Fr. Mychal Judge: The Saint of 9/11
I start my Communion of Saints series with a man who has not yet been recognized by the Church officially as a Saint. But anyone who knew Father Mychal Judge would tell you that the man fit the description. Father Mychal was of the Franciscan order. You can recognize them by the brown robes that they wear. He had a love for the homeless and helped run a soup kitchen in NYC. He had a love for people who suffered from addiction. He himself was a recovering alcoholic. Teenagers would probably find it really easy to relate to Fr. Mychal. He had an earring (although he didn’t always wear it) and also admitted to having a tattoo…although no one saw it and he wouldn’t tell you what it was! Fr. Mychal was also openly gay.
As the fire chaplain for the FDNY he was found himself at the scenes of a lot of horrific events in NYC. On the morning of 9/11/01 he was awaken by another of his Franciscan friar brothers who told him about the events at the WTC. Fr. Mychal threw off his Franciscan robes, threw on his uniform and headed down to ground zero. Former mayor Rudy Guiliani remembers seeing Fr. Mychal running into the north tower. He says that he called out to him “Father Mychal pray for us!”. Fr. Mychal turned and said “I always do! I always pray for you.” (Guiliani: Mayor of America). Fr. Mychal was the only priest known to have entered the trade center towers, although he was not the only priest on the scene that day. But he knew if his boys were going to be there, he was going to be there also. He ran around the lobby of the North Tower giving absolution, praying with victims and for victims. Reports say that as commanders gave the order to evacuate the towers Fr. Mychal said “My work here is not finished!” He couldn’t leave his boys in that building!
It was initially reported that Fr. Mychal died while anointing a fallen firefighter. In fact, the documentary by Jules Nadet shows Fr. Mychal back in the building after that firefighter had died, looking around and praying. Many believe he was praying the Rosary, like he had done at many a fire in NYC as the fire chaplain. Reports say that Fr. Mychal was seen in mezzanine of the building between 9:50-9:55 am. Seeing people jumping from the building he cried out “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”
Fr. Judge was killed approximately 9:59 am when the South Tower collapse sent debris flying through the North Tower. He was hit in the back of the head by debris and died instantly. One of the most famous photographs of 9/11, one that I remember clearly was that of firefighters carrying Fr. Mychal from the scene. They took his body over to St. Peter’s church and wrapped him a white clothe and laid him in front of the altar. They said some prayers and then marched back to the collapsed towers to search for survivors.
Fr. Mychal was the first confirmed death of 9/11, mostly because his was the first body recovered from the scene. He was a brave man, who didn’t have to be where he was that day. But he died doing exactly what he would have wanted to die doing: praying, comforting, loving for those who were suffering so greatly that day. I like to think that he was waiting just on the other side as others crossed over. That he took them by the hand and guided them in to meet His Father.
The Sunday before 9/11 Fr. Judge gave a homily in which he said “No matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea what God is calling you to do. But God needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us.” A few days later they were called to the biggest call they would ever have. Many of them did not come back, including Fr. Mychal. But he was there doing what God had called him to do. God calls each of us to do something too, we just have to be willing to hear and follow that call!
Fr. Mychal’s 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,
and keep me out of Your way.
Fr. Mychal, Pray for us!