November 7, 2002
 

Remembering Mychal Judge, O.F.M.:
A Photographic Visit to His Old Stamping Grounds

by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

A visit to the firehouse
'There were no boundaries to Mychal's love'
A visit to Mychal's room—where his successor now lives



When he was still a kid living in Brooklyn, Mychal Judge used to come over to Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan to shine shoes. Just around the corner, on West 31st Street, stood the ever-popular St. Francis Church and Friary. It was there that young Judge first got to know the friars and was drawn to join the Franciscans. Today, a simple street sign across from Penn Station (on the corner of West 31st Street and Seventh Avenue) reads "Father Mychal F. Judge Street" in honor of the firefighter chaplain who gave his life trying to comfort others at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

When visiting New York in early October, I had the good fortune to stay with my brother Franciscans for five days in the large friary at 135 West 31st Street. This is where Father Mychal Judge lived the last 15 years of his life along with the dozens of other friars who zealously minister at St. Francis Church or work with poor and homeless people in the neighborhood. Having my camera and notebook with me, it dawned on me that I should take a close look at some of the places and personalities around St. Francis Church and Friary that are now linked to the memory of Mychal Judge. This would include his room, the firehouse across the street from the church and a few of the Franciscan friars that Father Mychal lived with.

In a friary office, Father Cassian Miles, O.F.M., a classmate of Mychal Judge, showed me a new portrait of Father Mychal, which was to be unveiled that evening (October 4, 2002) at a benefit in honor of the friar. Cassian also took me into St. Francis Church to show me the wonderful new stained glass window built into the west wall of the church in honor of all those who gave their lives on 9/11. The window contains a small shadow image of Father Mychal.

A visit to the firehouse

The next day, another classmate of Father Mychal, Father Patrick Fitzgerald, O.F.M., accompanied me across the street to the firehouse to view a bronze bust of Father Mychal, which the firefighters had installed near the back of the station. Patrick posed for a photo next to the bust of his friend. This firehouse had been a primary focus of Father Mychal's ministry for the ten years before he died. It was from this fire station that he sped off toward the World Trade Center on September 11 with Captain Danny Brethel on a mission of loving service from which neither would return.

When Father Patrick and I returned to the front of the firehouse and stood facing the church and friary across the street, Patrick pointed out the window of the room where Mychal lived. He did so, recalling that whenever the firefighters would rush out on a call with their sirens going, Mychal—if in his room at the time—would go over to that window, raise his hand in blessing and pray for the firefighters.

'There were no boundaries to Mychal's love'

Later on, Patrick sat down with me and privately shared his memories of Mychal Judge. He said he considered Mychal his "best friend." Besides being classmates, he and Mychal had been each other's spiritual confidants and sounding boards for the last 15 years when they both lived at St. Francis Friary. The two would go out for dinner and often take long walks in the evening. The death of Mychal was a great loss for Father Patrick.

"Mychal was the type of guy who would give you the shirt off his back," Father Patrick recalled. "If someone gave him an expensive gift, he would often turn around and generously give it away to someone else. One day he gave me a beautiful Buffalo Bills football jacket. He knew I was from Buffalo, New York, and a great fan of the Buffalo Bills. So one day, Mychal saw this jacket on sale in some shop and, on impulse, bought it for me! He was known for big loving gestures like that."

"That's how I remember Mychal. He was very generous with his time and talent. There were no boundaries to Mychal's love. He was very inclusive. There was not an ounce of racism, sexism or religious discrimination in his bones. Since his death, many people have come forward from the four corners of the globe saying they had experienced Mychal's loving care and concern—poor people, rich people, Catholics and Muslims, men and women of all persuasions."

In many ways, Mychal was very traditional and devout in his Catholic practices, Father Patrick said. "He kept a rosary on the gearshift of his car and would often pray the beads while driving. He had a special devotion to Mary, St. Francis and to the Blessed Sacrament. At the end of the day, he often stopped to pray in the 3rd-floor friary chapel. He would say morning and evening prayers on his knees at the side of his bed."

