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Mother killed on Southwest flight attended Vermont Catholic school

Tributes from business leaders and politicians alike described Jennifer Riordan — the 43-year-old former Vermonter who died April 17 from injuries suffered on Southwest Flight 1380 when its engine exploded — as a devoted mother, community leader, mentor and volunteer.

Riordan, a Wells Fargo executive from New Mexico, was a “thoughtful leader who has long been a part of the fabric of our community,” said Tim Keller, the mayor of Albuquerque. Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico, described her as “an incredible woman who put her family and community first.”

But statements about Riordan that were closer to home for the parishioner of Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Church in Albuquerque and mother of two children at Annunciation School were issued by her family, who called her their “bedrock,” and her children’s school, which described Riordan as an “integral member of our school community.”

Riordan, who grew up in Vermont, attended Christ the King School in Burlington and graduated from Colchester High School in 1992. She married her high school sweetheart, Michael Riordan, in 1996 at Christ the King Church, according to the Burlington Free Press daily newspaper.

The couple had spent nearly two decades living in Albuquerque. Michael is a former chief operating officer for the city of Albuquerque and Jennifer was a vice president for community relations with Wells Fargo bank.

She was returning from a business trip in New York when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia after its engine exploded in midair and shrapnel hit the plane breaking the window beside her.

Riordan was pronounced dead at a hospital from blunt trauma to her head, neck and torso, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Health announced April 19.

As news of the tragedy spread, the assistant principal at Annunciation School where the two Riordan children attend, sent an email to parents confirming Riordan’s death and simply adding: “At this point, the family needs all the prayers we can offer.”

Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester said: “Our hearts go out to the family of Jennifer Riordan, who lost her life yesterday, April 17, during the tragic plane accident.” The archbishop also said he would “pray for the repose of her soul and for her dear loved ones.”

Annunciation School posted a statement on its Facebook page saying the school was “devastated to lose an integral member of our school community,” noting that Riordan often volunteered at the school and also served on its consultative council.

“She was seen on campus almost daily supporting her beautiful children. She provided encouragement to everyone with whom she came in contact. Her positive motivating spirit will be missed,” the statement added before concluding with the promise that the school community would “keep Jennifer and her family in prayer.”

A statement issued by the Riordan family said: “Jennifer’s vibrancy, passion and love infused our community and reached across our country. Her impact on everything and everyone she touched can never be fully measured.”

It also called her “the bedrock of our family. She and Mike wrote a love story unlike any other. Her beauty and love is evident through her children,” and the statement asked that in her memory people remember to “always be kind, loving, caring and sharing.”

The statement echoes Riordan’s own advice from what she said in 2015 after she was presented the Bill Daniels Award for Ethical Young Leadership by the Samaritan Counseling Ethics in Business Awards.

“As a parent, I’ve said to my kids, ‘Be kind, loving, caring and sharing, and all good things will come to you,'” Riordan told the Albuquerque Journal, about the award. “Integrity embodies the spirit of those four things, as well as high morals. It’s about knowing the difference between right and wrong, and choosing to do what’s right, even when it’s very difficult to do what’s right.”

Not only was Riordan dedicated to her job and school volunteering, but she also volunteered with several local nonprofit groups and boards.

She served on the boards of Junior Achievement of New Mexico and New Mexico First and was appointed by New Mexico’s governor to a board focused on boosting volunteerism in the state.

She was still on the board of directors at The Catholic Foundation, a nonprofit Santa Fe archdiocesan organization that links donors to parishes, schools and organizations in need, and had planned to attend a meeting with the group in late April.

Ed Larranaga, the foundation’s president, said he asked Riordan, who had been his friend for 15 years, if she’d be on the board, but he also wondered if she’d even have time because she did so much.

“She was just thoughtful and probably the most positive person I’ve ever met,” he told Catholic News Service April 19, adding that people who didn’t know her well might have thought she was fake because “no one could be that positive and upbeat.”

Riordan told him over a year ago that Catholic education saved her life, saying she had been “going down a path with other people and friends” and her mom changed that direction by sending her to a Catholic school.

So even though she had a lot going on, she wanted to help Catholic schools through the foundation and by sending her children to Catholic school, he said.

“Jennifer wanted to do things to make a difference, not just at work and in the community, but just in general, she wanted to make things better,” Larranaga said.

And that spirit continues. Earlier that day, he received a phone call from someone in Michigan who didn’t know Riordan but wanted to do something in her honor. The donor, who attended Catholic schools, said he was impressed by what he read about her.

“That’s just the type of person she was,” always making a difference, is Larranaga’s view of the phone call.

He said even though there will likely be a private funeral for Riordan, he is sure there will be a public memorial as well at the convention center because her “impact was that great.”




Movie review: ‘Isle of Dogs’


Writer-director Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” (Fox Searchlight) pushes the limits of his customary deadpan drollery with its emphasis on death and gloom.

