As the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches, Ibar Quirke examines the life of the first official casualty, New York City Fire Department chaplain and Franciscan priest Mychal Judge, a figure many believe to be a candidate for canonisation.
Fr Mychal Judge OFM was born as Robert Emmett Judge on 11th May, 1933, in Brooklyn to Michael Judge and Mary Fallon, immigrants from Keshcarrigan and Drumkeerin, Co Leitrim.
In order to make ends meet financially for his parents and sisters, Dymphna and Erin, shone shoes at Penn Station, around the corner from St Francis of Assisi Church, from the age of six.
He admired the work and simple life-style of the friars whom he knew there. Despite his mother’s opposition, he began training for the Franciscans in 1948 and was professed in 1958. Ordained as a priest in 1961, he spelled his religious name ‘Mychal’ to distinguish himself from all the other ‘Father Michaels’ in the Order.
Fr. Mychal served throughout the USA and in 1986 returned to the location that first inspired his vocation. He remained attached to that friary until his death.
The clergyman was beloved of the poor. He served all those in need regardless of gender, race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and religious persuasion.
A famous anecdote recounts how during a visit to Carlstadt he intervened as a distraught man held his wife and child at gunpoint.
Holding his habit in one hand, the priest scaled a ladder to intervene. Fr .Mychal gently called the man to the window and invited him for coffee. His intervention saved the lives of all involved.
His involvement with the New York City Fire Department commenced in 1992 when he was appointed Chaplain there and assigned to serve the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island.
As a Fire Department chaplain, he was a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Often working for 16 hours daily, he offered prayers at fires and rescues and counselled fire-fighters and their families.
He visited sick and injured people in local hospitals and consoled those who were bereaved. His power to console was legendary.
Fr. Mychal was first official casualty of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On the morning of 11th September 2001, on hearing of the disaster, he changed out of his habit into his FDNY uniform and drove to the scene. As he rushed into the North Tower with fire-fighters, Mayor Rudy Giuliani called out “Fr. Mike, please pray for us”.