UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When the Rev. David Griffin asked the worshippers at his 9:30 a.m. Mass at the Catholic Campus Ministry to pray for the Paterno family, few in the congregation Sunday morning could have known that Joe Paterno had already died of lung cancer minutes earlier.
"Lord, hear our prayer," the congregates responded.
This was the church Joe and Sue Paterno called home. If they had been at Mass Sunday, they would have seen many people wearing Penn State gear and colors and an older married couple wearing T-shirts that said "Coach Paterno, Only One Thing: Thank You."
And the Paternos would have heard the second reading from I Corinthians 7: 29-31:
"What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away."
When Mass ended, Father Griffin pulled aside Charles and Jo Dumas, who had decided to wear the T-shirts in support of Mr. Paterno. He informed them that Mr. Paterno, who won a record 409 games in 46 years as the football coach at Penn State, had died at the age of 85.
Mr. Dumas, a 65-year-old theater professor at Penn State, turned and walked away for a private moment. Mrs. Dumas, a 65-year-old senior lecturer of communications at the university, began to sob.
"It's not only a great loss for us of a great benefactor and a great man," Mr. Dumas said, "but our country lost. He showed us an example of what it is to be a coach and a teacher."
"And human being," Mrs. Dumas added.
Mr. Dumas continued, "I'm sorry that we could not have had a better ending for this great man. When Victor Hugo died in Paris, everybody ran around the streets shouting, 'Hugo is dead! Hugo is dead! Our hero is dead!' That is the ending I would have liked to have seen for Joe Paterno, because he is our Victor Hugo."
Hugo was a 19th-century French poet, playwright and novelist.
Mr. Paterno was a football coach whose legacy has become confused for many in the days, weeks and months since former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested for numerous counts of child sex abuse.
Mr. Paterno was told of an incident between Mr. Sandusky and a boy in the Lasch Football Building in 2002 by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary. Mr. Paterno had said that he told his superiors, former athletic director Tim Curley and former senior vice president Gary Schultz, about the incident, but Mr. Paterno also had acknowledged, "I wish I had done more."
Mr. Paterno was fired Nov. 9, and, days later, it was announced that he had lung cancer. On Jan. 13, he checked in to Mount Nittany Medical Center, where he died Sunday at 9:25 a.m. in the company of his loved ones.
Because of everything that has happened, Mrs. Dumas and millions of others were forced to think of the alleged victims of abuse on the day that Mr. Paterno died. She said she and her husband also have T-shirts that say "Stop the Sexual Abuse of Children."
"Because those are the two messages that are most important through this crisis," Mrs. Dumas said. "We all must be vigilant toward ending the sexual assault of children.
"Joe is not the first person to be confused about what to do. He did what any of us would do. He went to the people who had authority to do something about it."
Mr. Dumas kept returning to the example of Hugo.
"You can't have your life defined by a minute or an hour," Mr. Dumas said. "Your life is defined by the years of commitment and the work that you do. That's the way it should be with Joe."
Outside the sanctuary in the foyer, a flat-screen TV flashed the Paterno news on ESPN. Penn State alumnus Bob Hopkins and Jim Shanahan, natives of Upper St. Clair, watched with their wives and wondered whether Paterno had partly died of a broken heart.
"I think there's an element there," Mr. Shanahan said.
It had been an emotional 24 hours for all invested in Penn State, beginning when a news outlet prematurely reported Mr. Paterno's death Saturday night.
At that moment, Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Shanahan were eating dinner at the Carnegie House. A man stood up in the middle of the dining room and informed the patrons that Paterno was dead and said a prayer.
Soon, Mr. Paterno's son, Jay, tweeted that his father was still alive. But that didn't stop hundreds of Penn State students from making their way to Beaver Stadium to honor Mr. Paterno.
As Saturday turned to Sunday, the group had dwindled to about 50, and the silence that sat over Happy Valley was broken only by the clicking of frozen hands snapping pictures on smartphones.
A young man came equipped with a life-size cardboard cutout of Mr. Paterno on the sidelines wearing a tan blazer, slacks and his trademark black shoes. Most onlookers stood simply staring at the statue, which portrays Mr. Paterno hoisting a No. 1 with his right hand. When many of the visitors had paid their respects, they approached the statue and touched the statue's outreached hand. One male student embraced the body.
Behind the statue against the light brick wall, a blue sign sat with a white heart drawn in the middle. It said: "We have never met in person, but you are more than a coach. You are more than a mentor. You are our hero."
The supporters had also been given assurance that their efforts were being felt down East Park Avenue at the hospital. Jay Paterno sent another tweet that said: "Drove by students at the Joe statue. Just told my Dad about all the love & support -- inspiring him."
When 38-year-old Penn State alumnus and Lancaster native Tim Miller heard the news Sunday morning, he piled his wife and two young daughters into their car and drove the 125 miles to State College. Mr. Miller didn't know what they would do once they got there, but he did know it would be a day for reflection on a bygone era.
Sunday afternoon, Mr. Miller sat with his family in a booth at The Diner on College Avenue.
"Your eyes were tearing up," 9-year-old Mackenzie said, reminding her father of his reaction to Mr. Paterno's death.
By late Sunday afternoon. Mr. Paterno's statue was now wearing a white and blue scarf, and an American flag was folded over his right arm. Roses that were red hours ago were starting to wilt in the cold, but plenty of reinforcements had been brought to adorn the area.
The number of outsiders had increased, too. Satellite trucks lined Porter Road, photographers camped out above the wall and reporters prepared for the 5 o'clock news -- all reminders that Penn State's unrelenting nightmare was not likely to end any time soon.
J. Brady McCollough: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BradyMcCollough. First Published January 23, 2012 5:00 AM