A favorite prayer of Father Mychal Judge was:
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.
The “Saint of 9/11” was born and named Robert Emmett Judge on May 11, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. This documentary has interviewed hundreds of friends and acquaintances of Father Mychal Judge to give us a clear picture of this wonderful human being who died while doing his job at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
One acquaintance described him as “Robes flying, always going. Good looking. Gray hair, powerful hands. Nothing would shock him. A great wonderful laugh. Looked fabulous in his Fire Chaplain regalia. His whole ministry was about love.”
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World Trade Center - Wikimedia
Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest, loved his job as Fire Chaplain to the New York Fire Department where he served for nine years until his death. He has been described as a rousing Irish-American balladeer who wrestled with his own private demons while touching others in powerful and miraculous ways. Mychal Judge knew the pain of loss and suffering. He struggled with alcoholism and was an outspoken AA advocate. He was also a gay man who loved his priestly work. The documentary embraces Mychal’s full humanity.
That Fateful Day
The film shows the large newspaper clipping of Father Judge’s body being carried away from the turmoil at the World Trade Center which he could have left sooner. Mayor Giuliani had said to him “Come with us.” He answered “No, I have to stay with my men.” He had often wondered “What will my last hour be?” This is what Mychal would have wanted to be the last day of his life. He wouldn’t have considered himself a hero on 9/11. He was just doing his job. He was not only a spiritual leader to the firefighters; he was their buddy too.
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New York City Firefighter - Wikimedia
Mychal loved Ireland. He went back to Ireland to the place of his parent’s birth. He always said he was never afraid of death because he would meet his father who died when Mychal was six years old. His only regret was that he never called anyone “Father;” he never called anyone “Dad.” He had a twin sister Dympna and an older sister Erin. They grew up in Brooklyn, the place where the Brooklyn Dodgers brought together people of all colors and creeds in their common love for their home team. It was Mychal’s borough. He loved the Brooklyn Bridge which he walked at least once a week.
A friend of him noticed one day that he didn’t have a jacket, so he gave his jacket to Mychal. He loved it. When he got home, he called his friend who said “Mychal, you gave that jacket away on the way home, didn’t you?” Mychal said “I saw a street person. I had to put it over him.” He often said “I was a human being who became a priest so that I could serve.” That’s who he was. He took God as his father because he had no father.
Order of Friars Minor
When he was 15 years old, Mychal began six years of study with the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) in order to become a priest. He was ordained when he was 27 years old. It was said that he was tremendous at giving a sermon; he hit home with the real stuff. He even gave absolution to the firefighters before they went out on a call, which was against the recommendation of the Bishop.
He drove an old fire car which had all the bells and whistles, and which carried socks, underwear, bottled water, and canned goods, all for the poor. He loved the car because it got him around to do good things. He was graced with the special gift of seeing God in everyone he met.
Mychal was committed to prayer, to the people, to AA, and to his walks. He loved the energy of the city. He liked to walk up 5th Avenue, cross over to Madison Avenue, and up to St. Patrick’s. His church was on 34th Street.
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NYFD Badge - Wikimedia
Coats for the Homeless
Before each winter, he went down to Canal Street to buy coats for homeless people. He would wheel and deal with the store owners, bicker back and forth for price. He would wind up with ten boxes of coats, which is a big thing for people who are addicts or a derelict, walking around with a blanket. He gave them to people with AIDS or addicts.
A Prayer for the Dead
In 1996, a TWA flight crashed. One of the flight attendants was taking her boy to Paris for his birthday. Father Judge was asked to say a prayer. He said “God is present, loving, smiling, having received your loved ones. They are in His presence. His kingdom is enriched this day by so many beautiful souls. Our tears are so abundant. Lord, we need you. Please come and touch us; fill us with courage. Give us signs of your presence. We ask you, we beg you, come.”
He had Mass every night. Everyone came, even Muslims and Jews. It was comforting for all to hear his sermon.
On a visit to Ireland, he told the Irish that many prayers were being said by Americans for peace in Ireland. He pushed a man in a wheelchair around Belfast. The man had become disabled because of the dissension between the two groups. They could have ended up in trouble. The police, helicopters, and military men were there. It didn’t deter him; he still went on ahead.
One man recounted “My wife and I were separated. I was broke, on welfare, at 55. I had to go for food stamps. I had no hope, I thought. Mychal said to me “My God is all powerful. But my God, despite His power, and His all-knowing, has not yet made tomorrow. God does not know what is going to happen, so he doesn’t know the future, so who do you think you are?” He said “Stay in today, don’t get into tomorrow. Everything that happens is somehow within the divine plan.”
