CHAPLAIN FOLLOWS SAINTLY FOOTSTEPS

July 31, 2002 --

The Rev. Chris Keenan walked into a firehouse 10 months ago to find his sad premonition proven true: His friend of 38 years, Fire Department chaplain Mychal Judge, was killed at the World Trade Center.

Very quickly, "Father Mike" became a Sept. 11 icon, a candidate for canonization. And just as swiftly, Keenan emerged as a candidate to replace the martyred Judge - a thought that left the would-be successor "anxious and afraid."

How to follow a putative saint? How to handle the grief and loss?

Barely two months later, Keenan, 60, found that "serenity and peace" had replaced his fears. In a ceremony at fire headquarters, he received FDNY chaplain's shield No. 24.

But the chaplain's job in the post-Sept. 11 world had little to do with fire.

"It's the morgue and notifications and wakes and funerals," he says, reciting the sad litany of duties. "Burn units, counseling centers, meetings with the 343 families who lost firefighters."

When Keenan leaves Ground Zero, it never fully leaves him. At a recent lunch with his niece and nephew, he and a waitress began crying as the children studied a Fire Department patch with the Twin Towers intact on the New York skyline.

"You hit those moments," he explains in measured tones. "It's just really tough." AP


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