Woman who lost brother on 9/11 honored as Teacher of Peace

Colleen Kelly, right, with her parents, daughter and son after receiving Pax Christi USA's Teacher of Peace Award. (Courtesy Pax Christi USA)

For hours after the collapse of the towers of the World Trade Center, Colleen Kelly and her best friend’s husband, John Kruger, walked from hospital to hospital in New York hoping to find her brother, Bill.

Bill had been at a breakfast conference at Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the north tower. He wasn’t supposed to be there, but ended up going, having coaxed his boss for the OK.

Everywhere Kelly and Kruger went — Bellevue, Beth Israel, New York University’s health centers — the doctors and nurses were sitting by, waiting for victims from the towers’ demise who would never come.

After several stops, Kelly realized she would never find her brother because he was killed in the disaster along with more than 2,600 others.

The emotions she felt over the loss — sorrow, anger, emptiness — linger today. But so, she said, does a feeling of great hope.

For nearly 10 years, Kelly has joined with more than 200 others who lost loved ones in the disasters of Sept. 11, 2001, in promoting alternatives to war in response to terrorism through September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization she co-founded in early 2002.

Peaceful Tomorrows had its roots in the weeks after Bill’s death as Kelly watched the United States mount a military response to the attacks in Afghanistan. A nurse practitioner who is a member of Visitation Parish in the Bronx, Kelly saw how innocent people were dying halfway around the world at the hands of violence — just like her brother — and that bothered her. When she met others who had a friend or family member who was a 9/11 victim and who were just as concerned about the escalation of violence in response to terrorism, Peaceful Tomorrows was born.

For her work with the organization Kelly was honored with Pax Christi USA’s Teacher of Peace Award Sept. 8 at The
Catholic University of America.

Kelly told Catholic News Service that the memory of her brother and her Catholic faith drives her desire to seek alternatives to war. She said she believes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have eroded America’s moral standing in the world and has led to the same grief among Afghanis and Iraqis who lost innocent loved ones in unnecessary bombings and raids.

It’s the spirit of love, as expressed by the victims in the World Trade Center, that guides Kelly’s path.

She told an audience at the awards program that the final message from nearly every victim to a spouse, child, parent or friend was “I love you.”

“I like to think if that’s how our lives end, most importantly it’s how we should live our lives from beginning to end. So love is the final word. Love is always the message,” she said.

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