Joining people around the United States, the Province’s friars and their partners-in-ministry observed the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 through varied events and through written reflections, remembering the victims and praying for peace.
In New York City, a week before Sept. 11, nearly 1,000 people participated in the Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM Walk of Remembrance, honoring the beloved friar who was chaplain of the New York City Fire Department and the first recorded casualty of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
After supporters gathered the morning of Sept. 4 to pray the rosary outside, Christopher Keenan, OFM, chaplain, New York City Fire Department, celebrated Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street. Participants then traced Mychal’s footsteps of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, stopping at firehouses for prayer and concluding at St. Peter’s Church near the World Trade Center site. The walk was created in 2002 by John Bates and Detective Steven McDonald of the New York City Police Department, a close friend of Mychal.
“Whenever you were with Fr. Mychal, everyone here on 31st Street knew him,” said Steven’s wife, Patti Ann McDonald, in a story aired on PIX 11 TV the day of the 2016 walk. “The lives he touched were incredible. He treated everyone the same.”
In a Catholic News Service story, Christopher reflected on the recovery effort. “The cranes are lifting up the steel and the air is feeding the fires underneath, and out of that is coming these incredible colors of yellow, black and green smoke, and we all worked in the recovery process.” He said that working recovery at the site was a gift and an honor.
Before the Walk of Remembrance, members of Mychal’s Message, the non-profit group in Lancaster, Pa., founded by friends of Mychal, donated items to those in need at St. Francis Breadline. Each year on Sept. 11, since the organization was founded in 2002, they come to New York with gifts for those in need. This year, they brought bananas, candy, shirts and mats for the homeless who sleep on the sidewalks near the church.
In keeping with the spirit of St. Francis, patron saint of the environment, each mat is made up of 600 discarded plastic handle bags, taking one volunteer more than 40 hours to complete.
Praying for Peace on College Campuses
Outside Albany, N.Y., a Prayer for Peace was offered on Sept. 11 for the Siena College community and general public. The college’s friars led the service to commemorate the anniversary and pray for a peaceful way forward as the world continues to grapple with the outcomes of the terrorist attacks.
Mychal Judge, who was assistant to Siena’s college president during the 1970s, along with 10 alumni and friends of the college were remembered during the program. A scholarship in Mychal’s memory currently assists Siena students who are firefighters, children of a firefighter or who lost a family member on 9/11.
Siena College president F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, was Provincial Secretary in September 2011 and one of two friars who went to Ground Zero to recover Mychal’s body.
“The events of 9/11 and the days and months following it are firmly and vividly etched in my memory — the destruction, the chaos, the fear, the suffering and the great sadness that enveloped the city for such a long time,” Ed said. “Although many years have passed, the challenge of articulating and living the vision of Francis — brotherhood and sisterhood, respect for others and the like — is so urgently needed.”
Ed reflected on a recent encounter with a Muslim student, greeting her for the first time since she returned to campus this year.
“She offered a warm embrace and sought a little advice,” Ed said. “It was a simple moment of opportunity that I tried to get right. In the context of Sunday’s memorial, it gave me hope that we can build a more peaceful, loving and just world if all of us can welcome the many opportunities that might come our way to live the Franciscan vision.”
In Western New York, the St. Bonaventure University community held a prayer service, led by Francis Di Spigno, OFM, executive director of University Ministries, on Sept. 9 at the university’s 9/11 Memorial.
“As a Franciscan university, the campus community gathered to re-dedicate itself in the Franciscan tradition of peace-making,” said Fr. David Couturier, OFM, Cap., dean, School of Franciscan Studies and executive director of the Franciscan Institute.
“We remembered our alumni who died on 9/11 and prayed for all Bonaventure students who have dedicated themselves to furthering the Franciscan principles of justice and community around the world,” Fr. David said. “This 9/11 event reminded us just how important it is, in an increasingly violent and polarized world, to be a university committed to justice and peace in the Franciscan tradition.”
Photos of SBU’s memorial service can be found on the St. Bonaventure University Ministries Facebook page.
In Buffalo, Hilbert College held a 9/11 commemoration a day after what has come to be known as Patriots Day. Jud Weiksnar, OFM, the college chaplain, who led the Sept. 12 service, showed what he called “the iconic photo of Mychal Judge from 9/11” and also read a page from the book He Said Yes about Mychal Judge, by Kelly Lynch.
Reflecting on 9/11 Anniversary
Several student friars wrote on their blogs about the importance of hope and justice.
Casey Cole, OFM, of Durham, N.C., 27, suggests that we never forget the mercy of God who turns evil into good.
“Instead of remembering the destruction and turmoil, let’s never forget the heroic acts of first responders risking their lives for others, how the whole city, an entire nation united together, moving beyond our differences to be one,” Casey said in his blog Breaking in the Habit. “Instead of remembering the terrible things that others have done and how they need justice, let’s never forget that we are all sinners and yet all of us have been treated mercifully by God.” Casey was in seventh grade in 2001.
Christian Seno, OFM, a native of the Philippines who is studying in Silver Spring, Md., also shared his thoughts on Mychal. “In a time of great tragedy, of massive loss, Mychal gave even more of himself. On the last day of his life, Mychal lived the Gospel. ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13),” Christian wrote in Pax et Bonum. “He gives us hope that love exists and that we are capable of profound, truly selfless love, despite whatever limitations we or others may place on us.”
“Fr. Mychal Judge, was truly a hero, said George Corrigan, OFM, in his blog, “not because he died on 9-11 but because his arms were always open, his eyes ever seeking to be Christ for others.”
— Karen Karaszewski is a freelance writer based in Western New York. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this article.
- “1,000 Walk to Remember Fr. Mychal Judge, the First Recorded Victim of Sept. 11,” – Sept. 9, 2016, America magazine
- “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
- “Media Interest in Mychal Judge Grows as Anniversary Approaches” – Sept. 7, 2011, HNP Today