Mychal Judge, O.F.M. (May 11, 1933—September 11, 2001), was a Franciscan friar and Catholic priest who served as a chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. It was while serving in that capacity that he was killed, becoming the first certified fatality of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Mychal Judge was born Robert Emmett Judge on May 11, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of immigrants from County Leitrim, Ireland, and the firstborn of a pair of fraternal twins. His twin sister Dympna was born two days later. Judge was baptized in St. Paul’s Church in Brooklyn on June 4. They and their older sister Erin, grew up during the Great Depression. From the ages of three to six, he watched his father suffer and die of mastoiditis, a slow and painful illness of the skull and inner ear. To earn income following his father’s death, Judge shined shoes at New York Penn Station from where he would visit St. Francis of Assisi Church, located across the street. Seeing the Franciscan friars there, he later said, “I realized that I didn’t care for material things… I knew then that I wanted to be a friar.”
In New York, Judge was also well known for ministering to the homeless, the hungry, recovering alcoholics, people with AIDS, the sick, injured, and grieving, immigrants, gays and lesbians and those alienated by the Church and society. For example, Judge once gave the winter coat off his back to a homeless woman in the street, later saying, “She needed it more than me.” When he anointed a man who was dying of AIDS, the man asked him, “Do you think God hates me?” Judge just picked him up, kissed him, and silently rocked him in his arms.
Even before his death, many considered Judge to be a living saint for his extraordinary works of charity and his deep spirituality. While praying, he would sometimes “become so lost in God, as if lost in a trance, that he’d be shocked to find several hours had passed.” Judge’s former spiritual director, the former Jesuit, John J. McNeill, observed that, “He achieved an extraordinary degree of union with the divine. We knew we were dealing with someone directly in line with God.” In life, Mychal Judge ministered in extraordinary imitation of Christ:
“like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart…” (Isaiah 40).
Friar Mychal Judge is already a saint whether or not he is ever formally canonized. Both as a spiritual fact by the grace of God, and by widespread acclamation of the faithful, Mychal Judge is a true saint. For most of the Church’s history, saints were declared by popular acclamation of the faithful. Rome only took control of canonization in the 14th century. But the older tradition of popular acclamation of saints, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is still recognized in the Orthodox Church today. Consistent with the older tradition, Mychal may be properly styled a “Saint”. The faithful widely acclaim him as a saint and pray for his help. Even prior to his heroic death on 9/11, he was widely recognized as a living saint for his deep spirituality and his extraordinary works of mercy.
Mychal Judge never sought to be declared a saint. Like all the saints, he was a sinner who sought to do God’s will. Saints are not perfect people. Their holiness lies in the fact that they allow God to work through their very imperfect, human lives. Mychal Judge was and is a true saint. And like all saints, he should not only be venerated but also imitated. The spiritual reality of Mychal’s sainthood is underscored by at least three medically documented miraculous healings through his intercession (see below). In the end, God makes saints, not Rome. As a patron saint, Mychal is actively praying for us in heaven, interceding with God for our prayer intentions. He promised to do so in his last public words on 9/11. As he rushed into the burning tower, Mayor Rudy Giuliani cried out, “Father Mike, pray for us!” Mychal called back, “I always do! I always pray for you!”
+ Father Mychal Judge, friend of God and friend of all, pray for us +
God has granted at least three documented miraculous healings through Father Mychal’s intercession. In 1995, doctors told firefighter Joe Kennedy and his wife Christine that her unborn baby had hydrocephaly — water on the brain, often associated with mental retardation. Mychal prayed intensively for weeks with both parents, laying his hands on mom’s belly. She later gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby girl. The other two healings were granted after 9/11 when parents prayed to Mychal. A baby boy born with holes in his heart and due for surgery was spontaneously healed. And Matthew Brown was cured of Autism, perhaps the first case ever of remission from autism.
*Compiled from “Wikipedia” and from an article written by John M. Kelley