Mother killed on Southwest flight was firm believer in Catholic schools

IMAGE: CNS photo/Marla Brose, Albuquerque Journal

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Tributes from business leaders and
politicians alike described Jennifer Riordan — the 43-year-old passenger who
died April 17 from injuries suffered on Southwest Flight 1380 when its engine exploded — as a devoted
mother, community leader, mentor and volunteer.

Riordan, a Wells Fargo executive from New Mexico, was a “thoughtful leader who has long been a part of the fabric of our
community,” said Tim
Keller, the mayor of Albuquerque. Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico, described her as
“an incredible woman who put her family and community first.”

But statements
about Riordan that were closer to home for the parishioner of Our Lady of the
Annunciation Catholic Church in Albuquerque and mother of two children
at Annunciation School were issued by her family, who called her their
“bedrock,” and her children’s school, which described Riordan as an
“integral member of our school community.”

who grew up in Vermont, attended Christ the King Elementary School in
Burlington and graduated from Vermont’s Colchester High School in 1992. She married
her high school sweetheart, Michael Riordan, in 1996 at Christ the King Church,
according to the Burlington Free Press daily newspaper.

couple had spent nearly two decades living in Albuquerque. Michael is a former
chief operating officer for the city of Albuquerque and Jennifer was a vice president for
community relations with Wells Fargo bank.

She was
returning from a business trip in New York when the plane was forced to make an
emergency landing in Philadelphia after its engine exploded in midair and
shrapnel hit the plane breaking the window beside her.

was pronounced dead at a hospital from blunt trauma to her head, neck and torso,
a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Health announced April 19.

As news
of the tragedy spread, the assistant principal at Annunciation School where the
two Riordan children attend, sent an email to parents confirming Riordan’s
death and simply adding: “At this point, the family needs all the prayers
we can offer.”

Fe Archbishop John C. Wester said: “Our hearts go out to the family of
Jennifer Riordan, who lost her life yesterday, April 17, during the tragic
plane accident.” The archbishop also said he would “pray for the
repose of her soul and for her dear loved ones.”

School posted a statement on its Facebook page saying the school was “devastated
to lose an integral member of our school community,” noting that Riordan
often volunteered at the school and also served on its consultative council.

was seen on campus almost daily supporting her beautiful children. She provided
encouragement to everyone with whom she came in contact. Her positive
motivating spirit will be missed,” the statement added before concluding
with the promise that the school community would “keep Jennifer and her
family in prayer.”

statement issued by the Riordan family said: “Jennifer’s vibrancy, passion
and love infused our community and reached across our country. Her impact on
everything and everyone she touched can never be fully measured.”

It also
called her “the bedrock of our family. She and Mike wrote a love story
unlike any other. Her beauty and love is evident through her children,” and
the statement asked that in her memory people remember to “always be kind,
loving, caring and sharing.”

statement echoes Riordan’s own advice from what she said in 2015 after she was presented
the Bill Daniels Award for Ethical Young Leadership by the Samaritan Counseling
Ethics in Business Awards.

a parent, I’ve said to my kids, ‘Be kind, loving, caring and sharing, and all
good things will come to you,'” Riordan told the Albuquerque Journal, about
the award. “Integrity embodies the spirit of those four things, as well as
high morals. It’s about knowing the difference between right and wrong, and
choosing to do what’s right, even when it’s very difficult to do what’s right.”

only was Riordan dedicated to her job and school volunteering, but she also volunteered
with several local nonprofit groups and boards.

She served
on the boards of Junior Achievement of New Mexico and New Mexico First and was appointed
by New Mexico’s governor to a board focused on boosting volunteerism in the

She was
still on the board of directors at The Catholic Foundation, a nonprofit Santa Fe archdiocesan
organization that links donors to parishes, schools and organizations in need,
and had planned to attend a meeting with the group in late April.

Larranaga, the foundation’s president, said he asked Riordan, who had been
his friend for 15 years, if she’d be on the board, but he also wondered if
she’d even have time because she did so much.

was just thoughtful and probably the most positive person I’ve ever met,”
he told Catholic News Service April 19, adding that people who didn’t know her
well might have thought she was fake because “no one could be that
positive and upbeat.”

told him over a year ago that Catholic education saved her life, saying she had
been “going down a path with other people and friends” and her mom
changed that direction by sending her to a Catholic school.

So even
though she had a lot going on, she wanted to help Catholic schools through the
foundation and by sending her children to Catholic school, he said.

wanted to do things to make a difference, not just at work and in the
community, but just in general, she wanted to make things better,”
Larranaga said.

that spirit continues. Earlier that day, he received a phone call from someone in
Michigan who didn’t know Riordan but wanted to do something in her honor. The
donor, who attended Catholic schools, said he was impressed by what he read
about her.

just the type of person she was,” always making a difference, is Larranaga’s
view of the phone call.

He said
even though there will likely be a private funeral for Riordan, he is sure there
will be a public memorial as well at the convention center because her
“impact was that great.”

– – –

Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.

– – –

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article