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.
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: AmericanCatholic.org.
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
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.
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.
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."
Permission is granted to reprint this release.