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Saint of 9/11: Fr. Mychal
A Compilation of Tributes & Memories
by Bridget Haggerty
He was administering the Last Rites to a fallen firefighter when he himself, was struck down. There was no priest available to give Fr. Mychal Judge the final sacrament of his faith. It was up to one of his own, a NYC firefighter, to give him a traditional Roman Catholic spiritual farewell.
Even before 9/11, many people considered Fr. Mychal a hero: the firefighters for whom he served as chaplain, the homeless to whom he gave winter coats, people with AIDS to whom he ministered. But after 9/11, his hero status became official, when Fr. Mychal became the first official recorded victim of the attacks on America that day. Also, according to all accounts of his life, he possessed that rare combination of qualities that are usually attributed to saints: nobility and humility.
On September 10, 2001, less than 24 hours before he died, Fr. Mychal Judge re-dedicated Chief Von Essen's old firehouse in the Bronx. The department has the ceremony on videotape. "Good days, bad days," says Fr. Mychal, clad in a bright white robe. "But never a boring day on this job. You do what God has called you to do. You show up, you put one foot in front of the other, and you do your job, which is a mystery and a surprise. You have no idea, when you get in that rig, what God is calling you to. But he needs you . . . so keep going. Keep supporting each other. Be kind to each other. Love each other. Work together. You love the job. We all do. What a blessing that is.”
It was about 8:50 a.m. on September 11 when word reached the firehouse on West 31st Street about the tragedy in lower Manhattan. Thick, black smoke was already billowing skyward. At Engine Co. 1/Ladder Co. 24, the firefighters climbed into their gear and headed downtown. Across the street at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Mychal Judge did the same. Fellow Franciscan Fr. Brian Carroll went up to Fr. Mychal's room to inform him that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Fr. Carroll recalls that Fr. Mychal quickly took off his Franciscan habit, changed into his chaplain's uniform - and paused to comb and spray his hair. It was his one small nod to vanity - how proud he was of that silver mane! He then headed for the door. The trip from the firehouse to the friars' residence is maybe two dozen steps. It was a trip that Fr. Mike--as he was known among both the homeless and the famous-made many times since becoming FDNY chaplain in 1992.
As thousands of New Yorkers ran for their lives toward midtown, Fr. Mychal jumped in his Fire Department car. With firefighter Michael Weinberg at the wheel and the siren wailing, they sped downtown toward the World Trade Center. He arrived at the burning 110-story towers, where Mayor Giuliani spotted him. Mayor Giuliani recalls grabbing his arm and saying, 'Mychal, please pray for us.' And Mychal just looked at him with a big grin and said, 'I always do!' And then he turned and ran off with his firefighters.
Firefighters found Fr. Mychal’s lifeless body beneath a smashed fire engine and took him to St. Peter’s Church on nearby Barclay Street. They laid him in front of the altar, covered him with a white cloth and his priest’s stole before placing his helmet and chaplain’s badge on his chest. Later, he was taken to Engine 1 and Ladder 24 on West 31st Street, the location where he kept his chaplain’s car.
Nearly 3,000 people attended Fr. Mychal’s funeral Mass; immediate family, hundreds of Franciscans from Holy Name Province, other religious, uniformed members of the fire and police departments, politicians, city and state officials, and friends from all walks of life.
Fr. John Felice, OFM, Provincial Minister of Holy Name Province, Fr. Brophy and Fr. Myles Murphy, a priest from the Archdiocese of New York and a cousin of Fr. Judge, all served as concelebrants. Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM, in service at St. Francis Inn, a Franciscan-run soup kitchen in Philadelphia, gave the homily.
Fr. Duffy told the congregation "His heart was open, his ears were open and he truly was a people person. When he was talking to you, he made you feel like you were the only person on the face of the earth. Fr. Judge loved to be where the action was. He loved to be where there was a crisis, so he could serve God."
A bit of Mychal’s background
Fr. Mychal’s dad, Michael Judge, was from the Co. Leitrim village of Keshcarrigan. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1926 and met his future wife Mary Fallon from Drumkeerin on the boat taking them both to America. They married and settled in Brooklyn where Mary bore three children; Mychal who was born on May 11, 1933, and his twin sister Dymphna who was born two days afterwards. A third sibling, Erin, came along to complete the family.
Tragically, the children lost their father to a long and painful illness. To help his mother and two sisters make ends meet, six-year old Mychal shined shoes at Penn Station, ran errands and did odd jobs. Just around the corner, on West 31st Street, stood St. Francis Church and Friary. It was there that young Mychal first got to know the friars and was drawn to join the Franciscans.
In 1961 he was ordained and assigned to St. Joseph’s Church in East Rutherford and Sacred Heart in Rochelle Park, N.J., before serving as assistant to the president at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. He was later named pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in West Milford, N.J., before becoming a fire chaplain in 1992. "I always wanted to be a priest or a fireman, now I’m both," he quipped at the time.
Although he was spiritually crushed when he heard the news of Fr. Mychal’s death, Fr. Duffy went on to tell the congregation that he saw God’s purpose in choosing Fr. Mike to be among the first to die in the line of duty. "We’re going to have more and more people brought out of the rubble and Mychal Judge is going to greet them on the other side of death," he said. "He’s going to greet them with his big Irish smile. He’s going to take them by the hand and say, ‘Welcome, let me take you to our Father."
