Remembering Our Brother, Fr. Mychal Judge OFM
As the 10th Anniversary of the tragedies of September 11th, 2001 approaches in just a few days time, there will certainly be much said about my fellow Franciscan brother, Mychal Judge, OFM. His death, the first registered victim of the World Trade Center deaths that fateful day, occurred as I began my own Franciscan journey as a freshman student at St. Bonaventure University in Southwestern New York State. He — like me and so many of the friars of Holy Name Province — is an alum of that venerable 153-year-old Franciscan university. This afternoon NPR’s All Things Considered broadcasted an 8-minute-long story about Mychal, which included interviews with Michael Duffy, OFM, the friar who delivered the homily at Mychal’s funeral, and the NYFD commissioner from 2001, among others.
I thought it would be appropriate to share with you the homily that Michael delivered at his friend and brother’s funeral, a homily that was broadcast around the world live on CNN, a homily that has been memorialized in print elsewhere. What follows below comes from our province’s website.
For additional resources in remembrance of September 11, 2001 see “A Prayer for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11: ‘God of Our Memories” and the newly published Kindle book, Franciscan Voices on 9/11 (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2011).
Fr. Michael Duffy’s Homily
For Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM
our provincial Father John,
family and friends of Mychal Judge,
good morning everyone and welcome to
this celebration. And it is a celebration. My first thought
would be for Michael’s sisters, Dympna and Erin. Our
hearts are with you all these days and in the days to come.
After all that has been written about Father Mychal Judge in
the newspapers, after all that has been spoken about him on
television, the compliments, the accolades, the great tribute
that was given to him last night at the Wake Service, I stand in
front of you and honestly feel that the homilist at Mother
Teresa’s funeral had it easier than I do. [LAUGHTER]
We Franciscans have very many traditions. You, who know
us, know that some are odd, some are good. I don’t know what category this one fills. [LAUGHTER]
One of our traditions is that we’re all given a
sheet of paper. The title on the top says, “On the Occasion of
Your Death.” Notice, it doesn’t say, in case you die.
[LAUGHTER] We all know that it’s not a matter of if, it’s a
matter of when. But on that sheet of paper lists categories
that each one of us is to fill out, where we want our funeral
celebrated, what readings we’d like, what music we’d like,
where we’d like to be buried.
Mychal Judge filled out, next to the word homilist, my name,
Mike Duffy. I didn’t know this until Wednesday morning. I
was shaken and shocked … for one thing, as you know from
this gathering, Mychal Judge knew thousands of people. He
knew, he seemed to know everybody in the world. And if he
didn’t then, they know him now, I’m sure. Certainly
he had friends that were more intellectual than I, certainly
more holy than I, people more well known. And so I sat with
that thought, why me … and I came down to the conclusion
that I was simply and solely his friend … and I’m honored to
be called that.
I always tell my volunteers in Philadelphia
that through life, you’re lucky if you have four or five people
whom you can truly call a friend. And you can share any
thought you have, enjoy their company, be parted and
separated, come back together again and pick up right where
you left off. They’ll forgive your faults and affirm your
virtues. Mychal Judge was one of those people for me. And I believe
and hope I was for him …
We as a nation have been through
a terrible four days and it doesn’t look like it’s ending. Pope
John Paul called Tuesday a dark day in the history of
humanity. He said it was a terrible affront to human
dignity. In our collective emotions, in our collective
consciousness, all went through the same thing on Tuesday
I was driving a van in Philadelphia picking up food
for our soup kitchen, when I began to hear the news, one
after another after another. You all share that with me. We all
felt the same … It was at 2 o’clock in the afternoon that I
came back to the soup kitchen, feeling very heavy with
the day’s events. At 4:30, I received a call from Father Ron
Pecci, my good friend. I was, we were serving the meal to the
homeless. And I was called to the phone. And he said, “It’s
happened.” And I said, “What?” And he said, “Mychal Judge is
At that moment, my already strained emotions did spiritually
what the World Trade towers had done physically just hours
before. And I felt inside … my whole spirit crumble to the
ground and … turn into a pile of rubble at the bottom of my
heart. I sat down on the stairs to the cellar, with the phone
still to my ear and we cried for 15 minutes.
Later that day, I was in my room. I had my head in my hands, on my desk, and a very holy friar, whom I have the privilege to live with,
Father Charlie Finnegan, just gently slipped a piece of paper in
front of me and whispered, “This was written thousands of
years ago in the midst of a national tragedy. It’s a quote
from the Book of Lamentations.” “The favors of the Lord are
not exhausted. His mercies are not spent. Every morning,
they are renewed. Great is his faithfulness. I will always trust
in him.” I read that quote and I pondered and listened,
contemplated. I thought of other passages in the Gospel that
said, evil will not triumph, that in the darkest hour when
Jesus lay dying on the cross, that suffering led to the
I read and thought that the light is better than darkness, hope
better than despair. And in thinking of my faith and the faith
of Mychal Judge and all he taught me and from scripture …
I spiritually began to lift up my head and once again see the
stars. And so, I had the courage today to stand in front of
you to celebrate Mychal’s life. For it is his life that speaks, not
his death. It is his courage that he showed on Tuesday that
speaks, not my fear. And it is his hope and belief in the
goodness of all people that speaks, not my despair. And so I
am here to talk about my friend.
