The Fireman’s Friar

Listed as Victim 0001 on his body bag, Father Mychal Judge became one of the most recognized images of the victims lost to us on September 11,2001.

Robert Emmet (Mychal) Judge was the son of Irish immigrants. He grew up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression, learning a love for the poor he was to carry with him throughout his life. He took the name Mychal upon entering the Order of Friars Minor in 1961.

In 1992, he became Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York. He worked long hours serving the firemen and their families, developing a love of his work and those he served, and they in turn made the priest a part of their world. He became a man known for ministering to society’s castoffs – the homeless, alcoholics and drug addicts, hungry, and those alienated by the Church.

True to his nature and his calling, Father Mychal rushed to the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. He first ministered to those lying in the street, then entered the North Tower, where he continued his ministry to the injured and dying. When the South Tower collapsed, he was killed by debris.

Many have called for the Roman Catholic Church to have Father Mychal canonized. A Rhode Island fireman named Scott Brown claims a miraculous cure for his four year old son after praying to Father Mychal for his intercession.

There have been reports of miracles from others as well. Mayor Giuliani, on seeing Father Mychal at Ground Zero, asked him to “Please pray for us”, to which he answered “I always do.” The mayor introduced the idea of beatification to New Yorkers, saying “The fire department is going to emerge stronger from this tragedy and Father Judge is going to be there praying for us and supporting us.”

Father Judge’s grave in New Jersey has become somewhat of a shrine and New York’s firefighters presented the white fireman’s helmet of Father Judge to the pope. There have even been requests for a piece of Father Judge’s robe as a relic. There is a usual five year waiting period after a person’s death before the Church will begin the rigorous process for canonization. However, those pursuing canonization for Father Mychal may encounter added resistance from the Church. Father Mychal was a recovering alcoholic, homosexual, and sometimes at odds with his superiors in the Church. He gave solace and last rights to Aids victims when the church was still ignoring them.

On the Sunday before the 9/11 anniversary, The Father Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance takes place every year in New York. Beginning with a Mass at St. Francis Church on West 31st Street, then proceeding to the site of Ground Zero, it retraces Judge’s final journey, with prayers along the way.

“Once in a while,” his friend Michael Duffy, a friar from Philadelphia, said in his homily for Judge, “he would say to me, ‘Michael Duffy’ — he always called me by my full name — ‘Michael Duffy, you know what I need?’ And I would get excited because it was hard to buy him a present or anything. I said, ‘No, what?’

“‘You know what I really need?’

“‘No, what, Mike?’

“‘Absolutely nothing. I don’t need a thing in the world. I am the happiest man on the face of the earth.'”

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