On September 22, 2011, the Fire Museum will honor the 343 firefighters who died on September 11, 2001. Among those honored is Father Mychal Judge, whose helmet and coat, donated by his sister and Engine 1/Ladder 24 on West 31st Street, will be dedicated to the museum. Father Judge was the first official casualty on September 11. He refused to leave the North Tower when it was evacuated because he did not want to abandon the firefighters still trapped in the building. During his life, he worked to embody the love he saw in the teachings of Jesus. In death, he has stood as a pillar of faith, dedication, and love for all people. In his last homily, delivered at FDNY Engine 73, Ladder 42 in the Bronx on September 10, 2001, Father Judge said:
Thank you Lord for life. Thank you for love. Thank you for goodness. Thank you for work. Thank you for family. Thank you for friends. Thank you for every gift because we know that every gift comes from you, and without you, we have and are nothing. So, as we celebrate this day in thanksgiving to you, keep our hearts and minds open.
Father Judge embodied all the most positive aspects of his Catholic faith. He ministered to those people who were often forgotten; in the 1980s, that included young gay men who were sick or dying from AIDS. When Dignity, an organization for LGBT Catholics, needed space for their AIDS ministry, Father Judge opened the doors of St. Francis of Assisi Church. His actions often put him at odds with the Catholic hierarchy, but he was dedicated to his work and to the Franciscan Order. In response to criticism, he once said, “If I've ever done anything to embarrass or hurt the church I love so much, you can burn me at the stake in front of St. Patrick's.”
Brendan Fey, a close friend of Father Judge and advocate for LGBT equality, memorialized his friend in the film Saint of 9/11. Fey speaks fondly of his friend, who marched with Dignity’s AIDS ministry in Pride parades and never felt he had to hide that he was gay.
This year also sees the tenth annual Walk of Remembrance in honor of Father Judge, which will take place on September fourth. The walk, first started in 2002, is hosted by the Franciscan Order and is expected to attract at least 600 people. It starts at St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street with Rosary and Mass; the route passes fire houses and police precincts, where participants will gather and pray, before ending at Ground Zero.
Father Mychal Judge’s legacy is one of both faith and kindness. His chaplaincy and ministry have been missed since his death; his actions on September 11, 2001, to comfort the injured and give last rites to the dying, are a testament to his dedication to good works. GLAAD is pleased that he will be honored for his commitment and bravery on September 11, and our hearts go out to his friends, family, and loved ones.