Contact: Christopher Heffron
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August 10, 2003     262 Words

New York's St. Peter's Parish Rises Above the Ashes of 9/11

CINCINNATI—Americans watched in horror as the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan crumbled after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Nearby St. Peter's Parish suffered a damaged roof from the landing gear of one of the planes. But the historic church, the place where St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was received into the Catholic Church in 1805, will be written into the history books once again for its rescue efforts on 9/11 and for weeks afterward. The church temporarily housed the body of Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan fire chaplain and first recorded casualty.

The story of St. Peter's Parish, New York's oldest Catholic church, along with its pastor, Father Kevin Madigan, and the role the church played on 9/11 will be featured in the September issue of St. Anthony Messenger. Contributing Editor Jack Wintz, O.F.M., writes of this resilient church, its extensive history and its link with the 9/11 tragedies. After August 20, the article "St. Peter's Parish: Death and Resurrection at Ground Zero," can be found at:

On 9/11, Father Kevin Madigan and his parish staff experienced firsthand the suffocating smoke from the collapsing towers, the frantic New Yorkers struggling to distance themselves from the area, and the pieces of falling wreckage. Firefighter Chaplain Father Mychal Judge suffered a broken neck and died instantly at the scene. Rescue workers carried Judge's body and, with few options, brought him to St. Peter's, where they placed him in front of the altar.

"Father Judge looked peaceful, like he was asleep," says Lt. Bill Cosgrove, a policeman who helped carry Judge's body into St. Peter's. "We knelt on the ground, placed our hands on his head and said our own personal prayers for him. Then we blessed ourselves—and placed the jacket back over his head."

Despite the proximity of St. Peter's to the Twin Towers, the only damage the church suffered was a hole in its roof from falling debris and water damage from a build-up of dust and soot in its drains. The emotional damage, however, was considerably larger. Attendance at Mass waned after the attacks, primarily because many of those who attended services on their lunch breaks or before work, were killed on 9/11. The first parish Mass celebrated after the tragedy was six weeks later.

Father Madigan and a committee of parish leaders have commissioned Dallas artist John C. Collier to create a series of sculptures for a commemorative shrine to be placed in St. Joseph's Chapel later this year. St. Joseph's, the mission Chapel of St. Peter's, suffered rain damage to its pews when they were removed and placed outside. The Chapel, located just a few blocks away from St. Peter's, also served as a space for rescue efforts and emergency equipment. The sculptures will be of four saints: St. Florian, patron of firefighters; St. Michael, patron saint of police officers; St. Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the Resurrection; and St. Joseph, the patron saint of the chapel. The memorial will honor the heroes of 9/11 for their bravery and love.

In his homily on the first anniversary of the attacks, Father Madigan spoke of the strength and goodness of the people of New York. "Our true strength was in all those acts of compassion, those deeds of generosity and self-sacrifice that were performed that day and in the days, weeks and months afterward."


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