Honor A Hero to the 9/11 Heroes – Father Kevin Madigan: His Wisdom from 9/11 For Those Effected by Our Hurricane Catastrophes Today

Father Madigan surveys the World Trade Center Site in 2006. Top picture World Trade Center Site today, 9/11/2017

Historical Roots and Leadership

There is a church, built in 1785, St. Peter’s Church in New York City. It is less than one block away from the site of the World Trade Center. It is the oldest Catholic Church in New York State. It is still beautiful, even after 9/11, and is considered one of the “richest treasures in American Catholic history”. It has survived many chaotic events from its first days . . . like many other churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. Yet this church and its leadership were vital on 9/11.

There is a man, Rev. Kevin Madigan, who assumed the leadership as Pastor of this great church in 1999, including, its also historic, St. Joseph’s chapel. It was a flourishing, bustling weekday parish for the hundreds of people who worked in the area. Many of them perished on September 11, 2001. That was the beginning of the rest of this story. It begins with 9/11 and resonates with me to this day as it does with many other ordinary people.

Father Madigan, a man of humility and character, sees himself also as an ordinary man . . . not as a hero. I see him as the little-heralded, wise, practical and inspirational hero for the many heroes of 9/11 . . . the firefighters, the police, the emergency medical workers, chiropractors, volunteer office workers, the spiritual staff and the volunteers from all over the U.S.A. who struggled at Ground Zero to save the people who were injured.

Why Is This Important to Me?

I’ve known Father Kevin Madigan since 1971 when he was a member of my Drug Guidance Council in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. He had just been ordained in 1970 and this was his first mayor-appointed community service with the support of his church. He accepted many responsibilities and together we worked to save and comfort people in our village.

I visited my old friend in October 2002 to visit Ground Zero with him. We talked for three hours. He showed me Ground Zero from his office and told me what it was like on 9/11. Over the years since that horrible day Father Madigan has given many speeches and he sent some to me. They were and remain magnificent.

Father Madigan will speak to you through selected quotes from these same speeches. There are in them vital lessons for today, 9/11/2017.

His Wisdom Applied to Two Catastrophes – Terrorism and Natural Disaster 

In the terrorist attack on 9/11/2001 and the hurricanes, still active on 9/11/2017, we have victims, survivors, volunteers, first responders, government agencies like FEMA, Red Cross and other agencies, families and loved ones nearly everywhere. The following wisdom and lessons are here for them and all of us.

1. Immediate Response and Sustaining Good

Minutes after the first plane hit the first tower, Father Madigan turned St. Peter’s Church into a relief station and kept it open for months afterward—on a 24 hours a day schedule—to support any and all of our American heroes and precious survivors following the terrorist attacks. Thousands who were in bad shape mentally and physically were themselves given comfort and strength so they could continue to help the helpless.

With damage to the roof of the church caused by aircraft debris, and ash that clogged the church’s gutters caused flood damage, and with a 3 x 3 foot hole lodged in the ceiling that allowed rain to leak down the interior 18th century church walls, nonetheless pastoral comfort went forward.

With the interior of St. Joseph’s Chapel destroyed, still, he made the space immediately available to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to act as a center for food, emergency care, supplies and respite for hundreds of workers and mourners as well. Father Madigan also arranged for a group of ministers of all faiths to use the chapel for religious counsel to the Ground Zero workers, survivors and mourners.

2. After 9/11 . . . Inspiration

Five years later a special memorial service to honor the heroes, workers and mourners of 9/11 was held at St. Paul’s Chapel, part of Trinity Episcopal Parish. Present were representatives of several Christian denominations, including the Catholic Church, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Father Madigan said that interfaith solidarity went beyond the fifth anniversary commemoration. “It’s not about coming together today, but about coming together for the past five years. Here in such a diverse city, it’s more than just tolerance. It’s about appreciation for difference.”

He also said that the commitment of relief workers helped New Yorkers avoid crises of faith. “They saw goodness and that’s what really made the difference,” he said. “If they hadn’t been there people might have said, ‘Where is God?”

After 9/11 Father Madigan began to lead the efforts to repair the church and the redesign of St. Joseph’s Chapel as a monument and symbol of remembrance of those who died on that fateful day.

3. In Father Madigan’s Own Words: From the Ashes to the Source of Strength

“. . . Human remains have been vaporized, seemingly impregnable buildings have been pulverized, streets and thoroughfares have been obliterated . . .”

“September 11 forced people to be more reflective, more philosophic, more religious, more transcendental. Options such as faith and hope were no longer considered as options. They were seen as necessities.”

One image that Father Madigan relayed to me that has stayed with me was of the thousands of people streaming out of lower Manhattan “ . . . covered in the beige dust of what had been the World Trade Center.”

He characterized the word responsibility as “Response-Ability” and cited the “wisdom” of the ordinary man exemplified in times of great, unexpected crisis, where one’s strengths and especially one’s limitations come directly into play as we strive to do right and good. Two thoughts solidly expressed by him have to do with what constitutes “wisdom” and the “Kingdom of God.”

“Wisdom cannot exist in the abstract. It is always found embodied in people of character, whose lives have been constructed . . . on habits and virtues honed over time in many small but nonetheless significant acts of generosity, fortitude and compassion. All those acts of heroism and bravery . . . of quite ordinary citizens were modeled from their homes, neighborhoods, schools, churches and synagogues.”

“The Kingdom of God, the presence of God, is found in those spaces between people when we come out of ourselves and connect with each other in the most simple but telling of human gestures of compassion.”

I am not a Catholic . . . still I embrace every quote here as meaningful to me. Father Madigan doesn’t just utter words like ecumenical . . . he has made them a part of his life’s work.

4. Moving On Together – Rebuilding

“That is the challenge and the promise of faith . . . to see that what has all the appearances of death, disintegration and decay, possesses at the very same moment the signs of new life emerging, it is to recognize that even as something is falling apart and breaking up, on a deeper level something else is coming to be, trying to break through.”

“Faith . . . may be the word we need to hear to begin to move on, to heal and to be healed to live lives worthy of those who lost theirs.”

5. Progress In New York City 

He told me that they have repaired most of the damage, and set-up a memorial at St. Joseph’s and an exhibit at St. Peter’s. He also sent me the photo for this article.

World Trade Center Site in 2013

I admire Father Madigan’s example “on the ground” and in the press. I told him that I was proud of him. I told him that I learned a lot from him. He said, “I have learned a lot from you too, Richard.” And he invited me to come back and spend time with him soon. I did. He is now Pastor at The Church of St. Thomas More in NYC.

I believe he and I have been bound in the Kingdom of God for 46 years. My dear mother used to say, “old friends never rust.”

It’s Never Too Late to Honor a Hero for the Heroes.

Video of Hurricane Irma catastrophe:


Lazar Achievement Psychology
About Richard G. Lazar, PhD

Quirky, confident and a bit whimsical. Tough and warm. Not old, just mature and ripe . . . even in retirement.