First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Funeral Mass Set for Soldier Who Saved Fellow Residents in Bronx Fire
By CHRISTIE L. CHICOINE
Courtesy of the New York Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion
Army Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah

A Funeral Mass will be celebrated for Army Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah Saturday, Feb. 17, at 10 a.m., at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, the Bronx.

Mensah, 28, a New York Army National Guard soldier, died in a Dec. 28 Bronx apartment house fire that claimed 12 additional lives. He is credited with saving four lives and returning to the building at 2363 Prospect Ave. in an attempt to save additional lives before succumbing to the blaze.

He will be posthumously conferred the Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest award for heroism that occurs outside of combat, and the New York State Medal for Valor, the state’s highest military award, presented for acts of heroism on and off the battlefield.

New York Council Member Ritchie Torres has announced plans for a street to be renamed in Mensah’s honor this summer.

Mensah had been a parishioner at St. Martin of Tours parish, the Bronx. He and his family immigrated to the United States from Ghana. He was a permanent legal resident at the time of his enlistment in December 2016 and became a naturalized citizen in September 2017.

Father Jonathan Morris, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, said in a phone interview on Jan. 29 that Mensah’s family is grateful for the outpouring of support from the Church and community “at every level.”

Outreach continues to all the fire victims and their families. More than $315,000 has been raised, collaboratively, to help families, Father Morris said. The pastor created a Go Fund Me page for the month of January. Archdiocesan Catholic Charities is providing needs-based distribution of those funds.

“What Catholic Charities is doing is really amazing,” Father Morris said, noting that Charities is conducting a case management assessment of all those affected by the fire.

The building, he said, has 27 units “and of course, like many buildings in New York, there are multiple families” living in those units. “It’s a complex work to make sure that everybody who needs help is getting help,” he added.

Civic and community leaders “have seen that the Catholic Church is an institution that can be trusted to take care of these families,” Father Morris said, from parishes to Catholic Charities, for “a fair and professional distribution of funds.”

“Situations like this,” he added, “reveal how important the Catholic Church is on so many different levels.”

Two days after the fire, the Bronx community came together for a clothing and food drive for the survivors of the fire. The gymnasium of the former parish school at St. Martin of Tours, about two and a half blocks from the apartment building, was the main site of the drive. The abundance of donations necessitated another collection site at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

“The second wave of charity was also incredible. This money came in,” Father Morris said of the $315,000.

Money collected in the parishes and through the Go Fund Me Page was transferred to Catholic Charities and is being distributed, Father Morris said.

“It’s all going to the same place,” he added. “Whether it comes into Our Lady of Mount Carmel or to St. Martin of Tours,” the donations go directly to Catholic Charities, to a separate Catholic Charities account that is being used to distribute the money directly to the families.

“Hopefully, through this experience, these families have come to understand how the Church is present for them, in dark times,” Father Morris said. “And I don’t doubt that the grace of God will also encourage them to make the Church part of their lives also in times of resurrection.”

Father Morris shared a poignant story told to him by others who had been rescuing victims of the fire alongside Mensah. Although the soldier had made multiple trips inside and outside the apartment building, the people who relayed the story to Father Morris said at that point, they deemed it too dangerous to re-enter the building.

“Emmanuel said he knew that there were still people up there and he was going to continue to go up there until he knew everybody was safe,” Father Morris said he was told.

When they tried to convince Mensah not to go back inside the building, he is reported to have said, “I understand the danger but I’m going to keep going back until I know that there’s nobody’s left.”

Mensah’s response “just reminds me of why the Church celebrates holiness,” the pastor said. “One thing is doing the right thing, another thing is risking your own life to do the right thing—and that’s exactly what he did.

“Heroic virtue is the way we would describe it in the Church.”

In January, Mensah was to begin drilling with the New York Army National Guard’s 107th Military Police Company, based at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. He was still assigned to Company A of the New York Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion before joining the 107th MP Company.

Burial will be at Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx.

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