[A recent weekend marked] the 20th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/ll. So much time has passed since the attack on our nation in 2001, and we should pray that healing has entered the lives of all survivors. We must also never forget those we lost that day, the heroism of first responders, and the heroism of all those who have put their lives on the line ever since to protect our nation from future attacks.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk has been at the forefront of keeping these heroes alive in our hearts. This event has been held annually on the last Sunday in September ever since 2002, when 1,500 people gathered to retrace the steps of FDNY firefighter Stephen Siller, and it has grown since then into one of the top 5K runs in America.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation - which hosts the 5K Run & Walk, along with 70 other events in their "Run, Walk, Climb" series - has grown and thrived because of the tremendous spirit of the family of Stephen Siller, a father of five whose story is one of exceptional bravery.
On September 11, 2001, Stephen had just gotten off duty at Brooklyn's Squad 1 when he heard over his scanner that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He called his wife and told her he was returning to the firehouse to get his gear so that he could head to Manhattan to do whatever he could to help out. Arriving at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel only to find a traffic jam, Stephen got out of his car, strapped 60 pounds of gear on his back, and raced on foot through the tunnel and to the towers, where he made the ultimate sacrifice while saving others.
The following year, Stephen’s family organized The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk, a charity event that raises money for first responders and catastrophically injured veterans. Since that time, their foundation has raised $250 million for American heroes and their families, and they've educated over half a million people with their 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit. This year, to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Frank Siller, Stephen's older brother, set off in early August on a nearly 600-mile walk from the Pentagon to Ground-Zero in Manhattan to honor all those who lost their lives on that tragic day.
In 2019, The Christophers were honored to present our Leadership Award to Frank for the work he and his family have done through their charity to help first responders and Gold Star families, as well as their efforts to build smart homes for injured veterans. In his remarks upon receiving our award, Frank said, "My parents had seven kids. We were very poor, but we were never too poor to do something good for our neighbors." He also mentioned how his parents regularly quoted St. Francis of Assisi, saying, "While we have time, let us do good"” a quote Siller and his siblings have adopted as the mantra for their foundation.
The Siller family's response to their unspeakable loss in the tragedy of 9/11 exemplifies how we are all called to respond to suffering in this world - and especially to the loss of loved ones. While we mourn their loss, we must also take inspiration from the good they have done. And we must remember, "While we have time, let us do good."
This essay is a recent "Light One Candle" column by Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers' Board of Directors ; it is one of a series of weekly columns that deal with a variety of topics and current events.