His Monastery Days
He told a story once about when he was young and in the monastery. A bad snow storm was happening. His roommate got up and came to the window and stood there next to Mychal. They were both meditating. Mychal could hear him breathing, an inch away from his own body. They stood there for two hours looking out the window. The next morning, the other monk was not at breakfast. The man’s habit and his rosary beads were on the bed. The man had left the monastery.
One part of his personhood was his sexuality. A friend said that Mychal talked to him a lot about being gay. He was not ashamed of it at all. He felt strongly what good men they were. The friend said “we were hypocrites. We did not tell our superiors we were gay or we would not be ordained a priest.” In the street world, he could not come out. Only to his friends would he come out. He wanted to be a chaplain to the firefighters; he did not want to scandalize them if they could not cope with it if they knew he was gay.
A friend related that one evening Mychal declined a drink. The friend said “How come you don’t drink?” He answered “I have an allergy,” and we shook hands. Nobody knew he was an alcoholic. When he was assigned to Siena College, he went to AA. He always had liqueurs on hand and realized it was out of control. He knew what it was to not be your best self. He also knew what it was to be saved. He would say “Isn’t sobriety grand?”
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Franciscan Friars - Wikimedia
Mychal got the OK to go to Canterbury Rehabilitation Center, where there was more time for reflection. He was energetic, vibrant, excited, and quite reflective. He became recharged.
Mychal has been called “the listening priest.” As long as he could remember, he wanted to be a priest. He had to learn ways to counsel people, to help people. He had to remind himself to “let people be.” Consoling people at wakes and funerals can wear you down.
“I pray all the time for guidance to make decisions,” he said. “Lord, show me what you want. The phone will ring or someone will just ask for something. That would be my answer.”
Mychal’s New Ministry
A friend said “I was working with the Gay Mens’ Health Crisis. They needed counseling. So many people abandoned them when the AIDS epidemic hit. I told Mychal my patient was very sick. My patient would like to talk to a gay priest. He drove back to New Jersey. He realized what God wanted him to do. That was the turning point for him. He walked into the hospital. He did not put on a mask. Mychal went in and kissed my patient on the lips.
Mychal said “I talked to my superior; I want to be back in New York; I want to be with the people with AIDs.” He went into hospital rooms. They saw a robed figure; they thought he was their enemy. It pained him. He prayed how to get around the hostility, so he took holy oils and massaged the patient’s feet. Then he talked to them; the hostility would fall away. And he could then enter into a spiritual conversation.
The Last Rites
Larry Boes told Mychal that his close friend Ron wondered if he could he receive the last rites. Father Mychel said he would give him the Annointing of the Sick. Mychal was standing in for God, and he held Ron and rocked him back and forth. He said to the parents “How proud you must be. What a great gift Ron was for your family. You will be blessed by the love that Larry and Ron shared.” He had a direct line to God, and therefore the Church could not get in his way.
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Catholic Altar - Wikimedia
The organization “Dignity” was a church community for Gays. Mychal was a minister for them. It involved the pastoral care of homosexuals. “Our church finally sent a message of rejection, of hostility, when our community needed comfort. We had our final liturgy at St. Francis; the church could no longer support our community.” A member related “We met on Christmas. We missed the ambience of the church. We wondered if Mychal would arrive; he did with the manger and the Christ child. We were not abandoned. He was there with us.”
Mychal visited Lourdes, France. He had great devotion to Mary. He would visit all of her shrines. “You are my God of Surprises.” Michel thought the place to be would be Lourdes. “I told Mary about all our New York people and their needs.
He always said to the firefighters “Keep supporting each other. God gives you a love for it so that a difficult job will be well done.”
On 9/11, a layman was told he could give the Last Rites in a situation like that. He said “Where is Ladder 12?” The chaplain was in the church, he was told. He had been killed.
Mychal’s Funeral Mass
At the funeral mass for Father Mike, Hillary Clinton spoke. She said “We kept hearing about this Franciscan priest who loved his firefighters. We invited him to the White House. He lit up the place like he lit up every place he found himself.
Mychal said to other friars “When you walk down the street and you are wearing your habit, just look at everyone and smile.” He always had a smile on his face. He brought people into a good life; into sobriety.
“Michel never knew he was a Saint. He thought he was one of the worst sinners. Put your own needs second. That’s what Mychal would say.”
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