About 80 law enforcement, firefighting and ambulance personnel representing some 30 agencies from the East Bay, Nevada and Arizona were honored for their service on the Feast of the Guardian Angels in the Saint Mary's College Chapel on Oct. 2.

"You perform your ministry, your service, your work in a voluntary way and you do it, as we are aware, with personal risks, from human beings and natural calamities," Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins said in his homily at the Blue Mass. "Your work is not mere employment. It's a vocation."

Brother President Ronald Gallagher, noting that Saint Mary's has more than 250 first responders among its alumni, told the responders and others who gathered in the Chapel, including family members, College staff and friends, that it was a day for giving thanks.

"Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Guardian Angels and truly, that's what you are, not in any ephemeral sense but very really."

The colors were presented by the honor guard from the Pittsburg Police Department, which lost homicide inspector Ray Giacomelli, 46, in a 2003 shooting while he was investigating a murder. Giacomelli's daughter, Christina, a junior at Saint Mary's, led the Prayers of the Faithful.

Part of the Book of Exodus was read by Martinez Police Chief Tom Simonetti, whose department lost Sgt. Paul Starzyk in a shooting related to domestic violence in September. Saint Mary's alumna Catalina Torres '03 was killed by her cousin's estranged husband before Starzyk fatally shot him.

"See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared," Simonetti read.

During the Mass, an interfaith blessing service was held, with a rabbi and four ministers from different denominations asking for blessings on those who serve as first responders. Seven Catholic priests, including the bishop, concelebrated the Mass.

A bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" after the interfaith blessing, drawing tears from some members of the audience. The uniformed personnel processed down the aisle and onto the Chapel Lawn, where they mingled and then shared a barbecue lunch under a gray sky.

Contra Costa Fire Battalion Chief Dave George said he appreciated the gathering of representatives from the entire East Bay and beyond for what was a solemn and at-times sobering service. His department lost two firefighters in 2007; Capt. Matt Burton and Fire Engineer Scott Desmond died trying to save a couple in a burning San Pablo house.

"What was most moving to me was seeing Chief Simonetti reading the word, realizing what he and his department have just gone through, and the daughter of Officer Giacomelli and the terrible tragedy they went through," George said. "Despite all that, we were able to gather together after those incidents and still want to pray and ask for protection as we go out every day and face the same risks that they did.

"As we sit, listen, watch and see each other, it really reminds us of the dangers we face," he continued. "We don't dwell on them, but it reminds us how fragile life can be for those we protect and for us too."

-- Erin Hallissy
Office of College Communications

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