Fr. Mychal was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, N.J., and is survived by his two sisters, Erin McTernan and Dympna Jessich.
How Mychal is Remembered in Leitrim
On the fourth anniversary of 9/11, family and friends gathered in the Judge ancestral home of Keshcarrigan in Co. Leitrim to pay tribute to Mychal and dedicate a memorial and a peace garden to his memory.
Fr. Mychal’s twin sister, Dympna Jessich, was guest of honor at the ceremony on the shores of Kesh Lake, still known locally as Judge’s Shore.
She told locals who gathered for the ceremony that the nine years her brother had spent as chaplain to the New York Fire Department were "the happiest nine years of his life. He died just as he had lived. Nobody who knew him could have imagined him dying with his head on a pillow," she said. "I think Mychal wishes he was here," she added, before presenting the people of the village with the two flags that draped her brother’s coffin the flag of the New York City Fire Department and the Stars and Stripes. The ceremony was also attended by Fr. Judge’s successor, Fr. Chris Keenan, and representatives of the fire departments of New York and Leitrim.
Fr. Mychal had visited Keshcarrigan just a year before he died trying to help survivors trapped in the Twin Towers. Local farmer John Keaney recalled how moved the Franciscan priest had been as he took away a pebble as a keepsake from what remained of the Judge home. "If you won the Sweep or the Lotto you wouldn’t be as happy as he was that day," he told reporters.
The garden and memorial is located on ground formerly owned by the Judge family, overlooking Keshcarrigan Lake. It is hoped that the garden will be an oasis of peace, meditation and reflection and will encourage a sense of reconciliation which in turn may spread a message of hope throughout the world. It’s what Fr. Mychal would have wanted.
Saint of 9/11 - The Movie
Narrated by Ian McKellen, this gentle documentary tells the story of Fr. Mychal's life from his childhood in Brooklyn, to his ordination as a priest, to his death at Ground Zero. Since its premiere, Saint of 9/11 has been selected for film festivals in Montreal and Jerusalem as well as other U.S. cities. The fact that it is a documentary released in 2006 made the film a natural to include in some cities' commemorations of the fifth anniversary of 9/11. In Patchogue, N.Y. the film was introduced on 9/12/06 by the Rev. Kevin Smith, chaplain of the local fire department, who found Judge's body and had it placed at the altar of St. Peter's Church in Lower Manhattan. Other screenings included Boston, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle.
Saint of 9/11 weaves interviews with friends, colleagues, congregants and archival footage with Mychal’s words. It portrays Mychal’s life as a spiritual adventure and an honest embrace of life, - a life’s journey interrupted.
The DVD is now available. For more details, please click Saint of 911.
A stretch of West 31st in Manhattan and a Hudson River ferry are named for him.
Pope John Paul II accepted Mychal’s fire helmet from a contingent of city firefighters in the Vatican.
Fr. Mychal's poster-sized portrait still stands inside the front door of Engine Co. 1/Ladder Co. 24, his local firehouse.
A book on his 68-year life is in the works.
A worldwide movement is building to have him declared a saint.
All the world over, people are reciting his prayer:
Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say;
Keep me out of your way
Amen, Mychal. Amen.
Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.
Friar Michael Duffy, O.F.M
John Bookser Feister
Most images are from the Saint of 9/11 Gallery which credits individual photographers, including Shannon Stapleton who took the now world-famous WTC “Pieta” shot.
Bust photo and other images: Friar jack Wintz O.F. M.
Gravesite Image: Phillip Jacobs/the Anthonian
Saint of 9/11
St. Anthony Messenger
The Wild Geese
Thu, May 9, 2013
Founded in 545 AD by St Ciaran, Clonmacnoise monastery became between the 7th and 12th centuries a religious, literature and arts center for monks all over Europe. They came to study and pray in the Island of saints and scholars when the rest of Europe was still in the Dark Ages. Clonmacnoise was totally devastated by fire as well as successive raids but the site retains its stunning features. The view captured in this image has remained relatively unchanged for 1500 years. Clonmacnoise lay in decay until the Office of Public Works began the arduous task of turning this sacred place into one of Ireland's most famous visitors' centres. Interestingly - and we have yet to find out why - for centuries, courting couples have stood on each side of the arch whispering their words of love to each other.
For a print of this photograph, click Clonmacnoise
Click for More Culture Corner.
9/11 - The Filmmakers' Commemorative Edition
We watched this program when it was originally broadcast on CBS in March 2002. It is an extraordinarily powerful one-of-a-kind documentary that starts out as a portrait of a rookie firefighter in NYC. By the time filming was finished, the filmmakers had captured history in the making, including the only image of the first jetliner striking Tower 1, and the only footage from within the tower as it collapsed. With cameras rolling, the filmmakers followed NYC firefighters into the heart of what would be known as Ground Zero. What emerged is a stirring tribute to real-life heroes who, in their city's darkest hour, rose to extraordinary acts of courage and compassion.
Click here for 911 - The Filmakers Commemorative Edition.
Saint of 9/11
In Memoriam - NYC - 9/11
Interviews with friends, colleagues, congregants and archival footage with Mychal's words and shows the full humanity of a special life interrupted. Narrated by Sir Ian McKellen. Features interviews with famed author Malachy McCourt and former New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen.
Click here for Saint of 9/11
An incredible gathering of still and video material from more than 100 people in and around New York City who witnessed the day's events.
Click here for In Memoriam.