Robert Emmett Judge was killed on Sept. 11, 2001. The son of Irish Catholic immigrants, Judge was one of a pair of fraternal twins. He grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the great depression and developed, at an early age, a love for the poor, often giving his last quarter to beggars on the street.
Judge’s father died of a slow and painful illness when the boy was 6 and Judge worked to shine shoes to earn money for the family. At the age of 15, he entered a formation process to become a Franciscan.
In 1961, he was ordained a priest at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C., and took “Mychal” as his religious name. From 1961 to 1986, Father Mychal Judge served at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, St. Joseph Parish in East Rutherford, N.J., Sacred Heart Parish in Rochelle Park, N.J., and St. Joseph Parish in West Milford, N.J.
For three years he served as assistant to the president at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. In 1986, he was assigned to the monastery of St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street, New York, where he lived and worked until his death in 2001.
Around 1971, Judge became an alcoholic, although he never showed obvious signs. In 1978, with the support of Alcoholics Anonymous, he became sober and continued to share his personal story of recovery to help others facing addiction.
In 1992, Father Judge was appointed a chaplain of the Fire Department of New York City. As chaplain, he offered encouragement and prayers at fires, rescues, and hospitals, and counseled firemen and their families, often working 16-hour days. One person said, “His whole ministry was about love. Mychal loved the fire department and they loved him.”
Judge was also well known for ministering to the homeless, the hungry, recovering alcoholics, people with AIDS, the sick, injured, immigrants, and those alienated by the Church.
Father 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?” Father Judge just picked him up, kissed him, and silently rocked him in his arms.
When Islamic terrorists struck the Twin Towers on 9/11, Judge, in his role as a fire chaplain, rushed to the scene where he administered Last Rites to the dead lying on the streets. Witnesses said that, as firefighters rushed into the inferno, Father Judge was pronouncing absolution, knowing that many would not return.
When the South Tower collapsed, a chunk of concrete hit the priest on the head as he was praying. He was killed immediately.
Three firefighters, assisted by two civilian bystanders, gently carried Father Judge’s body through the dust and smoke to nearby St. Peter’s Church and lovingly laid it on the altar. Judge’s body bag was labeled “Victim #0001,” officially making him the first victim of 9/11.
Over 3,000 people attended his funeral, which was presided over by Cardinal Edgar Egan. Former President Bill Clinton, who attended the funeral, said, that Judge’s death was “a special loss.”
Ironically, were Father Mychal Judge alive, he would not be welcomed at the 10th anniversary observation. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned all clergy and all prayer from the upcoming 9/11 memorial service planned to commemorate the tragic events of that day.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at email@example.com.]