HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, N.J. – Deacon Paul Carris is a familiar face at Corpus Christi Church, a friend of faith to many. 

“When I became a deacon, it was really who I am,” said Carris. “It wasn’t so much a decision as it was a response to a call.” 

While he was always a church-going Catholic, he says he would compartmentalize church for the rest of his life. Before his transformation, Carris was an engineer, working in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. 

“We were in the North Tower, 1 World Trade Center, 71st floor,” said Carris “When I started to exit that’s when I met my friend Judith.” 

Judith Toppin, who worked on the same floor, had health problems that made it extremely difficult for her to walk down so many flights of stairs. Carris decided that no matter what happened, he was going to help her get out. 

“It took us almost all the time that we had with the building standing up to get out,” said Carris. “We were probably out of the building 5 to 10 minutes before it came down.” 

The trauma from that day took Carris into dark places, stirring up anger in his soul. Then, a few months later, he had an epiphany. 

“I started studying my faith more, taking classes where I could,” said Carris, who after a retreat and years of therapy, went on to become an ordained deacon in his parish. 

 “It just seemed like a natural thing God was calling me to do,” said Carris. “God turned the relationship much more than I did.” 

Toppin has since passed away, but she remains alive in Carris’ heart. Whether it’s trauma caused by 9/11 or another tragedy, Carris has a message to share: “God is there. God was there in the stairwell with us.”