How 9/11 led first responder to the priesthood

WelCom October 2021 On a September morning, 20 years ago, Tom Colucci was in his car driving home, weary after working the overnight shift at a firehouse in Lower Manhattan,…

Fr Tom Colucci. Photo: CBCP News

WelCom October 2021

On a September morning, 20 years ago, Tom Colucci was in his car driving home, weary after working the overnight shift at a firehouse in Lower Manhattan, USA.

Then, at 8.46am, he got a call. The city was recalling all police officers and firefighters to the World Trade Centre. A plane had crashed into the North Tower.

Colucci, a lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department, rushed to the scene – the South Tower was on the verge of collapse, and came tumbling down just as Colucci arrived.

The area surrounding the World Trade Centre was total chaos, and he wasn’t entirely sure what to do first. He had heard 40,000 people were missing. So, Colucci and the other first responders began digging through rubble on the streets. Less than an hour later, the North Tower fell. More than 340 firefighters died that day, including five from Tom’s firehouse. 

‘So it was all very devastating. A lot of these guys were young guys, married, with families…But we just pulled each other through. And also that our faith came through. Most of these guys were Catholic, and so it was the faith that pulled us through,’ Colucci said.

The victims included the chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, Fr Mychal Judge. Judge was reportedly praying the rosary and offering Last Rites in the lobby of the North Tower, and had run outside the North Tower to minister to a fallen firefighter when the South Tower collapsed.

‘Everybody asks, “where was Christ that day? Couldn’t he stop the planes?” But you saw the body of Christ. Everybody that came in to help that day…You saw the country pulled together. That was the body of Christ,’ Colucci commented.

A few years after he retired from the fire service in 2005, Colucci began revisiting his long-time interest in becoming a Catholic priest. A devout Catholic since his youth, Colucci said the priesthood had always been at the back of his mind. He said his experience on September 11, and the witness of the heroic priests he saw that day, made him even more interested in pursuing the priesthood.

‘I just saw the best that day. You know, Fr Mike died the way he died, and there were other priests that came down and they were, you know, counselling the guys and a few of them were on the rubble helping us cheering us on,’ he said.

When he retired, Colucci didn’t enter the seminary right away. He had sustained a head injury while on the job a few months earlier and needed two brain surgeries. He retreated to a Benedictine monastery in western New York to recover and to discern his call to the priesthood.

Ordained in 2016, Fr Colucci has been a priest for a little over five years now. He’s pastor of a parish with a school in Walden, New York, north of New York City. He says he actually sees a lot of similarities between the priesthood and the fire service.

‘You serve other people. That’s what a firefighter does, unselfishly he runs into burning buildings and emergency calls to help people out. And that’s what a priest does. He’s always available to help people out. I get calls day and night to help people in different areas, spiritually. To help them doing the sacraments, Mass and confessions…And so it’s a life of service, both professions,’ he said.

Source: Catholic News Agency