The Church of the Immaculate Conception will hold a special "Blue Mass" Sept. 24 to give thanks to those who serve the greater Towson area in law enforcement, emergency management and fire safety.
Originally scheduled for the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the inaugural event at the Towson Catholic church was postponed two weeks because many public safety personnel were on high alert during that time.
The new date was chosen because it is closest to the Catholic Feast of the Archangels (Sept. 29) and Feast our Guardian Angels (Oct. 2), Immaculate Conception spokesperson Patty McCarty said.
The idea for the celebration, which begins at 5 p.m., came out of a liturgy meeting at the church and was quickly approved, McCarty said.
"It's something that was already out there," McCarty said, alluding to the fact that the origin of the Blue Mass can be traced to a Baltimore native, The Rev. Thomas Dade, who founded the Catholic Police and Firemen's Society while at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, in Washington, D.C. The first Blue Mass was celebrated St. Patrick's on Sept. 29, 1934.
"Not many other churches in the area do it, so we had been looking for a way to thank those who serve the community," McCarty said.
Having public safety personnel who are located so close to Immaculate Conception School, with its 65 staff members and 570 students, is comforting to all concerned, said Immaculate Conception's pastor, The Rev. Joseph Barr.
"There is just so much foot traffic here in the heart of Towson," said Barr, who celebrated his sixth year at Immaculate Conception in July. "We know that if we ever have any need that they will respond in a split-second. So we just wanted to express our appreciation for all they do."
Barr added that a correlation exists between secular and spiritual first responders.
"I feel firmly that they take the same approach that we do," he said. "That it's a vocation, a calling — not a job."
The Catholic Church celebrates at least two events that are similar to the Blue Mass, including a White Mass on the Feast of St. Luke (Oct. 27), who was the patron saint of physicians and nurses, and a Red Mass on the Feast of St. Thomas More (June 22), the patron saint of judges and lawyers.
Recent Blue Masses have been celebrated in locations ranging from southern New Jersey to California's Napa Valley, while another is slated for Charlotte, N.C. on Sept. 29.
Included among the many police officers, firefighters and EMTs expected to attend the Blue Mass at Immaculate Conception, will be Capt. Jay Landsman Jr., the commander of the Towson precinct of the Baltimore County Police Department, and Francis "Skip" DiPaula, division chief of the Baltimore County Fire Department.
Landsman recalls the horror of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in part because the day was his 26th birthday .
As he and his family were headed to Owings Mills Mall on a day off from his then-job as a member of the county police department's burglary unit, Landsman heard about the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center, although details were still sketchy about the true nature of what was transpiring.
"I think people were still trying to figure out if it was an accident," he said, adding that as the morning went on, it became obvious that the crash was no accident.
"We got to the mall, and it was eerie," Landsman added. "Nobody was shopping. Everyone was gathered around televisions watching the coverage."
Landsman said his family headed home immediately.
"The next thing you know, [his superiors] were asking if anyone wanted to go to New York to help out," he said. "Everybody wanted to go and help."
By the time he put his name on the list, more than enough people had already applied, Landsman said, adding that he was posted to guard the Towson precinct.
"It certainly changed our perspective on terrorism," Landsman said. "I remember looking at the sky and thinking, 'What's next?'"
DiPaula, 53, had already been thinking about terrorism and terrorists on 9/11; he was taking a National Fire Academy class on that subject when the news of the attacks reached the county fire department headquarters in Towson.
"We didn't know if it was terrorism at first," the Calvert Hall alumnus said. "But when the second plane hit, they dismissed the class. I remember my mother talking about the John Kennedy assassination, and how she remembered exactly where she was and what she was doing when she heard the news. That's the way 9/11 is for us. You don't forget something like that."
DiPaula said that the Blue Mass means a lot to him and other public safety personnel.
"It's very humbling when the people in the community recognize what we do," he said. "It's a nice feeling to get thanks from the public and we appreciate their gratitude, but we want to thank them, too. A lot of times when we see them, it's on their worst days, so it's good to get to know them and for them to get to know us."
The Blue Mass will be celebrated like a standard Mass. However, while the invitation designated that uniforms are optional for the event — and Barr was uncertain if a color guard would attend — the Mass will be different in at least one respect.
"Before the closing prayer, we will ask all of our first responders to stand for a blessing," Barr said. "It will be a powerful witness for the youth in the congregation to see the wide variety of men and women who will stand. Then we will recognize them for their service. It's our way to say, 'Thank you.'"
The "Blue Mass" will be held Sept. 24 at 5 p.m. The Church of the Immaculate Conception is at 200 Ware Ave., in Towson.