"You do what God has called you to do. You get on that rig, you go out and do the job. No matter how big the call, no matter how small,you have no idea of what God is calling you to do, but God needs you.
He needs me. He needs all of us.
God needs us to keep supporting each other, to be kind to each other, to love each other."
Father Mychal Judge, OFM
Mass for Firefighters
September 10, 2001
Just one day after he preached these words at his last homily, Fr. Mychal would rush out of his rectory upon hearing that the World Trade Center had been hit by two planes in a terrorist attack. Bodies already lay in the streets around the buildings. Fr. Mychal was met by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who asked him to pray for the city in its most tragic hour. The mayor also reportedly urged Fr. Mychal to stay with him, but the priest insisted he needed to be with his men.
As the chaplain of the New York City firefighters, Fr. Mychal prayed over many of those who had fallen or leapt from the tower, and he entered the lobby of the World Trade Center North Tower to offer aid and prayers for the rescuers.
New York Daily News columnist Michael Daly reported that Judge, bent over victims, repeatedly prayed aloud, “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”
At 9:59 AM, the South Tower collapsed. Heavy debris exploded into the North Tower lobby, killing many inside. Fr. Mychal was one of the casualties. A policeman, two firemen, an FDNY emergency medical technician, and one civilian volunteer found and carried Fr. Mychal’s body out of the North Tower. That moment was captured by a Reuters photographer, Shannon Stapleton, and became perhaps the most iconic image of the tragedy.
Fr. Mychal’s body was laid before the altar of St. Peter’s Catholic Church before being taken to the medical examiner. He is officially labeled by NYC as victim 0001 of the World Trade Center attack. Fr. Mychal Judge’s name is on Panel S-18 of the National September 11 Memorial’s South Pool.
At the official body identification, it was former NYPD officer Steven McDonald who reportedly identified Fr. Mychal’s body. A former US Navy hospital corpsman and third-generation police officer, McDonald met Fr. Mychal after being shot three times by a fifteen-year-old boy, which left him paralyzed from the neck down and in need of a ventilator.
McDonald says he was bitter and angry over the shooting. He credits Fr. Mychal with reaffirming his faith in God. “He, more than anything…reaffirmed, reaffirmed my faith in God, and [said] that it was important to me to forgive the boy who shot me,” he told a Democracy Now reporter. “And I’m alive today because of that.” McDonald reached out to the young man who had shot him and had been sent to jail. They spoke on the phone and they became friends, according to McDonald.
Fr. Mychal worked with the homeless, AIDS victims, and anyone who needed to be reminded of Christ’s love. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933, Robert Emmett Judge was one of a pair of twins. His sister Dympna was born two days later, and they were both baptized in St. Paul’s Church.
It wasn’t an easy life. The Great Depression was hard on everyone. Judge’s father died when he was only six, and he was forced to earn income for the family shining shoes at Penn Station.
When he could, he would often walk across the street to St. Francis of Assisi Church, where he was always impressed by the friars here.
“God gave me the vocation, considering my person, to be a follower of St. Francis, where I truly believe I fit in perfectly,” he was quoted as saying in Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero. “I’ve never wanted to be anything else.”
Educated at Catholic schools, he entered the seminary at age 15. Upon graduation, he enrolled at St. Bonaventure University. Upon receiving his religious habit, he received the name Fallon Michael, which he later shortened and changed to Mychal (which is the Gaelic spelling.)
He professed his vows as a full member of the Franciscan Order in 1958. After completing his theological studies at Holy Name College Seminary in Washington, DC, he was ordained a priest in 1961.
After serving in parishes in Boston, New Jersey, and the Bronx, he served as assistant to the president of Siena College. Fr. Mychal battled alcoholism, but with the support of Alcoholics Anonymous, he became sober in 1978. In 1986, Fr. Mychal returned home, in a way, as he was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan, the church he had sat in as a young boy.
In 1992, Fr. Mychal was appointed chaplain to the New York City fire department. But Fr. Mychal was already famous in the city for ministering to the hungry and homeless, the drug addicts and alcoholics, those sick with HIV and AIDS, the grieving, gays and lesbians, and anyone who needed help. In fact, Fr. Mychal considered himself homosexual, yet remained celibate as a priest.
Fr. Mychal saw the city as his ministry. His simple prayer, according to Beliefnet.com, was, “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.”
God took Fr. Mychal many places, even to the top of a ladder, pleading with a gunman to spare his wife and baby. Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM, recalled in his eulogy a time when he returned to the friary only to be told, “There’s a hostage situation in Carlstadt and Mychal Judge is up there.”
I got in the car and drove there: A man on the second floor with a gun pointed to his wife’s head and the baby in her arms. He threatened to kill her. There were several people around, lights, policemen and a fire truck. And where was Mychal Judge? Up on the ladder in his habit, on the top of the ladder, talking to the man through the window of the second floor. I nearly died because in one hand he had his habit out like this, because he didn’t want to trip.
So, he was hanging on the ladder with one hand. He wasn’t very dexterous, anyway. His head was bobbing like, “Well, you know, John, maybe we can work this out. This really isn’t the way to do it. Why don’t you come downstairs, and we’ll have a cup of coffee and talk this thing over?”
I thought, “He’s going to fall off the ladder. There’s going to be gunplay.” Not one ounce of fear did he show. He was telling him, “You know, you’re a good man, John. You don’t need to do this.” I don’t know what happened, but he put the gun down and the wife and the baby’s lives were saved.
Fr. Mychal simply wished to go where God needed him. And he could never refuse God anything. “The wonderful thing is saying yes and accepting God’s grace. We could say no and walk away. But when we say yes and go forward, great and wonderful things will happen,” Fr. Mychal reportedly said. “It takes courage in the midst of fear, but you do it with the grace of God.”
Great courage is what Fr. Mychal showed the world throughout his life and on the day when the world needed courage. On the darkest day, when the world needed to be reminded of Christ’s love, Fr. Mychal Judge showed us that light.