Cute and cuddly these canines are not. So Anderson’s first stop-motion animated film since 2009’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is definitely not for young children.

Feared as carriers of a variety of diseases which, although not fatal, are thought incurable, all dogs have been banished from a Japanese city, Megasaki, by its formidable and corrupt Mayor Kobayashi (voice of Kunichi Nomura) and exiled to nearby Trash Island. There, surrounded by giant mountains of garbage, they lead a “Lord of the Flies” kind of existence.

Rex, Boss, King and Duke (voices, respectively, of Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and Jeff Goldblum) — all former pets who long for a return to their comfortable lives — have banded together with a street mutt, Chief (voice of Bryan Cranston), to compete with the isle’s violent feral dogs for rotten food scraps. In keeping with the somewhat grotesque tone of the film, these undomesticated rivals are rumored to be cannibals.

Atari (voice of Koyu Rankin), the mayor’s 12-year-old orphaned ward, flies his own tiny aircraft to the island in search of his pet, Spots (voice of Liev Schreiber). Most of the story concerns this poignant quest. Chief, meanwhile, tries to figure out his identity with the occasional help of a former show dog, Nutmeg (voice of Scarlett Johansson).

There are also lengthy sequences featuring pleasingly complex, but never quite perilous, mechanical contraptions.

Complicating matters are student activists, led by Tracy (voice of Greta Gerwig). They’re convinced that a cure for the dogs’ illnesses exists but has been suppressed by malevolent political maneuvering.

Anderson creates a dark, lonely world in which the pooches have to fight off debilitating depression — as well as an attempt by Mayor Kobayashi to march them off into doggie penal camps and poison all of them.

Well-grounded older teens can probably handle this weighty, grim fable. Together with older viewers, however, they may wonder what to make of some sharply stylized characters based on historical Japanese woodcuts. Among these figures, the occasional racial stereotype seems to surface, whether by intention or not.

The film contains mature themes and images, fleeting surgical gore and a single instance of rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


Restoration, renovation at Our Lady of Seven Dolors Church

When Vocationist Father Antony Pittappillil, pastor of Our Lady of Seven Dolors Church in Fair Haven, thought about restoring and renovating the church, he had more in mind than paint and carpeting: He wanted the finished work to be a teaching tool.

Three new icons in the sanctuary make his message clear: “Jesus was born, He died on the cross and became the Bread of Life, and by receiving the Eucharist and other sacraments we share in the promise of eternal life proven by the Resurrection.”

The corresponding icons in the sanctuary depict the Incarnation, Jesus as the Bread of Life and the Resurrection.

Also new to the sanctuary is a new tabernacle, to be blessed by Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne during a visit to Our Lady of Seven Dolors Church April 22.

The renovation/restoration project that began about five years ago also included work on the sanctuary, creation of an Adoration Chapel, interior painting, new carpeting, the addition of crown molding in the sanctuary, cleaning and polishing pews and stencil work on walls.

The $120,000 project was paid for by gifts and fundraisers like the “Change for A Change” coin collection.

The church, built in 1873, had last been painted in the 1980s, said parishioner Mary Bird; the interior walls had become stained and dusty.

The recent work made the church “very uplifting, bright and friendly,” she said. “It helps you focus on God.”

Said Father Pittappillil: “When you come here and you sit and meditate on these devotions [depicted in the icons], you take them to your heart and you go out and proclaim that Jesus is the Lord.”


Click to scroll through photo gallery.

OL Seven Dolors Church Renovation

Highlight: The Giroux Family

Growing up in Burlington with nine brothers and sisters, Father William Giroux learned do his best in all things, never to doubt himself and not to be afraid to pursue success.

The son of the late Robert Victor and Anna Elaine (Copas) Giroux, he and his siblings helped around the house, had childhood jobs like delivering newspapers and babysitting and learned the value of saving and of education.

They also learned the value of faith.

Parishioners of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish (now Immaculate Conception Parish), they were a close family that went to Mass every Sunday; the children attended Catholic schools. “My mother was a convert but she and my father instilled in us the importance of our faith and the church in our lives,” said Father Giroux, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Fairfield and St. Anthony-St. George Parish in East Fairfield. “My father especially had a great respect for priests, and I served Mass from an early age and had the opportunity to see a number of priests and to have their influence in my eventual decision to choose the priesthood.”

Mr. and Mrs. Giroux considered the priesthood a noble and worthwhile choice, and their son was ordained at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception by Burlington Bishop John Marshall in 1980, the same year the new priest’s parents moved to Florida.

In this Year of the Family, Father Giroux and two of his siblings, Stephen L. Giroux of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Windsor and Elizabeth Giroux Philbrick of St. Lawrence Parish in Fairhope, Alabama, reflected on their experience growing up in a large family.

