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St. Anthonys honors first responders
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Manteca firefighters Robert Jacobsen, Brian Swift and Capt. Marvin Mears stand in a church pew with other first responders including three Ripon firefighters and CHP Officer Chuck Leon of the Modesto office along with a Sheriffs deputy. - photo by GLENN KAHL

A first responders’ blue mass was celebrated Thursday morning at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church honoring those who put their lives on the line every day for the communities they serve.

Firefighters from Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon, Stockton, Cordelia and San Jose along with representatives from the CHP and the Sheriff’s Office marched up the center aisle of the church at 9 a.m. flanked by a sword saluting honor guard of the Knights of Columbus in their colorful uniforms for the annual tribute on the anniversary of 9-11.

All the children of St. Anthony’s School were in attendance at the mass from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Two eighth grade girls, Stephanie Matthews and Melissa Poncini, shared the lectern at the end of the ceremony reading a poem by Owen Lorion to recognize the first responders sitting in front of them.

“Before the final blessing we would like to share a poem to recognize our first responders here today,” Melissa said, in addressing her audience that included students’ parents.


At that point Stephanie took over:

“We know them all by many names, 

Their duties myriad are.

There’s Trooper, Sheriff, Constable,

The man with badge or star;

There’s Paramedics and Rescue Squad

Who drive the ambulance car;

And firefighters guard our homes,

Hotshots in forests afar;

The policemen, the EMTs and the firemen.”


And the next stanza by Melissa:

“They are the first responders to 

A call to nine-eleven

(A date that lives in infamy

When many went to heaven).

Life isn’t fair, disaster strikes

And takes its toll uneven.

Yet on Life’s rolls, disaster’s foes

Must have their names engraven:

The firemen, the policemen and the EMTs.”


From there Stephanie took the microphone:

“For them there are no holidays,

No respite days of rest.

Each call they take, each street they see

May be their greatest test.

A life to save, a wrong to right,

The worst reveals the best.

Humanity must honor these

By whom our days are blest:

The policemen, the EMTs and the firemen.”


Then it was Melissa’s turn to take back the mic and finish the poem:

They are on call to keep us safe,

Each with his life defends;

They train to know their duties well,

For on them, much depends.

From city streets to village lanes,

Where e’er man’s pathway wends,

Protecting us within our homes,

They are our surest friends:

The policemen, the EMTs, and the firemen.”


The girls and their classmates then distributed prayer cards, holy cards, to each of the first responders to keep them safe and invited them to a reception in the school’s cafeteria as they received a resounding applause from the church community.

Those in attendance included Manteca firefighters Capt. Marvin Mears, along with Brian Swift and Robert Jacobsen; as well as Ripon firefighters Chris Vincent, Ryan Mackey and Chad Cheek. CHP officer Chuck Leon from the Modesto office was seated with Cordelia Fire Battalion Chief Don Stabler and Stockton firefighter Emulio Mantua along with J.R. Carranza with the San Jose Fire Department who lives in French Camp. Lathrop-Manteca firefighters, who are actually brothers, were Bryan and Eric Smith. 

The school children gathered around the first responders at the front of the church before guiding them to the cafeteria for a light brunch where they had a group picture taken with all of them.