Flight 93 chapel's founder says goodbye

Renatta Signorini
| Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Bishop Alphonse Mascherino used hand gestures and the voices of others to communicate on Sunday during his final Mass at the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel.

Still, his sad yet joyful expression did most of the talking.

“There's a lot I can say but can't,” Mascherino said through his nephew Matt Hoopes.

Mascherino's final service marked his resignation as director of the Somerset County chapel he founded to honor the passengers of United Flight 93, which crashed in a field a few miles north on Sept. 11, 2001. The tiny, nondenominational country chapel will continue in the hands of another pastor, according to an announcement made after the service.

Mascherino has cancer, and his health is failing.

Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville after passengers and crew attempted to overtake terrorists who had hijacked the airplane. All 40 passengers and crew members perished.

As wind howled outside, the congregation of about 50 sat quietly while waiting for Mascherino to handwrite the words for Hoopes to speak. Mascherino pointed out pages to read and quietly gave directions to Hoopes.

After the service, Mascherino said he is “relieved” the chapel will be in the hands of Archbishop Ramzi Musallam of the Catholic Church of the East.

“I'm joyful that we've done so much,” Mascherino said.

In January 2002, Mascherino bought the former Mizpah Lutheran Church in Stonycreek Township. He refurbished the abandoned building with the help of donations and volunteers.

Since then, thousands have visited the chapel, which honors the lives of those aboard Flight 93.

Annie Snyder sang the hymn “Here I Am, Lord” while Mascherino used sign language to sing. Snyder joked that it was the first time she visited the church and didn't hear the pastor's off-key participation.

“If his voice is to continue, we must do the singing,” Snyder told the congregation.

She is a member of the board of directors and the director of children's choral group North Star Kids of Pittsburgh, which has performed at chapel ceremonies.

“He's a visionary,” Snyder said of Mascherino. “He's so charismatic, once you meet him, you're drawn to him.”

Musallam has purchased the chapel and plans to convert its guest house into the Flight 93 Chapel Memorial Museum as well as continue the vision of the project, according to a statement from the new director. Artifacts displayed in the chapel will be moved into the museum, which could be dedicated this year.

The chapel is not associated with the Flight 93 National Memorial, which preserves the crash site and is operated by the National Park Service.

Hoopes did not know until Sunday morning that he would serve as his uncle's voice.

“I was very nervous when he said, ‘I want you to read this for me,'” Hoopes said, adding that Mascherino made notes on the fly and had Hoopes communicate them to the congregation.

What Hoopes did not have to share with those present was the relationship Maraschino has with the chapel. He gestured for the congregation to join in the final hymn — “How Great Thou Art” — while he raised his hands high, quietly singing the words.

Members of the group wiped away tears and snapped photographs. All gave him a standing ovation.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. She canbe reached at 724-837-5374or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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