Memories from priests who went to battle on September 11

“It started coming down on us.”

Fifteen years ago, Capt. Thomas Colucci led the men of his 31st Street firehouse into what would be the finest hour for New York City’s fire, police and emergency responders: Ground Zero on Sept. 11.

After the South Tower collapsed, the Catholic fire captain and his firefighters began digging through the wreckage, searching for any hope of survivors and the firefighters who had gone into the tower to save them.

Then, at 10:28am, the sky opened up with a roar, and a collective scream of terror erupted from the ground — the North Tower and iconic spire begin to fall — and the men and women who donned the uniforms of New York’s first responders would give the final sacrifice amid a hail of steel, concrete and debris.

As they escaped, Colucci saw some of his comrades struck down — he and a few of the firefighters found their only refuge sheltering behind a car. Enveloped in that cloud of darkness, the fireman’s vocation became clear: He would become a priest, helping those in darkness see a great light.

Nearly 3,000 men, women and children perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. But the legacy of 9/11 is that more than 25,000 other lives were saved that day, because ordinary men and women put on their uniforms and ran to save others from death and danger.

On a Tuesday morning, 343 firefighters and emergency personnel, 23 New York Police Department and 37 Port Authority officers laid down their lives for others. Many more would give their lives — a payment deferred by cancer they gathered from the rescue work.

Colucci retired in 2004, and, this year, he became Father Colucci.

When people ask him — and many have — “Where was God that day?” Father Colucci says that he saw, firsthand, the Body of Christ in action.

“The best of humanity came out that day,” he said.

His department’s beloved chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, had given his life anointing and praying over the injured and dying, faithful to the end in his vocation.

For weeks on end, the firehouses became places to mourn, wake and bury the dead. Most of the fallen were Catholic, and the faith helped bind them together. But it reminded Colucci of the fragility of life and the need to keep the soul always united to God in the state of grace.

“We may die suddenly and meet Our Lord at any time … and then we start eternal life.” Continue reading


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