Last year, for the 10th anniversary of September 11, I wrote this reflection as a spiritual New Yorker. I lived and carried out our apostolate there for 13 years:
I grew up in San Diego listening to my Connecticut born and bred mother praising the wonders of New York City. Her parents took her and her siblings there often to visit an aunt who lived and prospered there. For some reason the Museum of Natural History was the place she most often described for us kids.
After three years in the convent in Boston, we novices went by car to New York in November 1970, to have an experience of our apostolate of evangelization with the media and to see what convent life was like in a smaller community than that of the provincial-novitiate house.
We drove our van down the Hudson Parkway and under the George Washington Bridge, with the Cloisters to our left, and the shrine of Mother Cabrini, Sr. Anthony told us. But I fell into something that must be like ecstasy as Manhattan was revealed via the view from the then-elevated West Side Highway. It wouldn’t be closed until 1973 and completely closed and demolished until 1989.
Sr. Anthony also told us that the Sixth Avenue El (elevated) train that used to go up and down the middle of Manhattan was dismantled and the iron sold to the Japanese as scrap and they gave it back in bullets. Learning history from our older nuns was always an eye-opener (this allegation has been always denied by city officials but myths live long and die hard).
Manhattan took my breath away. It looked old and dirty, yes, but the Empire State Building was a visual magnet of promise and wonder. I loved the sense of history that came from the worn and torn look of old buildings and streets.
On the right, the piers, though dilapidated, were still working, and the nose from one of the passenger ships from the Italian Line seemed too close to the highway.
As we neared the tip of Manhattan to take the ferry to Staten Island, Sr. Anthony explained that there, on the left, where there lay an overgrown field several blocks large, where one or two produce companies stood, was where the World Trade Center would be built. What was that? Two big office buildings, the biggest in the world. Aren’t there other produce companies than those two over there? Yes, they just built a new market at Hunts Point in the Bronx. These are going away, too, she said. I don’t recall Sr. Anthony mentioning Mother Seton’s house on the battery; even if she had, it would have just added to my sense of awe.
Although ground had been broken in the late 1960s for what would become a seven building complex, that chilly Sunday afternoon there was no hint of what was to come.