On a somber Saturday morning, about 1,000 friends and family members gathered at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church to mourn Antonio Rodriques, the veteran Yonkers firefighter felled by a massive stroke at age 49 on Tuesday.
Dozens of Yonkers firefighters gathered in their dress uniforms before the 75-minute Mass with fire trucks trimmed in purple and black bunting stationed a block away on Yonkers Avenue, symbols of a department and city in mourning.
"Every member of a firehouse gives a part of themselves to the character of the house," said firefighter Joe Martino, a member of Rodriques' company, Ladder 74. "He had a way of lifting everyone's spirits just by walking into the house. That's just one of the reasons he'll be missed."
The department lost "a great human being and an excellent firefighter," said Yonkers Fire Station Four commander Dominick Fornabaio, noting that Rodriques, who joined the department in October 2000, had earned six commendations in his 12 years on the job. His death in the line of duty came three months after he suffered a stroke during training.
"[The commendations are] pretty impressive but that pales in comparison to what he did as a person," he said.
Fornabaio noted Rodriques' commitment to charities, especially those involving children. Rodriques was a longtime volunteer with Ronald McDonald House; his family asked that instead of flowers, contributions by made to the charity in Rodriques' name.
"Let us not be sad for losing Antonio but count our blessings for having known such a great man," Fornabaio said.
Rodriques' brother, Lester, read passages from the Book of Wisdom to the hundreds who packed St. Mary's: "The souls of the just are in the hands of God."
The Rev. Hugh Corrigan said Rodriques, known to friends and family as Tony, was being memorialized in the church he grew up attending and received all his sacraments of the Catholic faith.
"This is a particularly wrenching death of ... someone so young," he said.
Yonkers Fire Department chaplain, the Rev. Thomas McDonald, hobbled by age and a cane, praised Rodriques in a booming voice, asking the crowd to yell "Alleluia" on his count of three.
"To mark the entrance of our brother A-Rod into heaven," he said.
The crowd responded enthusiastically and a cry of "Alleluia!" rang through the church.
Clad in black, Rodriques' elderly parents led the family to the back of the church to bring up the Communion wine and water. His father Celestino gently stroked the shoulder of his wheelchair-bound wife as the family returned to the front of the church.
Rodriques' sister-in-law Anna Maria Rodriques eulogized him as a man who loved good food, hunting, cars, his friends, firefighting -- but most of all his family.
"Tony was my brother-in-law," she said, struggling to hold back tears, "and I will forever wear that title with pride."
Before the Mass, about 100 firefighters towed the double-yellow line on South Broadway, sweat dripping from their brows, as they prepared for the hearse to approach the church. The street was quiet but for the low moan of Ladder 74 as it trudged slowly up South Broadway, behind it, Yonkers Fire Engine 304, with several firefighters flanking Rodriques' brown wood casket atop the truck.
Nine firefighters carried the casket up the steps of the old church as the pipe and drum band rendered the doleful "Dawning of the Day."
As the funeral ended, hundreds of firefighters offered a white-gloved salute on South Broadway as Rodriques' casket was loaded back onto Engine 304 and a bugler blew "Taps."
A day earlier, almost 1,000 mourners crowded a Yonkers funeral home for Rodriques' wake.
Rodriques' death was the first for a Yonkers firefighter in the line of duty since Patrick Joyce, 39, a 16-year veteran of the department, was killed while fighting a house fire on Waverly Place on Oct. 2, 2009. The fire was later determined to be arson.
Rodriques is survived by his parents, Celeste and Celestino Rodriques; his brother, Lester C. Rodriques; his sister-in-law Anna Maria Rodriques; his niece, Nicole Rodriques; his nephews, Matthew and Alex Rodriques; and his girlfriend, Amy Krawczyk.