On Sept. 11, 2001, St. James Lutheran Church in Northwood held an impromptu remembrance service for those who had died in the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers.
“People wandered in and were just in shock,” Pastor Paul Andell said.
On Friday, the 19th anniversary of the attacks, the church hosted its first remembrance since the day itself, inviting masked and socially distanced churchgoers to participate in song and prayer. Attendees sat in marked locations, and every other pew was unoccupied.
For Northwood native Julie Ortale and her family, coming back to the church was like a homecoming. The family lived in Northwood for 35 years, where Julie grew up with two older brothers and sisters. Her brother Peter was a lacrosse star at Penn Charter before he moved around for his job, including being a fishmonger and a bond broker.
Peter went to the Twin Towers the morning of the attacks and was one of 2,977 killed. He was last seen on the 67th floor helping a woman down the stairwell.
“It’s 9 in the morning and all we know is that our lives will change forever,” Julie said in a speech.
The family moved away from Northwood years ago, but Julie and her sister Mary Malitas returned to the church to speak and remember their brother after Andell reached out to them.
“It just goes to show you the neighborhood doesn’t forget, people don’t forget and the world doesn’t forget,” Malitas said.
Since Peter’s death, the family established a scholarship at Penn Charter in his name, and Friends of Penn Charter Lacrosse hosts an annual preseason invitational in his name.
Andell returned to St. James earlier this year after moving to Minnesota in 2011 to help revitalize the church. He said he wanted to host the remembrance to give the community a place to reflect and honor those who died.
“It is in remembering them that we also remember who we are,” said state Rep. Joe Hohenstein, who lives within walking distance of the church.
“Nineteen years ago, acts of terrorism were perpetrated for the purpose of instilling fear and making us forget who we are. We will never forget,” he said.
The commemoration included participants from St. Martin of Tours, Pinkett Tabernacle, Frankford Presbyterian Church, Liberty Lutheran and Northeast Baptist of Frankford. ••