"Most of all, Mychal was super-generous with his time for others, ready to care for anyone, no matter what their economic, ethnic or religious background or sexual identity. With great compassion, he visited and ministered to people living with HIV and AIDS at a time when many in the Church would not go anywhere near these individuals. We could all learn a lot from Father Mychal's unconditional and inclusive kind of love—his accepting of others as they are. A real sense of God's overflowing goodness was reflected in the generous love that Mychal showed to others.

A visit to Mychal's room—where his successor now lives

During my stay at the West 31st Street friary, I also ran into Father Chris Keenan, O.F.M., the friar who succeeded Father Mychal as firefighter chaplain. Father Chris graciously invited me to see the room which Mychal had occupied while he served as firefighter chaplain. Now Father Chris lives in that room, still using Mychal's desk and other items he left behind. He happily consented to my request to take some photos of him looking out the window towards the firehouse just as Mychal had surely done in the past. Father Chris also encouraged me to go with him over to the firehouse and take a picture of his firefighting colleagues, who have become like family to him.

Father Chris had more than a casual connection to Mychal Judge. In fact, he owes his vocation to the friar. Chris was a young truck driver when he first met Mychal at a Franciscan parish in New Jersey. Father Mychal suggested to Chris that he might have a religious calling. Had he ever thought of becoming a Franciscan friar? Chris saw something in Father Mychal and the others friars that attracted him to the Order. Before long, he decided to become a friar. Now years later, Father Chris considers himself blessed to follow Father Mychal in the role of firefighter chaplain.

May God bless and protect Father Chris and all of our friends on West 31st Street!

An informative 43-minute video about The Church of St. Francis of Assisi and its patron saint, narrated by Martin Sheen, is available at St. Francis bookstore next to the church (For more information send an email to info@stfrancisbookstore.com). The video (dedicated to Fr. Mychal Judge) includes a half-minute sequence in which the friar appears and talks. It also features commemorative photos at the end.


 
Friar Jack's E-spirations
Catholic Greetings Premiere
Saint of the Day
Catholic Sampler
Your E-mail Address:


 
 

A Message From Friar Jack

Welcome! I hope you'll enjoy all of the news about what's happening at AmericanCatholic.org, as well as my "musings." By the way, I am a real Franciscan friar. You can find out more about me here.


 
Calm Amid the Storm:
An Interview With Bishop Wilton Gregory

By Pat McCloskey, O.F.M..

Bishop Wilton Gregory talks about the current sex-abuse crisis, his life as a priest and the responsibilities of leading the U.S. bishops, featuring audio excerpts.


 
On-the-Job Spirituality
Book by Marianne E. Roche

For many of us, work is something to be endured until we can tend to things that are more pleasant, to enjoy "real living." In this new book, Roche challenges us to see the work of God in all our jobs and chores.
On-the-Job Spirituality:
Finding God in Work



 
Ask a Franciscan
By Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

No baptism for Jewish people? Why use musical instruments? How to answer atheist relatives? Why is Catholicism so filled with "traditions?" Click here to find the answers.


 

Every Day Catholic

New! Conversation Corners have come to Every Day Catholic. Also, take the Every Day Catholic poll on how you can best answer the call to be a peacemaker!


 
A Peace Prayer Door Hanger

The Peace Prayer of St. Francis for Home, School, or Parish
St. Francis of Assisi traveled to the Holy Land to bring peace between Christians and Muslims. Use the Peace Prayer Door Hanger to pray for peace among families, friends, neighbors, cultures, races, religions and countries.


 

Send this Thanksgiving e-greeting!


"Give thanks to the Lord for He is Good!"

Check out Catholic Greetings for all your upcoming "holy day" e-greeting needs!


 
Advent: Search for Light
By Phyllis Zagano

Daily Advent meditations that reflect on our natural longing for the light. "As we prepare for the coming of Christ, we can try to understand how we can decrease so that Christ may increase in our hearts and in the world."


 

Foster Youthful Reflection During Advent

Scripture citations, reflections and practical ideas are used as a guide for waiting in prayer, waiting with patience, waiting with joy and waiting with anticipation for the coming of Emmanuel.
"Advent: Four Ways to Pray the Wait"


 

Catholic SAMPler

Do you like to try things before you buy them? Stop by for FREE samples from new book and audio products from St. Anthony Messenger Press.


 

If you want to know more, try our St. Anthony search engines.


St. Anthony, Help Me Find...
Articles
Products