Retired FDNY battalion chief who lost son on 9/11 dies from COVID-19

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Albert "Al" Petrocelli, 73, died early Wednesday


Carol Ann Benanti
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

NEW YORK — Albert "Al" Petrocelli, a retired FDNY battalion chief from Huguenot who lost his son, Mark, on 9/11, and a man loved deeply by many, succumbed to the coronavirus early Wednesday. He was 73.

His wife, Ginger, said he visited his doctor on March 17 after feeling fatigued and was diagnosed with the illness on March 24.

She said he was extremely weak and was sleeping around the clock. She had to wake him up to make sure he ate his meals. Ginger cared for him at home. But after her husband had trouble breathing on Sunday, he was taken to the hospital.

Extremely religious with an infinite love of God and his Roman Catholic faith, particularly the Blessed Mother, Petrocelli attended Mass every morning in the chapel of St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School — and said the Rosary each day.

“Grief is the price we pay for love," his wife said. "And today I grieve because I loved so deeply.”

 

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THEIR LIVES TOGETHER

In a story about the couple’s 50th anniversary we noted Ginger and Al met in 1963, when it was common for teens to gather in neighborhood ice cream parlors. Their favorites were Herman’s and The Sweet Shop in Brooklyn. They began dating in early 1964 when Al was 17, a high school senior, and Ginger, 16, a junior.

They became engaged when the Vietnam War was escalating. In October 1966 Al was drafted. Basic training, leadership school and advanced infantry training followed in Fort Jackson, S.C.

Al came home for Christmas in 1966 but didn’t know when he’d be home again. In mid-March, the doorbell rang and Ginger knew something was up. Al was going to Vietnam and wanted to marry within two weeks.

They traveled to the Brooklyn Chancery and received special dispensation since the timeframe was so brief, and then to Our Lady of Perpetual Help to talk to a priest there, who wouldn’t hear of it. He said they were too young and the marriage wouldn’t last under the hurried circumstances. Ginger began to cry just as the pastor walked by. They explained the situation and he gave them his blessing.

The wedding was set for March 18 -- the day between St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Day — and the day before Palm Sunday — when more than six inches of snow covered the ground.

Ginger had to climb 30 steps to the church and open its massive doors amid horrific wind gusts. With one foot on the door, her train over her shoulder and adrenaline flowing, she made her way into the church.

A week later, on Easter Sunday 1967, Al left for Vietnam and Ginger to Wall Street as an over-the-counter order clerk.

AL RETURNS HOME

On the last day of March 1968, Al returned home. He was discharged in October and resumed civilian life. The same year, he was tapped by the Police Department but turned it down.

Two years later, Al Jr. was born and two years later Mark was born.

In January 1973, Al was called by the FDNY and turned it down as well — and two months later, he turned it down again. In May 1973, a captain from the FDNY called. He said: “Son, If you turn it down you’re off the list.” Al took the job and found his calling.

He attended college through the GI Bill, worked full time while Ginger was a full-time mom. Al studied for promotional exams and eventually graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and rose to the rank of FDNY Battalion Chief.

PETROCELLIS RELOCATE

In 1974, the Petrocellis moved to Richmond and in 1976 to Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Huguenot, where they resided to this day.

Al Jr. followed in his dad’s footsteps as a battalion chief. Mark was a commodities broker. The boys, now married, bought homes five blocks from one other in Great Kills. And life was good.

TRAGEDY STRIKES

Sept. 11, 2001, was Primary Day and Ginger and Al voted that morning.

Al Jr., a firefighter in Ladder Company 105, was off duty at the VFW Post, Rosebank, for a study class for promotion to Fire Department lieutenant.

Before Mark went to work he told his wife, Nicole, he had his first broker’s meeting “upstairs.” He was promoted to commodities broker on Sept. 5. But Nicole didn’t know “upstairs” meant the corporate offices of Carr Futures on the 92nd floor of WTC 1. She thought it was the Mercantile Exchange where Mark worked, four blocks away.

The meeting was at 8 a.m. so brokers could return to the Mercantile Exchange at 9:30 a.m. — and was still going on when the first plane hit. No one escaped from the 92nd floor or above. Mark was two days shy of his 29th birthday. For the Petrocellis, life changed forever.

Al and Ginger both served as Eucharistic Ministers at Our Lady Star of the Sea, where Al was a lector and was a lay trustee appointed by then-Cardinal Edward Egan, and Ginger on the bowling team.

Al especially loved spending time in his vegetable garden that he started each March. They took turns driving granddaughters Emily and Lily to and from school and other activities.

Pope Francis' NYC visit to New York in 2015

Al and Ginger received a call from Michael Coppotelli, a 2001 St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School alum, and associate superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York.

Sadly, Sea lost at least seven alums in the attacks on the World Trade Center, including Mark.

Coppotelli asked if the Petrocellis would attend ceremonies upon Pope Francis’ arrival at the WTC Memorial Museum, where a multi-religious gathering would take place in the Foundation Hall of the Memorial Museum.

In a dream Al said he was told to bring Rosary beads and prayer cards of his son, Mark, and Pope Francis would bless them.

“I didn’t know or comprehend how that was going to happen," Al recalled in his anniversary story. "I kept tossing and turning thinking that, OK, if I could get the items to Cardinal Dolan, who might remember Ginger and me from when he consecrated the main altar at Our Lady Star of the Sea C, which we memorialized in Mark’s name, possibly he would give them to the Holy Father to bless,” said Al.

The couple had the third and fourth seats off the aisle at the ceremony. “My heart started jumping out of my chest! Yes. This is going to happen I thought to myself," Al said. "Through the whole service I had the four sets of rosaries, the prayer cards and the two pictures in my hands. "

On his way out, “Pope Francis looked at me and I said, ‘Holy Father, please bless these Rosaries and prayer cards in memory of our son Mark.’ And with that he blessed them, making the sign of the cross and then touched them.”

The Petrocellis returned home at 10:30 p.m. after a long day, though a rewarding one.

Miracles do happen, Al said. “Sometimes we just have to be open to them.”

In addition to his wife, Ginger, Al is survived by his son, Albert Jr. his daughter-in-law, Andrea and his grandchildren, Lily and Emily.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Scalia Home for Funerals in Eltingville.

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©2020 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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