Retired FDNY firefighter becomes priest

Rev. Thomas Colucci, a 20-year veteran of the FDNY and 9/11 first responder, is considered the first firefighter to become a priest


Michael Randall
The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.

WALDEN, N.Y — The Rev. Thomas Colucci is believed to be the first member of the FDNY to go on to become a priest for the Archdiocese of New York.

Now he is settling in to his role as the new administrator for the Church of the Most Precious Blood in Walden.

"I believe that the Lord has a plan for everybody's life," Colucci said.

Still, Colucci, 63, could not have foreseen everything that lay ahead of him when he was serving as an altar boy at St. Francis of Assisi parish in West Nyack decades ago.

Colucci taught physical education for four years before joining the FDNY. From 1985 to 1994, he was with a fire company in the Bronx, and then from 1994 to 2002 he was stationed with a company in Manhattan's Chelsea section, where he became a lieutenant.

That was also where he was stationed on 9/11. He had gone off duty and was heading home, but like many others he was called back to work after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. The first tower had already fallen when he arrived at what would later be known as Ground Zero.

"We started digging through the rubble," looking for survivors, Colucci said. When the second tower fell, "We all went running. There was dust everywhere."

Colucci was there every day for three weeks. It was a difficult time. When they weren't searching the rubble, firefighters still had to respond to regular calls for fires and other emergencies. And they went to funerals for their lost colleagues and others, as many as they could.

It was an experience that might have shaken one's faith, but Colucci said it actually strengthened his.

"Some people asked: Where was God? Why didn't he stop the planes?" Colucci said. "God was in the rescuers, not just the firefighters and police, but the doctors and the nurses who responded. It reaffirmed my faith and belief in an after-life. There has to be something after this. There has to be an after-life, where wrongs are righted."

Years earlier, Colucci's pastor had suggested he would make a good priest. Colucci, who had just flunked out of college, dismissed the idea at the time. But he had begun going to daily Mass after flunking out of college, and that habit continued. The idea of becoming a priest "had always been in the back of my mind," he said. His 9/11 experiences helped solidify it.

When it was getting close to time for his 20-year retirement from the FDNY, Colucci spoke with a vocations director with the Archdiocese.

Then, in 2005, now a captain, he was injured on the job in an explosion. He underwent two brain surgeries, and even was given the last rites of the church. He pulled through, retired and sought a quiet place to discern whether the priesthood was right for him.

He found that quiet place in a Benedictine monastery, Mount Savior, in Elmira, and he spent seven years there. He got as far as taking his solemn profession as a monk, but did not become a priest for the monastery.

Instead, in 2012, he realized he preferred working with people to the monastic life. He enrolled at the Archdiocese's St. Joseph Seminary at Dunwoodie in Westchester County. Cardinal Timothy Dolan ordained him and 14 others at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 2016.

His first Mass was celebrated at his home parish of St. Francis in West Nyack. His first parish assignment was at St. Mary, Mother of the Church in Fishkill. It's a big parish, with 3,500 members and three priests.

That's where he was in February when he got the call asking him to take the Most Precious Blood assignment.

He figured that meant a June transfer, since that is when most such changes happen. But the previous Most Precious Blood administrator, the Rev. Bill Muhm, was leaving at the end of February to be ordained a bishop for the Archdiocese of the Military Services.

Colucci had two weeks to pack.

"I didn't realize how much stuff I had," Colucci said.

But somehow he got everything moved, including the priest's vestments that were gifts received upon his ordination, his old captain's fire helmet, and a poster with the images of the 343 members of the FDNY lost on 9/11, which hangs on his office wall.

"I knew about 100 of them," he said.

Colucci has only been at the Walden church since March 1, but he's already making an impression.

"I think he's just lovely," Peggy McIntyre said. "His homilies are right to the point, and he has a wonderful sense of humor."

One example of the latter: Among those to whom Colucci gave tickets to his ordination were six nuns who taught him as a child. He anticipated their reaction would be something like: "Tommy Colucci became a priest?"

Colucci already feels at home in Walden.

"They're very nice people, very welcoming," he said. "Everybody is involved here."

He hopes to last as long in his clerical job as he did in his last one.

"If I can do 20 years in the pulpit, I'll be happy," Colucci said.

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©2019 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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