NEW YORK — “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It’s a constant attitude.”
These words, spoken by Martin Luther King Jr., defined the late Steven McDonald’s life. In 1986, he was working as a police officer in Central Park when he was shot by a 15-year-old boy and paralyzed from the neck down. While he was in the hospital, he received a visit from the late Mychal Judge, OFM, and a close friendship – and a mutual desire to encourage others to forgive and experience reconciliation – began.
That friendship led McDonald to forgive the young man who shot him, and together, McDonald and Mychal began a series of trips to Northern Ireland to share their message of reconciliation with Catholics and Protestants there. McDonald also made public appearances around the United States, sharing stories of his Catholic faith and the power of forgiveness.
Years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City. Mychal rushed from the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street to the Twin Towers, where he was killed by falling debris while administering last rites to a firefighter.
McDonald didn’t allow Mychal’s message of reconciliation and peace to die with him. In 2002, McDonald and friend John Bates co-founded the Fr. Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance to honor Mychal and all other victims of 9/11. The walk, which follows the route Mychal took on 9/11, became an annual event, with McDonald leading the thousands of attendees down Seventh Avenue toward the World Trade Center.
The Walk of Remembrance will be held again this fall, but it will be the first without McDonald, who died Jan. 10 at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. This year’s walk is dedicated to McDonald and will be led by his wife, Patricia Ann Norris-McDonald, and his son, Conor.
“Mychal would rejoice that we are honoring Steven,” said Christopher Keenan, OFM, chaplain of the FDNY. “The witness of Steven’s life with his wife, Patti Ann, and their sacrament of marriage is an awesome testament to their faith. Their son, Conor, follows in his father’s footsteps as a NYPD detective. Despite requiring a respirator for 30 years, Steven was a champion and advocate for justice, peace and reconciliation in the world.”
The walk will take place on Sunday, Sept. 10. It will begin with a rosary at 9 a.m. at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, which will be followed by a Mass at 9:30 a.m. After Mass, one hour later, participants will proceed to the firehouse that houses Engine 1, Ladder 24 across the street from the church. The walk makes 12 stops at firehouses, police precincts, and other locations, ending at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church at 22 Barclay St.
Before the walk begins, representatives of Mychal’s Message, the organization founded in 2002 to do charity work in his name, will be present at St. Francis Breadline to distribute lightweight foam mats on which the homeless can sleep. The group will also provide its annual distribution of “Blessed Bloomers” – packages of underwear, socks, T-shirts, mints, and a prayer card. Information about Mychal’s Message and its current projects can be found on mychalsmessage.org.
On Sept. 11, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi will host an annual Mass for first responders. It will be celebrated by Fr. Thomas Colucci, a retired captain of the Fire Department of New York who responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11, arriving just as the North Tower collapsed. Fr. Colucci was ordained to the priesthood in 2016 and is believed to be the first firefighter to become a priest in the Archdiocese of New York.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.
- “On Sept. 11 Anniversary, Communities Pray for Peace” – Sept. 21, 2016, HNP Today
- “Franciscan Influences: Learning by Example from Mychal Judge” – Sept. 2, 2016, HNP Today
- “Sept. 11 Observances Planned, Mychal Judge Remembered” – Aug. 29, 2015, HNP Today