Mrs. Giroux was, like many women in the 1950’s and 1960’s, a housewife. “She was a proud woman and was very proud of her children and the way she kept her home. My father was a small business owner and active in several civic organizations,” Philbrick said.

But it was her mother that “kept the ship afloat.” She was not one to hand out advice, but she taught by example. “This is what I learned from her: You can take pride in the simplest of work if well done,” Philbrick said.

Family values were well defined and reinforced at home, and they became a part of who the Giroux children were and how they were expected to act outside the home. “I think that my parents always believed that these values, when intentionally taught and followed, could help our family work together toward common goals — and to keep us out of trouble,” Stephen Giroux said. “Socially, it was expected to show kindness, to be patient and to show respect and compassion for others, especially for those who were less fortunate than we were.”

Mr. Giroux, a businessman and entrepreneur, frequently brought food or clothing to families who were in need. Creativity and expression were encouraged; education was important. The Giroux children were expected to put half of everything they earned in the bank toward a college education.

Reverence for God and attendance at Mass was mandatory, and proper attire was important. “There was no fooling around in church. If we acted up, my mother would reach over and gently pinch us to remind us where we were,” Stephen Giroux said. “My father, especially, was a big proponent of the priesthood, and he loved the vocation.”

Prayer was always important in the family. They prayed before meals, sometimes after meals and before bed; they prayed the rosary in the evening in the living room. “Five decades were prayed and we all took turns leading the rosary. One decade was always prayed for vocations,” Philbrick said.

Through their parents’ actions the Giroux children learned of sacrifice, respect and courtesy, especially toward their elders.

For Father Giroux, growing up in a large family was fun at times and frustrating at other times. “We never really had a lot but we never lacked for anything,” he said.

When the family went for a Sunday ride in the station wagon “it was an experience cramming us all in,” he continued. “No seat belts in those days. Never remember going on a family vacation, but we did fun things at home. Camping out in our back yard, walking to the YMCA to go swimming or to North Beach.”

Social media, phone calls and occasional visits keep the Giroux siblings connected now, and they are planning a Vermont family reunion this summer. Two of them live in California, one in Michigan, two in Florida, one in Colorado, one in Alabama and three in Vermont.

But wherever they have branched out, the Giroux siblings always share their Vermont roots.

Their parents were hard working, honest, good, loving people. “And we all are too,” Philbrick said.

“My father always told me to be proud of who I was, never to disgrace our family name and to be persistent in my endeavors,” Stephen Giroux said. “He instilled in me that with practice and a dream, I could accomplish most anything I put my mind to. His motto was ‘Do it now.’”

And the cycle continues as he tells his 9-year-old grandson to “be proud of who he is and to celebrate his unique talents.”


For more family highlights during the Year of Creation, check out the “Called to Holiness” video series on the Marriage and Family page.

Cathedrals’ status changes

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington announces that St. Joseph Co-Cathedral has been designated as the cathedral for the Diocese with the title, “Cathedral of St. Joseph.”

In addition, after consultation with parishioners of Immaculate Conception Cathedral Parish, various Diocesan boards, and having received approval from the Holy See, Immaculate Conception Cathedral has been reduced to Immaculate Conception Parish. As such, Immaculate Conception Parish will be suppressed and merged with Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish including all assets and liabilities.

The Immaculate Conception of Mary will continue to be the patroness of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.

“This has been a long process and I’d like to thank his Excellency, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio of the Holy See to the United States, for his kind advice and assistance in bringing this to a close,” says Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, 10th bishop of Burlington.

Bishop Coyne will be available for press questions at 11am at St. Joseph Cathedral, 20 Allen St, Burlington, upper church. Please enter through the front doors.


Panel on opioid abuse

Our society is suffering from an opiate-abuse epidemic.

That was the stance of presenters at an April 15 panel at Mater Christi School in Burlington.

A panel of three and a facilitator shared their expertise on the subject of opiate abuse in the Vermont community.

The goal of the event was to help foster a better understanding of how opiate abuse happens, its social, mental and health impacts on the individual who suffers from substance abuse and the legal ramifications that accompany the problem.

Panelists were Dr. Stephen Leffler, chief health and quality officer at the University of Vermont; U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan; and Dr. Jody Kamon, a substance abuse counselor. The facilitator was Dr. John Reuwer, an emergency medicine physician.

Each presenter, speaking from his or her professional standpoint, explored with the audience the current state of opiate abuse in Vermont and offered a variety of possible solutions.

The presenters’ unanimously agreed that society is in the middle of an opiate abuse epidemic. One presenter emphasized that solutions must be found and acted upon now or it will be too late for many people who are at risk of either dying now or becoming victims of the results of substance abuse.

The two-hour session included sharing facts and ideas that may make it possible for caring persons to help someone suffering from the use of opiates or family and friends impacted by this disease.

The session began with a clip from Bess O’Brien’s movie, “The Hungry Heart.”

The Sisters of Mercy and Mercy Associates arranged the event.