As a new priest on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Father Stephen McGraw was still getting his feet wet in ministry. He had celebrated a Mass for schoolchildren, was late for a burial at Arlington National Cemetery, and stuck in traffic at the Pentagon. But at 9:37am, the priest who took the wrong exit discovered himself at the right place in God’s providence. Terrorists slammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the side of the Pentagon before his very eyes, and the nation would be forever changed.
In this interview with the Register, Father McGraw, now stationed at a parish mission in the Dominican Republic, reflects on that catastrophic day and its aftermath and where God is calling the country even now.
When 9/11 took place, where were you, as a priest, as that unfolded?
I was newly assigned to St. Anthony of Padua — my first assignment as a priest — there in northern Virginia, right near the Pentagon. I had been celebrating St. Anthony’s 8:30am school Mass. So the attacks at the World Trade Center happened during the Mass. But, of course, I wasn’t aware of that. After the Mass was over, I was running late for a burial service. I had to be at Arlington National Cemetery at 10 o’clock, so I pretty much just got right into my car. I had only been there, to Arlington National Cemetery, once, maybe even a couple times, for a burial service.
In any event, I didn’t remember [the route], and without really time to stop and get directions, I just got in my car and decided I would wing it. So I was heading there and saw the exit for the Pentagon: Route 27. I took that route, which was not the way I would have gone if I remembered how [the route to the cemetery] had gone, and basically ended up right in front of the Pentagon. There was a total traffic jam that might have had to do with the World Trade Center.
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