Msgr. Marc J. Filacchione, a longtime FDNY chaplain who was at the scene at the World Trade Center and other venues on 9/11, shared reflections last week on the tragic day.
“It is certainly a date that is going to be remembered forever,” Msgr. Filacchione, 67, told Catholic New York—especially by those, he said, who lost loved ones or who know families impacted by the tragedy, such as the families of firefighters and other first responders who developed illnesses.
“They did a wonderful job, and they’re still paying the price for that work; many of them are still getting sick from 9/11-related illnesses. We’re still losing people...It was a very confusing time. The day was a long day. I didn't get back to the rectory probably until one in the morning.”
Msgr. Filacchione has served as an FDNY chaplain since 1995, and since 2016 as archdiocesan director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and director of the Prison Apostolate.
At the time of 9/11, he was pastor of St. Michael’s on West 34th Street, where he served from 1992 until 2004. He also served as pastor of Our Lady of Victory on William Street in Lower Manhattan, 2004-2016.
Msgr. Filacchione, who was ordained in 1980 and named a monsignor in 1995, has also served as director of the Hospital Apostolate. He was a parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament parish on Staten Island, 1980-1989, and a summer secretary to Cardinal John O’Connor in 1989.
Msgr. Filacchione, reflecting on 9/11, recalled being in the parish office at St. Michael’s that morning. “A parishioner had called me up in the morning after Mass, when the first plane had hit the tower,” he told CNY. “She told me her son was in the building at the World Trade. I remember putting the television on and sure enough the picture of the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center tower was on all of the channels.
“She said her son had just called, that a plane had just hit the tower, the first tower. (He was in that first tower). He got out; he was working. He did get out. And while I was talking with her, the pager went off, the fire department pager. And of course I knew what that was. I knew that we were being called for that event. So I began to make my way down to the World Trade (Center).
“But hearing the number of ambulances and fire trucks and emergency vehicles that were already on the road, I said I wouldn’t make it down there very far. So I took the E train down. I figured it would be easier to get down there by train. I got off at West Fourth Street. The train didn’t go any further because of all the police activity down in Lower Manhattan. The people who were on the subway, they were going to work; they didn't know what was going on up on top, on the street level. They didn’t know that a plane had hit the World Trade; they just knew that the train was being delayed at West Fourth Street. So I got upstairs, and I did get a ride from a police vehicle down to Church Street.
“Not very long after that, debris started coming down from the building. I guess the first building was collapsing. I guess by that time the second building had been hit, and we had to run down into the subway station; the subway station behind St. Paul’s Church, we had to run down there.
“Then the debris started coming down, blocking the entrance to the subway. The police officers down there, they were very helpful getting us out. We walked to the other end of the platform, to the next exit, and that was open and we got out of the subway station. We were filled with powder and everything on our clothes.” (The monsignor eventually learned that the parishioner’s son was among several people who helped a person in a wheelchair down a staircase during their escape).
Msgr. Filacchione and others were overcome by smoke; they received treatment at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Lower Manhattan. He later returned to his parish, cleaned up, changed clothes and then went back to the hospital to comfort firefighters and others being treated there. “Back to the hospital; we weren’t allowed (to return) there at Ground Zero,” he said.
Cardinal Edward Egan, in his Catholic New York column written for the fifth anniversary of 9/11, recalled encountering Msgr. Filacchione at St. Vincent’s. “Within minutes another stretcher-on-wheels arrived, this one bearing one of our archdiocesan priests, Msgr. Marc J. Filacchione, a Catholic chaplain of the New York City Fire Department. He had been overcome by smoke while helping frightened men and women flee...I anointed and blessed him, and he was quickly taken to a room in the hospital.”
In the days, weeks and months that followed 9/11, Msgr. Filacchione and other priests often did return to Ground Zero to bless recovered bodies. “There was a morgue that was set up down there, a temporary morgue,” he said.
During his pastorate at nearby Our Lady of Victory, he served as principal celebrant of 9/11 anniversary Memorial Masses at noontime. “The Mass was done in the years before me; we just followed the tradition. The church was always packed. Many of them had worked down there the day of 9/11. They had their own stories of the events of 9/11, a lot of the survivors. And a number of them lost loved ones, a son or a daughter in the towers, in the events of 9/11.”