At 9:50 a.m. Monday, the bells of St. Augustine Church rang out as Colleen Ritzer’s mother, father, sister and brother, joined by the Rev. Peter Gori, climbed the center granite steps to the sanctuary.
Together, they followed a mahogany casket, escorted by Ritzer’s cousins serving as pallbearers, into the Essex Street church that has served as the family’s spiritual home for three generations.
Filing along behind them were more than 100 relatives who formed the funeral procession that was led to St. Augustine by police motorcade just minutes before.
The procession passed a sea of Ritzer’s teaching colleagues and education leaders from both her hometown of Andover and her teaching community of Danvers, who stood four and five deep as they lined the church stairways on either side.
They were among the upward of 1,000 mourners — including about 400 students from Danvers High School where the beloved 24-year-old math teacher was slain last week — who joined together to tearfully remember a young woman who was described as an angel to many.
“It is said that a burden which is shared becomes lighter. That is true, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now,” Gori told the congregation in opening his homily for Ritzer’s funeral Mass.
The 525-seat main church was filled to capacity, with many donning pink ribbons, scarves and other items in honor of Ritzer’s favorite color.
Below them, the Danvers High students, who arrived at the funeral with their teachers in one dozen school buses, listened to an audio stream of the Mass from the church basement.
So many were gathered upstairs, members of the Danvers Honor Guard who saw Ritzer’s family and loved ones to and from St. Augustine were pressed against the church’s front doors.
“It was a tremendous testimony to who Colleen is,” the Rev. Dennis Gallagher, vice president of admissions at Assumption College in Worcester, where Ritzer earned her undergraduate degree, said after the Mass. “So many generations of people, from elderly to all the students downstairs, who were touched by a life that was, altogether, too short.”