He once fought fires in Hell’s Kitchen. Now he’ll be fighting the fires of hell.
After two decades of beating down blazes and saving lives, retired FDNY Captain Tom Colucci has found a higher calling — he’s about to become a Catholic priest for the New York Archdiocese.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan will welcome Colucci, 60, to the priesthood on Saturday during a special ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“I spent 20 years saving people. Now I will save souls,” said Colucci, the first city firefighter to shed his bunker coat for a priest’s collar.
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“I thought about being a priest earlier in life, but I put it off when I got into the Fire Department. But when I was approaching retirement, I thought about being a priest again.”
Responding to the terror attack at the twin towers on 9/11 — where five of his fellow firefighters at Engine 3 in Chelsea were killed — helped guide his decision, he said.
“As a firefighter, I saw a lot of suffering and misery from bad fires and tragedies like 9/11,” he said. “But as I saw the worst of humanity, I saw the best of humanity as well. That’s what Christ is about.
“You see bad things and wonder, ‘How could God allow this?’ but sometimes tragedies get us closer to God. I realized I want to help people on these spiritual journeys.”
The Rockland County resident, who never married, joined the FDNY in 1985. He retired in 2005 as commander of Ladder 21 in Hell’s Kitchen on W. 38th St. after a gas explosion left him with a head injury.
Yet after two brain surgeries to remove blood clots — one so dire that a priest was asked to give him last rites — Colucci stayed true to his faith.
Once he was fully healed, he began his spiritual mission, first as a Benedictine monk before joining the seminary.
Colucci’s seminary class — a total of 14 men — will be the largest group of new priests in recent memory, he said.
“It shows that people are picking up the vocation,” Colucci said. “There’s a lot of interest in the church again.”
Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese, said Saturday will be a “joyous day.”
“All of our new priests-to-be have great stories, but Tom Colucci’s is truly inspiring,” Zwilling said. “I hope it encourages other men to give the priesthood serious consideration.”
Colucci said that when he’s ordained Saturday, he will be wearing an FDNY T-shirt under his robes as well as a medal of St. Florian, the patron saint of firefighters.
He’s already been asked to officiate the FDNY’s 9/11 Mass this September.
When he does, he said he’ll be sure to wear the vestments his Bravest brothers have bought for him.
Firefighters from his first posting at Engine 81/Ladder 46 in Bronx bought him a gold-embroidered vestment. His brothers at Ladder 21 also purchased him vestments — but they’re fire engine red.
“The vestments say, ‘Brothers forever,’ on them,” he said.