PCA Remembers 9/11

Tom McGuinness

September 11, 2001 has special significance for all Americans, but the attack on the World Trade Center has special significance for PCA.  Tom McGuinness, the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, was the father of two PCA students, daughter Jennifer and son Tommy.  Both children went on to graduate from PCA.  Tommy and Jennifer’s husband (Seth McQueen, another PCA grad) are currently flying for American Airlines.  Tom would be proud!

Jennifer McGuinness depended on her dad’s faith to nurture her own.

We always believed in God, but my dad did most of the digging,” Jennifer says. But when she was 16, her father, American Airlines co-pilot Tom McGuinness, became a casualty of the 9/11 terrorist attacks when his hijacked plane flew into the north tower of the World Trade Center. In that instant, 16-year-old Jennifer and her 14-year-old brother, Tommy, lost their father and spiritual leader. And their mother, Cheryl McGuinness, lost her husband of 18 years. Jennifer and Tommy had to embrace what their dad had taught them about trusting God and letting Him lead them. “We had to put what we had learned growing up into practice if we were ever going to survive this,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer had to choose not to allow the horrible acts of 9/11 to destroy her life, dreams and love for God. Watching her mom inspired Jennifer. “My mom has chosen to not let the challenges in her life harden her heart.”

The days following 9/11 were an immense challenge for Cheryl. The stress of single parenting, combined with the grief of being a widow, seemed unbearable. “In the beginning, there were some days when all I could bring myself to pray was, “God help me; please help me,’ ” Cheryl says. She had to take every decision, every thought and every problem to God‚ every day. “Many days, I didn’t think I would live to see another season . . . but [God] was my partner. I didn’t carry it alone.” God brought people and circumstances into her family’s life. They helped the family heal.

Jennifer recalls how God’s grace came in many different forms. “It wasn’t just one thing that helped me and my brother to thrive, but a lot of things: great friends, youth group, knowing who to talk to, staying involved in activities. We tried to fill up our lives with people and activities that would help us to grow up successfully.”

Ten years later, Jennifer describes her family’s story as one of hope, perseverance and deep abiding joy. They trust God every day and take responsibility for their faith.

Cheryl acknowledges, “Letting go of the past and pressing through the present takes an incredible amount of strength and perseverance. God is our rock — we know that now more deeply than ever before.” -excerpt from Thriving Family (the online magazine of Focus on the Family, Remembering 9/11)