Because so much has been
written about him, I’m sure you know his history. He was a
New Yorker through and through. As you know, he was
born in Brooklyn … He was born, well, some of you may not
know this, he was a twin. Dympna is his twin … He was
born May 11th, she was born May 13th. [LAUGHTER] Even in
birth, Mychal had to have a story. [LAUGHTER] He just did nothing normally, no. [LAUGHTER]
He grew up in Brooklyn playing stickball and riding his bike like all the little kids then. Then, as you’ve heard the story so many times, he
put the shoe polish, the rags in a bag and took his bicycle
over here, and in front of the Flatiron building, he shined
shoes for extra money, when he was a little kid. But very
early on in his life, when he was a teenager, and this is a little
unusual, because of the faith that he believed, that his
mother and his sisters passed on to him, because of his love
for God and Jesus, he thought he would like to be a
Franciscan for the rest of his life. And so, as a teenager, he
joined the friars. And he never left. He never left because his
spirit was truly, purely Franciscan, simple, joyful, life loving
and laughter. He was ordained in 1961 and spent many
years as a parish priest in New Jersey, East Rutherford,
Rochelle Park, West Milford. Spent some time at Siena
College, one year I believe in Boston.
And then he came back to his beloved New York, whose heart
really never left the city. But I came to know him
ten years after he was ordained. I was ordained and this is a
little ironic … My 30th anniversary of ordination was Tuesday,
September 11th . This always was a happy day for me, and I think
from now, it’s going to be mixed. But my first assignment
was very happy. I was sent to East Rutherford, New Jersey,
and Mychal was there working in parochial work. And of
course, if you know in the seminary, we learned a lot of
theory. We learn a lot of knowledge but you really have to get
out with people to know how to deal and how to really
minister. So, I arrived there with my eyes wide open, my ears
wide open. And my model turned out to be Mychal Judge.
He was, without knowing it, my mentor and I was his pupil. I
watched how he dealt with people. He really was a people
person. While the rest of us were running around organizing
altar boys and choirs and liturgies and decorations, he was in
his office listening. His heart was open. His ears were open
and especially he listened to people with problems.
He carried around with him an appointment book. He had
appointments to see people four and five weeks in advance.
He would come to the rec room at night at 11:30, having just finished
his last appointment, because when he related to a person,
and you all know this, they felt like he was their best friend.
When he was talking with you, you were the only person on
the face of the earth. And he loved people and that showed
and that makes all the difference. You can serve people but
unless you love them, it’s not really ministry. In fact, a
description that St. Bonaventure wrote of St. Francis once, I
think is very apt for Michael. St. Bonaventure said that St.
Francis had a bent for compassion. And certainly Mychal
Judge did. The other thing about Mychal Judge is he loved to
be where the action was. If he heard … a fire engine or a
police car, any news, in the car he’d go and away he’d be
off. He loved to be where people were active, where there was a
crisis, so he could insert God in what was going on. That was
his way of doing things.
I remember once I came back to
the friary and the secretary told me, “There’s a hostage
situation in Carlstadt and Mychal Judge is up there.” So,
I said, “Oh, gosh.” Well, I got in the car … drove up there. There
was a house and there was a man on the second floor with a
gun pointed to his wife’s head and the baby in her arms. And
he was threatening to kill her. When I got there, there were
several people around, lights, policemen and a fire truck. And
where was Mychal Judge? Up on the ladder in his habit, on
the top of the ladder, talking to the man through the window
of the second floor. I nearly died because in one hand he had
his habit out like this, because he didn’t want to trip. So, he
was hanging on the ladder with one hand. He wasn’t very
dexterous, anyway. [LAUGHTER] I was fearful
and he was, you know, his head bobbing like, “Well, you
know, John, maybe we can work this out. You know, this
really isn’t the way to do it.
Why don’t you come downstairs, and we’ll have a cup of coffee
and talk this thing over?” I was there, we’re all there, saying,
“He’s going to fall off the ladder. There’s going to be a gunplay.”
Not one ounce of fear did he show. But he was telling him,
“You know, you’re a good man, John. You don’t need to do
this.” I don’t know what happened, but he put the gun down
and the wife and the baby’s lives were saved. But, of course,
there were cameras there. [LAUGHTER] Where … wherever
there was a photographer within a mile, you could be sure
the lens was pointed at Mychal Judge. [LAUGHTER] In fact,
we used to accuse him of paying The Bergen Record’s
reporter to follow him around just to … [LAUGHTER]
Another aspect, a lesson that I learned from him, his way of life, is his
simplicity. He lived very simply. He didn’t have many clothes.
