September 12, 2011by Anika Clark
For many who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, the hours after the attacks were filled with desperate questions as they tried to find friends or family.
But the Rev. J. Robert Rioux knew where his friend was.
"I knew he was on that flight," said Rioux, who recalled how the Rev. Francis Grogan had originally planned to take a different one. "We had the flight number and everything."
Grogan, Rioux's friend of more than 50 years, was one of 56 passengers who died aboard United Airlines Flight 175 when terrorists flew it into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
The 76-year-old Pittsfield native had just finished serving as religious superior at the Holy Cross community in North Dartmouth and had accepted an assignment in upstate New York. But first, "Father Frank" was taking a trip to visit his sister in California, using a ticket he'd received as a gift.
Current religious superior the Rev. James Preskenis - who later became a point person with New York officials and attended the first ceremony at Ground Zero shortly after the attacks - recalled receiving that morning phone call from Rioux.
"He said, 'I think Frank was on the second plane.' And I had just 10 minutes before, watched it on TV as the second plane ..." Preskenis let his sentence hang unfinished. "You're feeling sorry and wondering what's going on, but all of a sudden it became very personal."
Ten years later, it still is.
"It's not a matter of years. The impact still stands with us," said Rioux, who first met the man he called his "buddy" in the 1940s when they were both postulants at Stonehill College.
"I reflect upon how he interacted with people, to accept people where they are ... not to come to any quick judgments," said Brother Harold Hathaway who worked with Grogan at Holy Cross high schools and recalled how well liked Grogan was by his students.
A decade after his death, "I think the (grieving) process is pretty much over, but the remembrance process is more important," Hathaway said.
And on this 10-year anniversary, he explained, "it's obvious it's not a type of anniversary that you celebrate because of some achievement. " But it is a time to be able to, again, in a very special way and a meaningful way, remember people who have passed on."
The religious at the local Holy Cross community are also quick to offer a good word for their friend. He was warm, approachable, outgoing, spiritual and full of life, they said. He liked his regular bike rides and enjoyed seeing the sun rise and set.
They've hung a photograph of him next to a memorial plaque from the Holy Cross High School in Flushing and a framed, handwritten passage from scripture.
"Only this. This is what God asks of you, only this: to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God."
As United Flight 175 barreled onward that morning, Rioux said he thought, "Knowing Frank ... he probably took charge of all of the people and led them into Heaven."
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