Cross surrounded by skyscrapers

The World Trade Center, or Ground Zero, cross in New York City. Photo by Samuel Li

Friars remember 9/11

Sept. 11, 2001: a date which changed our nation and our lives. Yet amid tremendous loss and feelings of anger and fear, we witnessed incredible faith and selfless acts of courage that are still inspiring. To mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we gathered reflections from the friars regarding where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of the terrorist attacks.

Henry Beck, OFM: I was at Mary, Gate of Heaven in Negril, Jamaica, when 9/11 happened. We had just come over to the friary from Mass, and Mark (Gehret) saw the breaking news on the TV. I came over just in time to see the second plane go into one of the towers. My first thought was of Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, the chaplain to the NY Fire Department. I had met Mychal at St. Francis Friary on 31st Street when I stayed with the friars there while I was working with Fr. Ignacio Harding, OFM, at the “Franciscans International” Office at the United Nations. I had enjoyed Mychal’s stories and his laughter at the breakfast table or at supper in the friary. I was so taken by the twinkle in Mychal’s eyes when he would tell a story or reflect on his ministry experiences. He could certainly tell an entertaining story, and his laughter was infectious. I sensed a very vibrant spirit and spirituality in him. He was the first person I thought of as I watched the attacks on the twin towers.

friar in fireman uniform

Mychal Judge, OFM, in his role as a fire chaplain. Photo courtesy of Holy Name Province

I tried calling St. Francis Friary to see if Mychal was okay. I thought he would likely be in the middle of things there in NYC. All the phone lines were full, and I never made a connection that day with the friars in New York. Later I heard that Mychal had been among the first to pass that day when part of the building collapsed upon him. My heart was stunned as we watched the news coverage, and I felt for Mychal and his confreres in New York and the firefighters who loved him deeply.

Dan Anderson, OFM: I learned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center when I arrived at the province Archives for work. Don Rewers, OFM, had turned on our small TV and was watching the news. I was sure it was an accident caused by a small private plane or helicopter until I saw the gaping wound in the building. Then, when the second tower was attacked, confirming this was no accident, I was in silent shock, similar to my reaction as a junior at Roger Bacon when President Kennedy was assassinated.

Louis Bartko, OFM: I had just finished saying Mass at Sacred Heart Church, Peoria, Ill. I returned to the friary and turned on the news. It was about 9 a.m. Central Daylight Time. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Loren Connell, OFM: On the morning of Sept 11, 2001, I was working in my office in the new building at St Anthony Messenger. Sometime around 9:30, I took the morning’s sales data over to Carol Long’s office in the old building, a routine trip that I made almost daily. She and her staff were focused on a little television set. I paid it no attention and began my usual banter. Carol “shushed” me and pointed to the TV coverage. Oh, what’s this? A horrible accident at the World Trade Center? Then we saw a second plane flying directly into the other tower. What was going on? It was surreal. This was no accident! All of us were glued to the television set. After 10 minutes or so I crossed Republic Street to watch the coverage on a bigger television over at St Francis Seraph.

Then we heard of a rogue plane that crashed in western Pennsylvania. St Anthony Messenger Press had half a dozen contractors in western Pennsylvania. Were they safe? I hurried back to my office to check on them. It turned out that the plane crashed far away from any of them. Relief! I wandered through the rest of the day in a kind of daze.

Two years ago, I visited the Flight 93 Memorial in western Pennsylvania. I hoped that it would not turn out to be grandiose and nationalistic. It wasn’t. I found it to be simple, somber, and tasteful. I probably spent two hours just walking and reflecting. I left with a new appreciation for those brave passengers who wrested control of the plane from the terrorists. I left, too, with overwhelming sadness at the human propensity for violence.

Bill Farris, OFM: I remember very clearly the moment I found out about the attacks on 9/11. I was in a meeting with the Roger Bacon Endowment Board the first part of the morning. I had just begun working there in July. As we left the room when the meeting ended, I joined many students who were going to their next class change. The students looked distracted, disturbed and unusually quiet. A teacher stopped me asked if I had heard about the attacks that had occurred during the meeting. Of course, everyone went off schedule for the rest of the day, all of us watching the sad videos of the crashes and collapse of the buildings. We had a student assembly right before dismissal with prayer for all the victims.

Kenan Fresnan, OFM: When we learned about the twin towers collapsing and airplanes across the USA being grounded, I remember going outside to our parking lot near the St. Anthony Friary’s chapel steeps. It was a hot day and the nearby trees provided a little shade. At that time, takeoffs from Greater Cincinnati Airport had a flightpath across our area. So there were regular flights over us at different times of the day. Very quickly, the air traffic controllers grounded all flights. I walked outside and listened for flights. No planes were going over us. Everything became very quiet and eerie. Then a number of us headed for the TV and saw the reruns of the planes crashing into the twin towers. That day and those TV pictures, I will never forget.

skycraper from above at night

One World Trade Center at night. Photo by @NYONAIR @BOBO @FLYNYON

Mark Gehret, OFM: I was stationed in Negril, Jamaica. We had just finished morning Mass and someone must have made a comment about a strange event going on, so we turned on the TV. We were glued to the TV for the rest of the morning, watching in disbelief and shock.

