As Gori offered his final prayer, the congregation stood for the song of farewell.
About 11:20 a.m., the front doors to St. Augustine opened again and the church bells began to ring. Gori and six other priests and religious leaders in white vestments quietly filed down the front center steps. They stopped midway, lining up on either side.
Hundreds of Danvers High students, many with their arms around each other’s shoulders and hands clasped together, began pouring out of a side door and stood at attention as they lined the sidewalk to the left of the church. Ritzer’s teaching colleagues reemerged and once again filled the church’s two side stairways.
Eight minutes later, Ritzer’s cousins accompanied her casket down the church steps to the awaiting hearse.
As the recessional hymn, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” was sung, her distraught family — father Tom, mother Peggie, brother Daniel and sister Laura — made their way behind it.
The church bells continued ringing for almost 20 minutes, as Ritzer’s family and friends filed out and took their places to the right of the church. They rang as the last of the floral arrangements were loaded into the hearse and Gori walked down the church steps alone, taking a seat in the hearse.
And they continued ringing as the mourners stood in stoic silence and sympathy as a motorcade of Ritzer’s immediate family and close relatives and friends slowly began the less than 2-mile journey to Spring Grove Cemetery on Abbot Street for a private burial.
“Heaven stole an angel from us today,” McDaniel told the congregation in the closing words of her remembrance. “You will always be in our hearts; we love you, rest in peace.”
A legacy ensured
To carry on the legacy of Colleen Ritzer and her passion for teaching, the Ritzer family has established the Colleen Ritzer Memorial Scholarship Fund. The scholarship will be awarded to students who are pursuing a degree in education so they can continue her legacy of making a difference in a student’s life.
To make a donation to the fund, make a check payable to ECCF/Colleen Ritzer Fund and mail it to Essex County Community Foundation, 175 Andover St., Danvers, 01923.