Mascherino overcoming odds, cancer to realize dream
Bishop Alphonse Maraschino, founder and director of the Flight 93 Chapel near Shanksville. (Dan DiPaolo)
Directly across from the front entrance to the church and Stutzmantown Road is a field filled with thigh-high corn.
A well-tended cemetery lies across from Coleman Station Road and the blue sky is broken with a few puffy cumulus clouds skipping across the horizon.
“There was a feeling in the air, the weather, that reminds me of today,” the Rev. Alphonse Mascherino said while sitting on a folding chair inside the chapel.
“These are the details that are indelibly imprinted on memory,” he said of Sept. 11, 2001, when United Flight 93 crashed a few miles away from the chapel near Shanksville.
All 40 passengers and crew members onboard died after attempting to retake control of the plane from terrorists.
At the time Mascherino was a priest with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and the chapel had gone from being the Mizpah Lutheran Church to an unused seed warehouse.
Father Al — as he is commonly known — decided that the site would be the perfect location for a nondenominational church dedicated to those who died, their families and others who wished to worship or attend services while visiting the crash site.
He purchased the property in early 2002 with his personal savings and a loan.
Later that year, Maggie Hardy Magerko, her husband, Peter Magerko, and her father, Joe Hardy, bought into Mascherino’s vision with a series of donations.
The family —which owns 84 Lumber Co. — contributed $150,000 worth of renovations in cash and building materials. The chapel opened for services on the one-year anniversary of the crash after 10 days of around-the-clock work.
Since that time an estimated 300,000 people have come to the chapel. Mascherino is now a bishop in the North American Old Roman Catholic Church.
“Father Al is still what most people call me. But if you’re trying to impress somebody and want to introduce me as Bishop Mascherino, that’s fine, too,” he said with a grin.
Dressing in a black T-shirt, dark jeans and black cowboy boots provided more evidence of the stock he placed in the title.
Speaking about the spiritual obligations of his role and the mission of the chapel revealed his more serious and contemplative side.
The 68-year-old Doylestown native walked over to a corner of the chapel where a proclamation from state Sen. Jane Orie is framed. He knelt down and began to read.
“May the souls of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 rest peacefully in the loving arms of the God of their belief throughout eternity until the day they are joyfully reunited with their families in the Heavenly Kingdom,” he read.
“In the loving arms of the God of their belief,” he repeated. “That vision of faith is profound. That is a sentence I often repeat in my head.”
That the chapel should be open to people of all faiths is one of his core beliefs.