from San Diego to Boston for his funeral.
"She refused to fly out,"Dalton said. "She said she'd never fly again."
As was the case for so many 9/11 victims, no remains were ever recovered. Former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, and former Governor of New York, George Pataki, presented to Zarella an American flag and a hope chest filled with dirt from Ground Zero.
That chest lies under Father Grogan's head stone at the Holy Cross priests' cemetery at Stonehill College.
"He loved life and all of its little joys,"Zarella said. "He always said the reason we call it the present is that every moment is a gift."
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