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QUINCY -- To the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In," children from St. John the Baptist Church sang, "We give you thanks for all you do. You're like our saints, and we love you. We give you thanks for all you do" to dozens of Quincy first responders.
The song -- part of the Mass honoring firefighters, police officers and EMTs held at St. John's on Nov. 18 -- clearly moved the crowd of first responders and their families. Holding her 10-week-old daughter at the reception afterwards, Lindsay Keenan, wife of a Quincy police officer, said it was her favorite part.
"The kids singing was so beautiful and so sweet," she said, adding about her husband's work, "It's a tough job, and it's nice to know that it's appreciated."
The Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, who live in the convent next to the church, organized the Mass for the second year. Their foundress, Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, said the sisters wanted to acknowledge the men and women who serve the community.
The sisters partnered with St. John's, and the whole church community, including the children, pitched in. Those children drew pictures with messages of gratitude and encouragement. The 115 pages decorated the parish hall and each department received a bound copy.
Three teenagers from the parish composed their own messages that they read aloud during the Mass.
Nicola Brennan, 17, said she recently took a self-defense class, taught by Quincy police officers.
"During the training, they were telling us to hit harder, to yell louder, and to run faster," she said. "They were willing to take time out of their busy schedules to help young girls feel more confident and teach us to be strong and empowered."
Speaking about the bravery of firefighters, Patricia Parzych, 15, said, "I know if I was ever in a dangerous situation, I would want to get out of there right away."
Hyan Melicio, 16, offered a prayer for EMTs, "May God grant you the grace to remain calm, cool and collected, so you can help those in need and make it home safe to your loved ones."
Mother Olga said that first responders "miss so much of their own children's activities to save other children." The parish children's gratitude shows the emergency personnel that their sacrifices are "fruitful." In turn, the children learn about the sacrificial life of first responders and how sacrifice is the foundation of the Catholic faith.
St. John's pastor, Father Matthew Williams, celebrated the Mass, and during the homily called first responders' gift of service "beautiful, heroic and amazing."
He added that many of the emergencies that first responders race to are a reflection of spiritual problems. He said the world needs to heal and unite more with Jesus, whom he called the "original first responder."
"Christ came on a rescue mission to save souls and his plan begins at Communion," he concluded and then offered a special blessing for the Mass' honored guests.
Police Officer Lauren Lambert, a member of the honor guard, is celebrating her 20th year of service, 15 of which she spent patrolling the sector that includes St. John's. The church was also her parish for many years -- she and one of her children were baptized there.
Officer Lambert lives in another town now. Celebrating Mass at St. John's brought back memories of her mother, who died in September. She felt it was an opportunity to let her mother know that she's doing okay. "This is where I needed to be," she said.
Ray Waldron, a firefighter for 16 years, said of the event, "We're very honored and humbled. Everyone in the department appreciates it."
Members of the Brewster Ambulance Service, which serves Quincy, sat at the reception with their radios on the table, a reminder of their dedication to being on call for the next emergency. Randy Koslowsky said that first responders form a tight community because they frequently deal with difficult situations that only other first responders can understand.
He said the appreciation Mass was an opportunity to interact with the community in a new way.
"It's nice to know they're supporting us," he said.