Jeremy Harrington, OFM: In the new Franciscan Media building, I was working alone in my office. One of the editors stuck her head in door and yelled, “Don’t you know what’s happening?” I jumped up and followed her to the one TV in the building in time to see the second plane hit the second tower. She broke into tears, sobbed. I was stunned, speechless. The comments were: “What’s next?” “What does this mean for the future?”

Dennet Jung, OFM: I was sitting at my computer in my upstairs office at St. Monica-St. George Parish in Cincinnati when I heard other staff members talking rather loudly downstairs. I decided to see what was happening. When I found the staff, I saw the TV they were watching. At first, I didn’t believe what happening, that is, until I saw the second plane hit the tower. We all were in shock; some of us were in tears. All I could do was pray.

Dan Kroger, OFM: On 9/11, I was in the Philippines. Of course, since Manila is west of the international dateline, it was Sept. 12, 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. I first learned of the attack in the early hours of the morning. One of the Vietnamese friars came and said come and see the TV, where the local broadcast TV station was showing tapes of the planes hitting the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It was shocking news. I kept thinking of the many lives lost in that attack as people were arriving fir work. Later, there was news about the attack on the Pentagon and the high jacked commercial flight where passengers were able to struggle and bring about the crash of that flight in rural Pennsylvania. I presumed the U.S. Government would try to avenge the attack. I dreaded what that might lead to. The “war on terrorism” ensued. What tragic results that would bring would bring was never imagined. Just remembering 9/11 is painful.

Carl Langenderfer, OFM: In 2001, I was the guardian and associate pastor at St. Clement in Cincinnati. On the morning of Sept. 11, I was working in my office, assembling a wheelbarrow for our St. Clement Parish Festival, “Wheelbarrow of Cheer.” I had volunteered to the Festival Committee to purchase the contents and I needed a wheelbarrow to haul the goods. Someone came into my office and said that the twin towers in New York City had been hit by an airplane. I immediately went to the TV room to see for myself what was going on. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the second tower was also hit and the first tower crashed to the ground. All I could do was watch in horror as this tragedy unfolded, with people running from the site, ash and debris following them down the streets of Manhattan. Later I learned that a Franciscan friar from Holy Name Province, Mychal Judge, OFM, was killed while ministering to the first responders. Everything got worse as the day and tragedy unfolded. All we could do was pray.

Max Langenderfer, OFM: I was at my mother’s house during my home leave from the Africa Project in Nairobi, Kenya. I was sitting outside reading when my mother came out and said, “Come in, look at the TV.” I came inside and was startled to see the video of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center tower. I remembered well the morning of Aug. 7, 1998, when I was sitting at my desk in my office in the Westlands Provincial house in Nairobi. I heard a distinctly strange sound and wondered what it could be. Within a few hours we learned that the American Embassy had been bombed with massive destruction and a huge number of casualties.

Pat McCloskey, OFM: I was attending a meeting of Roger Bacon’s Investment Board on which I served then. The first attack happened during the meeting. I learned of the second attack only on arriving at Franciscan Media. What a day! I was horrified and felt the mission of St. Anthony Messenger Press (pre-Franciscan Media name) was more vital than ever. We did an article on Christopher Keenan, OFM, (Mychal Judge, OFM’s successor as fire chaplain) for September 2002. In March 2020, I roomed with him for a week on a US-6 pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Jeff Scheeler, OFM: I was at an interprovincial council meeting at a retreat house in Chicago. There was some concern that something might happen in Chicago, since it is a major city. We were not sure if we should continue, but we did since we had all traveled and were there. We brought a little TV into the room to keep up with the information.

Robert Seay, OFM: I was on my way from New Orleans to Lafayette and had stopped in LaPlace, La., for breakfast at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant when the news of the 9/11 event occurred. I recalled, while living in Brooklyn, N.Y., of attending French classes in the twin towers on the very top floor and thinking I could have been there, since this was the same time of the classes.

9/11 at 20

magazine cover The September issue of St. Anthony Messenger remembers the events of 9/11 through interviews with Chris Keenan and Michael Duffy, OFM, who reflect on their experiences that day and its continued impact on their lives and ministries. Both friars were friends of Mychal Judge, chaplain for the city’s firefighters, who is listed as victim number one of the attacks on New York City. Through his death, both Chris and Michael were called to minister, each in his own way, then and now. Chris was appointed as a chaplain for the FDNY, a role from which he will retire from in January. Michael, fulfilling the wishes of his friend, served as the homilist at his funeral, an opportunity to preach from the heart. He currently ministers at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia.

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