Friars, Friends Commemorate Sept. 11 Anniversary Around New York City

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

Below is one of two articles in this newsletter issue about commemorations of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Because of the large number of events in which friars and their partners-in-ministry participated as well as the extensive interest of worldwide media on the Franciscans’ thoughts on the anniversary, HNP Today has divided into two stories the Province’s coverage of Sept. 11 .

NEW YORK — More than 800 people turned out for the annual Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM Walk of Remembrance Sept. 4, beginning a week of commemorations of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 that concluded with Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street.

Friars and friends were busy for days honoring Mychal, who died serving New York City firefighters as their chaplain, as well as the other almost 3,000 people who died in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center. Christopher Keenan, OFM, who replaced Mychal as chaplain, had an especially busy week, presiding at Masses and attending invocations, services and blessings.

“The witness of this friar’s life is alive and well, globally,” said Christopher. “There is not a day that goes by that I do not receive some feedback about him from some part of New York City and the rest of the globe.”

One of the week’s unique events was the dedication of an exhibit of Mychal’s helmet and bunker coat at the New York City Fire Museum. Chris called recovery of those items nothing short of miraculous. 

“Mychal’s bunker coat was taken off him and left behind in the World Trade Center lobby when he died.” Chris said the coat was found intact months later, after being dug up from the smoldering pile of debris. “Having worked at the Ground Zero pile and dug in it several nights a week for seven months, I can attest that everyone and everything was vaporized, pulverized or cremated. There was literally no trace of life or any office equipment. It was all steel and dirt.”

“It was a moving celebration, a great tribute to Mychal,” said Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, “with more than 150 people in attendance, including the fire chief and fire commissioner of New York City, and firefighters from all over the world. The entire block around the museum entrance was blocked off to accommodate the crowd.”

This year, the walk traveled down Seventh Avenue and ended at Ground Zero, stopping along the way at firehouses, where the Bells of Remembrance, created by David Schlatter, OFM, of Silver Spring, Md., were sounded. The bells were created after 9/11 and include the engraving of victims’ names.

Mass at St. Francis of Assisi
The walk also ended with a Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church, which this year, took place in the upper church and was celebrated by Chris. Music was provided by both the parish musicians and by Joseph Lynch, husband of Kelly Ann Lynch, co-founder of Mychal’s Message, and their children, Christopher and Erin Mary.

Among the walk’s participants were Mychal’s sister, Dympna Judge Jessich, Michael Daly, author of The Book of Mychal, and athletes of the 2011 World Police and Fire Games. The walk was organized by New York police officer Steven McDonald, a friend of Mychal’s who is wheelchair-bound after a 1986 shooting, and John Bates, a New York Harbor pilot. Both said the walk has grown much in the past 10 years.

“I feel we’ve made great strides by having the Mass in the upper church at St. Francis of Assisi,” Bates said. “Five years ago, the Mass was in the quarters of Engine 1, Ladder 24 across the street. We have taken the walk to the next level. For the first time, we have honored the Port Authority police and members of the Port Authority lost on 9/11. We have also been so fortunate to have the support of fire commissioner Sal Cassano and fire chief Ed Kilduff. This year, the walk was truly a pilgrimage as we started at St. Francis and finished at Engine 10, Ladder 10, whose members are truly the first responders to the WTC. We will continue to honor Fr. Mychal and all those lost on 9/11.”

Cathedral Memorial 
On Sept. 10, four friars attended the FDNY WTC 10th Anniversary Memorial Service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The afternoon service was called “beautiful and inspiring” by Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, who attended with Christopher, Octavio Duran, OFM, and Richard Mucowski, OFM.

“The ecumenical service was beautifully done and with great reverence,” said Michael. “The service was a wonderful blend of prayer, song, reflection and remembrance. I was honored to be present at the service with the other friars and to be seated among the families and loved ones of the firemen who made such a great sacrifice 10 years ago. I was particularly moved by the reflections of the children of two firemen who died at the World Trade Center. It was a bittersweet, but inspiring service, concluding with a color guard, bagpipers, New York firemen, and firemen visiting from around the world, marching down Fifth Avenue.”

sept11-rMemorial Mass and Blessing at Fire Museum
On the morning of Sept. 11, Chris presided at the annual Sept. 11 Mass for fallen firefighters from Battalion 7 in Midtown Manhattan at St. Francis of Assisi Church. John and pastor Andrew Reitz, OFM, concelebrated. “It was a moving celebration,” said John. “The church was standing-room only.”

The firefighters who came from area firehouses seemed “very appreciative of our hosting the Mass,” Andrew said.

He added: “At the introduction of the liturgy, Chris pointed out that both he and I were trained firefighters and a former chief and assistant chief of fire departments.” Chris was interviewed in a recent Daily News story about his 2001 transition to the role of FDNY chaplain.

“All in all, it was a very special day for those very special people who lost their lives 10 years ago on Sept. 11,” John said.

As former Provincial Minister John Felice, OFM, said in an essay in the  London publication The Tablet: “We will never forget the courage, the kindness and the deep-felt bond that held us together as a people during those first months. It is with the eye of history that we need now to consider the wisdom of the course we have chosen since 9/11 and the impact they have left on our world. We cannot remake the past, but we can all help fashion the future. I am reminded of a simple prayer attributed to Fr. Mychal: ‘Lord, take me where you want me to go; Let me meet who you want me to meet; Tell me what you want me to say, And keep me out of your way.’”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.