On Jan. 18, 2000, a disastrous fire broke out in Seton Hall’s Boland Hall dormitory. Officials stated that the fire began at 4:30 a.m. Residents confronted horror as they attempted to flee the burning building.
The fire took the lives of three freshmen: Frank S. Caltabilota, John N. Giunta and Aaron C. Karol.
This year marked the 18th anniversary of the fire. A memorial mass was held in remembrance of the young men.
Around 50 people attended the mass, including family members of the victims, friends, Seton Hall students, firefighters and first responders who helped on that eventful day. Despite the tragedy that affected each family, there was a sense of support and closeness among the attendees.
Father Paul Holmes, who is also a professor of moral and sacramental theology, led the mass.
“We gather each year on this sad anniversary to remember three young men, who we remember as best we can with light hearts; light only because we know that they are with the Lord,” Paul said.
He said it is important to not only remember the lives that were lost, but also the 58 others who were injured in the fire.
Prayers were recited for the families of Aaron, John, and Frank, as well as those who remain affected.
Joseph Karol, Aaron’s father, also spoke at the mass. He addressed a question surrounding the significance of the 18th anniversary, as opposed to the 17th or 19th anniversaries.
“You see, we had our boys for 18 wonderful years,” Karol said. “From birth to childhood, to their teenage years, watching them grow and develop into wonderful young men. And for the same number of years we had them in our lives, we have now had to live without them.”
Karol shared that he prays to his son every morning and additionally, he cut his high school ring in order to wear it on his pinkie daily.
Phillip Giunta, the father of John, was also present. Giunta’s wife shared that although she never met John because she married his father after the fire, she attended the mass as she feels connected and sympathetic toward the tragedy.
Msgr. Anthony Ziccardi, vice president for Mission and Ministry, wrote in an email about the mass’ significance for him.
“This yearly event is an opportunity for me to reconnect with people that I came to know well only because of the fire and to learn from them about how God is guiding their lives and molding their hearts. The victims and the families of the deceased are truly inspiring,” Ziccardi said.
Students who were present shared their reasons for attending the memorial mass.
Jennifer Rivera-Rincon, a freshman marketing and IT major, said that because the Boland Fire was such an tragic event, it is important to honor those whose lives were lost, as well as those who were impacted by it.
Freshman accounting and IT major, James Carpenter, said that while the Boland events were heartbreaking, it continues to bring the school, community and church closer together.
Hannah Sakha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.