St. Paul’s Chapel Offers Hope, Healing at Ground Zero

Iconic Communities,On the Road,Travel Destinations
September 1, 2011

Historic church became refuge for 9/11 workers

While the chapel’s battered pews have been replaced, a single original pew remains in the church, draped with a firefighter’s coat. The pews served as makeshift beds for recovery workers after the attacks.Ten years later, St. Paul’s Chapel stands as a symbol of the hope, healing and friendship offered during its months as a 9/11 recovery hub in New York City.From the cemetery behind the chapel, rebuilding continues.Carlos Lopez and Rhonda Villamia remain friends a decade after meeting at St. Paul’s. Lopez was an emergency medical technician, while Villamia was a volunteer who comforted workers during their breaks.Bronx firefighter Joe “Toolie” O’Toole and 9/11 widow Fiona Havlish became each other’s heroes.Open since 1766, St. Paul’s is Manhattan’s oldest continuously used public building and received minimal damage during the attacks.Inside, a sign hangs as a reminder of the heroism of thousands of rescuers at ground zero.Visitors study a 9/11 exhibit.A memorial is covered with photographs and fliers distributed by frantic relatives who searched for their missing loved ones following the attacks.The memorial also honors all victims of war and terrorism everywhere and all who have given their lives in the line of duty.Recovery worker Jim Traynor (left) forged a friendship with Dr. Arthur Gudeon, a podiatrist who volunteered his medical services at St. Paul’s.Havlish and her late husband, Don, during happier times
David Mudd
David Mudd
David Mudd
David Mudd
Used with permission of Philadelphia Inquirer, copyright symbol 2011, all rights reserved
Leo Sorel
David Mudd
David Mudd
David Mudd
David Mudd
David Mudd
Courtesy of Fiona Havlish
While the chapel’s battered pews have been replaced, a single original pew remains in the church, draped with a firefighter’s coat. The pews served as makeshift beds for recovery workers after the attacks.
Ten years later, St. Paul’s Chapel stands as a symbol of the hope, healing and friendship offered during its months as a 9/11 recovery hub in New York City.
From the cemetery behind the chapel, rebuilding continues.
Carlos Lopez and Rhonda Villamia remain friends a decade after meeting at St. Paul’s. Lopez was an emergency medical technician, while Villamia was a volunteer who comforted workers during their breaks.
Bronx firefighter Joe “Toolie” O’Toole and 9/11 widow Fiona Havlish became each other’s heroes.
Open since 1766, St. Paul’s is Manhattan’s oldest continuously used public building and received minimal damage during the attacks.
Inside, a sign hangs as a reminder of the heroism of thousands of rescuers at ground zero.
Visitors study a 9/11 exhibit.
A memorial is covered with photographs and fliers distributed by frantic relatives who searched for their missing loved ones following the attacks.
The memorial also honors all victims of war and terrorism everywhere and all who have given their lives in the line of duty.
Recovery worker Jim Traynor (left) forged a friendship with Dr. Arthur Gudeon, a podiatrist who volunteered his medical services at St. Paul’s.
Havlish and her late husband, Don, during happier times
http://pgoaamericanprofile2.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/l-sept-11-firefighter-coat.jpg

Across the street from the site of the fallen World Trade Center, Carlos Lopez lingers at a Sept. 11 exhibit inside of St. Paul’s Chapel, where he and thousands of other workers found refuge after the terrorist attacks on New York City 10 years ago this month.

“It was pretty much quiet like this most of the time,” says Lopez, 49, of Astoria, N.Y., who at the time was an emergency medical technician with the New York Fire Department. “There’d be areas with a little buzzing of conversation, but low tones, because people were always sleeping.”

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Within these protective walls, Lopez met Rhonda Villamia, then 46, of Sunnyside, N.Y., a volunteer who comforted workers during their breaks from searching for bodies at ground zero, cleaning up tons of debris from the toppled twin towers, and keeping the peace in shell-shocked Lower Manhattan. They struck up a conversation and, during the stressful weeks and months that followed, forged a unique friendship.

“Our own families couldn’t understand what we were seeing and doing [at ground zero], but volunteers like Rhonda did,” Lopez says. “There was a growing closeness to that.”

A decade later, Lopez and Villamia remain close, often getting together for meals or 9/11-related events and reuniting with other volunteers and workers they connected with during those tumultuous months.

“It’s like no time or space has come between us—the special bond that soldiers form when they’re in the trenches,” Villamia says.

Lopez agrees, noting that the relationships forged at the chapel didn’t end when the last battered steel column was removed on May 30, 2002.

“They’ll last the rest of my life,” he says.

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A gaping hole in the north tower of the World Trade Center is left behind by a hijacked passenger jet, setting the building on fire on Sept. 11, 2001.

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