As the world pauses to remember the horrific terrorist attacks ten years ago on September 11, 2001, we honor the gay and lesbian New Yorkers who were among the nearly 3,000 people who perished that day, or as a direct result of its events.
Much has been written over the last decade about Father Mychal Judge, the openly gay Franciscan priest who died at Ground Zero when hit by debris from the falling towers while assisting New York City firefighters, for whom he'd been chaplain for nine years. Judge is considered the first official casualty of the World Trade Center attacks, his body bag given the designation "Victim 0001".
Born Robert Emmet Judge to Irish immigrants in Brooklyn in 1933, Judge endured a childhood of Depression-era hardship, shining shoes at Penn Station to help the family make ends meet when his father became terminally ill. At 15 he entered the Franciscan seminary, and was ordained as a priest in 1961 at the age of 28, taking the religious name Mychal.
Judge served in Boston and several small towns in New Jersey and New York before returning to New York City. In 1986, when he was assigned to the monastery of Saint Francis of Assisi Church at 135 West 31st Street, where he remained until his death. In 1992 he became chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, where he was a beloved fixture. Judge also lovingly ministered to the city's homeless, AIDS patients, and gay and lesbian Catholics.
Many have called for Judge to be sainted by the Roman Catholic Church. While there is still little indication that this is under serious consideration, he has already been sainted by the independent (and gay-friendlier) Orthodox Catholic Church of America. A Roman Catholic parish in Syracuse, NY announced in August 2011 that Judge would be especially honored at the dedication of its new 9/11 memorial.
Judge's funeral at Saint Francis of Assisi on September 15, 2001 was attended by 3,000 people, among them President Bill Clinton, who praised the priest's life as "an example of what has to prevail." In June 2002, Congress passed the Mychal Judge Police and Fire Chaplains Public Safety Officers Benefit Act, which for the first time granted equal federal benefits to same-sex partners of police and public safety officers.
Several books have been written about Judge's life and work, including Salvatore Sapienza's Mychal's Prayer: Praying with Father Mychal Judge; Michael Daly's The Book of Mychal: The Surprising Life and Heroic Death of Father Mychal Judge; and Michael Ford's Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero.
In 2006, director Glenn Holsten released the critically acclaimed documentary about Judge's life called Saint of 9/11, which was narrated by Sir Ian McKellen. The trailer for the film can be seen here. An excellent blog about Judge can be found here, and a powerful New York magazine article is here.
Every Sunday before September 11, Saint Francis of Assisi holds the Father Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance, tracing the four miles from Judge's former home at the church to the site of his death at Ground Zero. In its first year in 2002, 50 people participated in the walk. In 2011, 600 are expected for the procession, which will be held on September 4.
Judge's last homily at a mass for NYC firefighters on September 10, 2001 contained these words:
That's the way it is. Good days. And bad days. Up days. Down days. Sad days. Happy days. But never a boring day on this job. You do what God has called you to do. You get on that rig, you go out and do the job. No matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea of what God is calling you to do, but God needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us. God needs us to keep supporting each other, to be kind to each other, to love each other.