Chaplain Mychal Judge
Laid to Rest on
September 15, 2001
YORK, N.Y. - Father Mychal Judge, OFM, chaplain to the New York
City fire department since 1992, died Tuesday, Sept. 11 in a hail
of steel and concrete as he administered last rites to a firefighter
near the scene of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Father Judge became the first officially recorded fatality following
the attack. He was 68.
losses within our fire department are staggering, but I know Father
Judge is praying for us," New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani
said. "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."
found Father Judge's lifeless body beneath a smashed fire engine
at "ground zero" and took him to St. Peter's Church
on nearby Barclay Street. They laid the friar 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. He was then
taken to Engine 1 and Ladder 24 on West 31st Street here, the
location where he kept his chaplain's car. "There is a lot
of sadness because this is a tremendous loss, but the manner in
which Mychal died is also a great honor because he died in service,"
said Father Peter Brophy, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi
Church, located almost directly across the street from the firehouse.
"As a friar, I'm honored by who he was and how he reached
out to people no matter who they were."
Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York, who was the principal celebrant
of Father Judge's funeral Mass Saturday, Sept. 15 at St. Francis
of Assisi Church said, "New York is going to be rebuilt better
and stronger than ever before out of the blood and sweat of our
It was estimated that more than 2,800 people attended Father Judge's
funeral Mass including hundreds of Franciscans from Holy Name
Province, religious, uniformed members of the fire and police
departments and friends. The mourners also included former President
Bill Clinton, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, their daughter,
Chelsea, New York Public Advocate Mark Green, former New York
Mayor David Dinkins and former New York City Police Chief William
John Felice, OFM, Provincial Minister of Holy Name Province, Father
Brophy and Father Myles Murphy, a priest from the Archdiocese
of New York and a cousin of Father Judge, all served as concelebrants.
Father Michael Duffy, OFM, in service at St. Francis Inn, a Franciscan-run
soup kitchen in Philadelphia, was the homilist. During the homily,
Father Duffy told the congregation he served with Father Judge
during the early 1970s at St. Joseph's Church in East Rutherford,
N.J. He recalled Father Judge, then pastor, would always put the
needs of his parishioners first, especially if they needed someone
to talk to or listen to their problems. "His heart was open,
his ears were open and he truly was a people person," Father
Duffy said. "When he was talking to you, he made you feel
like you were the only person on the face of the earth."
Father Duffy also said, "Father Judge loved to be where the
action was. He loved to be where there was a crisis, so he could
1986 after Father Judge returned from studying in England, he
was called to Bellevue Hospital to say Mass for New York City
police officer Steven McDonald, who was left paralyzed from the
neck down after being shot by a 15-year-old he was questioning
in Central Park. "When I first saw him, he was just lying
in bed, motionless," Father Judge told this reporter, this
past July. "He was in bad shape, but determined to live."
the days and years following the shooting, Father Judge became
extremely close to McDonald, his wife, Patti Ann and their son,
Conor. The priest also had the opportunity to travel with McDonald
during a number speaking engagements in the United States and
Northern Ireland. "He was my confessor, my spiritual advisor
and my best friend," McDonald said. "He was my idea
of what a priest should be and above all, he was a living example
of Jesus Christ. I'm going to miss him a great deal and I'm not
sure what I'm going to do without him."
McDonald called Father Judge to inform him about the 1996 crash
of TWA flight 800 off Long Island in which all 230 people aboard
were killed. For more than two weeks straight, Father Judge drove
daily from Manhattan to the Ramada Hotel near JFK Airport. There
he spent 12 hours a day consoling friends and families who lost
their loved ones. He also celebrated Mass every other day, participated
in counseling sessions for people of all denominations and organized
ecumenical, memorial prayer services for the victims' families
and TWA personnel. "When that call came through it was the
Lord calling me somehow," he told this reporter, some years
ago, during a visit to his third-floor room at the friary, which
overlooks Engine 1 and Ladder 24. "I went out there that
night and I stayed there for all hours of the morning, talking
to people from all over the country and all over the world."
tragedy struck on Sept. 11, Father Brian Carroll, OFM, went up
to Father Judge's room to inform him that a plane had just crashed
into one of the World Trade Center towers. Father Carroll recalled
that without hesitation, Father Judge quickly took off his Franciscan
habit, changed into his chaplain's uniform and headed for the
door. That was the last time the friar would see his friend alive.
in Brooklyn, the son of two Irish immigrants from County Leitrim,
Father Judge watched his father die from a long illness. As a
result, the six-year-old was unable to establish a relationship
with his father. To help his mother and two sisters make ends
meet, he shined shoes at Penn Station, ran errands and did odd
jobs, before being called to his Franciscan vocation at 15. He
was ordained in 1961 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,"
Father Judge told me some years ago. "I had to bust my tail
to get this habit, so I wear it always. I wanted to be a Franciscan
so bad and this is something I believe so strongly in and I have
absolutely no regrets."
In addition to his work with the fire department, Father Judge
was also involved in ministering to AIDS/HIV patients, recovering
alcoholics and with the simply professed friars who have been
associated with Holy Name Province for less than five years. Although
Father Duffy told the congregation he was spiritually crushed
when he heard the news of Father Judge's death, he saw God's purpose
for choosing him 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.'"
Judge was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, N.J., and
is survived by two sisters, Erin McTernan and Dympna Jessich,
both of Berlin, Md.
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