9/11: Fifteen years later, two priests who ministered at Ground Zero hospital return for anniversary

Father Jeff Ethen
Father Jeff Ethen

Fifteen years ago, local priests Father Jeff Ethen and Father Peter Kirchner set out for a vacation — a trip to New York City to take in the sights.

Because of a hurricane along the East Coast, their plane was delayed and instead of arriving around noon, it was closer to midnight when they reached Leo House, a Catholic guesthouse for travelers, where the two priests were staying.

Since they got in so late, the next morning they lingered over coffee with the Sisters of St. Agnes, who are the caretakers of the house. They had planned to have breakfast that morning — Sept. 11, 2001 — at the Windows of the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center.

Instead, as the first news reports started coming in of the attacks on the Twin Towers, Father Ethen and Father Kirchner headed toward the nearest hospital, St. Vincent’s, just blocks from where they were staying.

Father Peter Kirchner
Father Peter Kirchner

There they met then-Archbishop of New York Cardinal Edward Egan and the three of them formed a spiritual team, ministering to those who were being brought in for treatment, many of them firefighters and rescue workers.

The two priests visited Ground Zero on the first, fifth and 10th anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks. This year, they plan to return to Leo House and celebrate Mass there on Sept. 11.

Father Ethen is pastor of St. Leonard Parish in Pelican Rapids and St. Elizabeth in Elizabeth; Father Peter Kirchner, is pastor of St. Donatus in Brooten, St. Francis de Sales in Belgrade and Sts. Peter and Paul in Elrosa.

“We will open it up for people to reflect on that day for themselves,” Father Ethen said. “After 15 years, the world is no better off, but I always have hope that we will learn to get along, that we are more aware of suffering in the world and that people will discover that God is truly present.” After celebrating Mass at Leo House, Fathers Ethen and Kirchner will visit the Ground Zero Memorial Museum and attend a memorial concert.

Author: The Visitor

The Visitor is the official newpaper for the Diocese of Saint Cloud.

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