Over at Our Sunday Visitor, Mary DeTurris Poust offers portraits of three people who answered a call to vocation in the aftermath of 9/11, including newly ordained Deacon Paul Carris.
When Paul Carris went to work on the 71st floor of One World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, he never could have imagined he’d save a life that morning and in the process plant the seeds of a religious vocation that would rise from the choking ash of that tragic day to give him new direction and renewed hope.
The New Jersey engineer, who was only six weeks on the job with the Port Authority when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,700 people, was ordained a deacon this year due in large part to the events that unfolded on 9/11 and in the weeks and months that followed. To hear him tell it, the woman whose life he saved returned the favor in a less dramatic but no less meaningful way.
To this day, Deacon Carris still doesn’t know what made him walk over to Judith Toppin, a stranger who was unable to leave the building on her own because of a bad heart and swollen legs, and promise her: “We are going to walk out of this building together.” Ninety minutes and 71 floors later they did just that, among the last — if not the last — to escape the building before it came crashing down. Toppin later wrote a reflection, “Angels Walk Among Us,” recounting their harrowing experience. When Deacon Carris read it, something inside shifted.
“Judith’s description of me was of someone who made all of the right moves that day and did exactly what was needed to keep her calm, get her down the stairs, get her out of that building and walk in the right direction. Who would not want to be that person? I guess what struck me is that her description set a bar of perfection that I have never lived up to. I wished that I could make all the ‘right’ decisions and moves in my own life. Unrealistic — obviously — but for that few-hour period, I was able to accomplish that,” he told OSV. “But as Judith also pointed out — all the right moves were done by the grace of God that guided us. That is where the evaluation of my life began and brought me to realize that I needed God, not myself, to make the right moves in my own life.”
Going from that realization to ordination was not an easy or direct route. Deacon Carris had to battle severe anger and rage in the wake of 9/11, which he did with the help of friends and priests who showed up in his life at just the right time. “God put certain people in the exact right places he needed to when I needed them,” he said, adding that it was an invitation to attend a Cursillo retreat that really made him take notice of a calling he hadn’t recognized until then.
“I had been searching for something and didn’t know what it was. 9/11 made me aware that something was missing. Cursillo made me realize what I was missing was God,” he said, explaining that the Cursillo set him on a path of spiritual reading, prayer and, eventually, service. “That was something new. Once I hit the service side, that’s when I started talking about the diaconate.”
Deacon Carris was ordained May 21 for the Archdiocese of Newark. He’ll be handling adult faith formation and other pastoral responsibilities at Corpus Christi Parish in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., where he plans to use his unique life experience to give people “another way of looking at things, try to lift them up.”
Read the rest to learn how two others — a priest and a nun — also heard The Call because of 9/11.