They were always pressed, of course, and clean but he didn’t
have much, no clutter in his room, very simple room.
And he would say to me once in a while, “Michael
Duffy,” he always called me by my full name, “Michael Duffy, you
know what I need?” And I would get excited because it was
hard to buy him a present or anything. I said, “No, what?” “You
know what I really need?” “No, what Mike?” “Absolutely nothing.
[MURMURING] I don’t need a thing in the world. I am the
happiest man on the face of the earth.” And then he would go
on for ten minutes, telling me how blessed he felt. “I have
beautiful sisters. I have nieces and nephews. I have
my health. I’m a Franciscan priest. I love my work. I love my
ministry.” And he would go on, and he would always conclude
it by looking up to heaven and saying, “Why am I so blessed?
I don’t deserve it. Why am I so blessed?” But that’s how he felt
all his life.
Another characteristic of Mychal Judge, he loved
to bless people, and I mean physically. Even if they didn’t ask … [LAUGHTER]
A little old lady would come up to him and he’d talk to
them, you know, as if they were the only person on the face of
the earth. Then, he’d say, “Let me give you a
blessing.” He put his big thick Irish hands and pressed her head
till I think the poor woman would be crushed,
and he’d look up to heaven and he’d ask God to bless her,
give her health and give her peace and so forth. A young
couple would come up to him and say, “We just found out
we’re going to have a baby.” “Oh, that’s wonderful! That’s great!”
He’d put his hand on the woman’s stomach, and call to God to
bless the unborn child. When I used to take teenagers on
bus trips, he would always be around when we left. He’d
jump in the bus, lead the teenagers in prayer, and then bless
them all for a safe and a happy time, wherever I was taking
them. If a family were in crisis, the husband and
wife, he would go up to them … and sometimes take both
their hands at the same time, and put them right next to his
and whisper a blessing that the crisis would be over.
He loved to bring Christ to people. He was the bridge
between people and God and he loved to do that. And many
times over the past few days, there’s been several people who have
come up and said, Father Mychal did my
wedding, Father Mychal baptized my child. Father Mychal
came to us when we were in crisis. There are so many things
that Father Mychal Judge did for people. I think there’s not
one registry in a rectory in this diocese that doesn’t have his
name in it for something, a baptism, a marriage or whatever.
But what you may not know, and I’d like to tell you today
because this may console you a little, it really was a two-way
street. You people think he did so much for you. But you
didn’t see it from our side, we that lived with him. He would
come home and be energized and nourished and thrilled
and be full of life because of you.
He would come back and say to me, for instance, “I met this
young man today. He’s such a good person. He has more faith in his
little finger than I do in my own body. Oh, he’s such good
people. Oh, they’re so great.” Or, “I baptized a baby today.” And
just to see the new life, he’d be enthused and enthused. I
want just to let you know, and I think he’d want me to let you
know, how much you did for him. You made his life happy.
You made him the kind of person that he was for all of us.
It reminds me of that very well known Picasso sketch of two hands
holding a bouquet of flowers. You know the one I mean that
there’s one bouquet, a small bouquet, it’s colorful and there’s
a hand coming from the left side and a hand coming from the
right side. Both of them are holding on to the bouquet. But
the artist was clever enough to draw the hands in the exact
same angle. So, you don’t know who’s receiving and who is
giving. And it’s the same way that Mychal related to people.
You should know how much you gave to him, and it was that
love that he had for people, and that way of relating to him, that
led him back to New York City and to become part of the fire
He loved his fire department and all the men in it. He’d call
me late at night and tell me all the experiences that he had
with them, how wonderful they were, how good they were. It
was never so obvious that he loved a group of people so
much as his New York firefighters. And that’s the way he was
when he died.
On Tuesday, one of our friars, Brian Carroll, was walking down
Sixth Avenue and actually saw the airplane go overhead at a
low altitude. And then a little further, he saw smoke coming
from one of the trade towers. He ran into the friary.
He ran into Mychal Judge’s room and he says,
“Mychal, I think they’re going to need you. I think the World
Trade tower is on fire.” Mychal was in his habit. So, he
jumped up, took off his habit, got his uniform on, and I have
to say this, in case you really think he’s perfect, he did take
time to comb and spray his hair. [LAUGHTER]
But just for a second, I’m sure … He ran down the stairs and
he got in his car and with some firemen, he went to the
World Trade towers … While he was down there, one of
the first people he met was the mayor, Mayor Giuliani, and he,
the mayor last night, said, Mychal Judge ran by him and he,
the mayor, just put his hand on his shoulder and said,
“Mychal, please pray for us.” And Mychal turned and with that
big Irish smile said, “I always do.” And then kept on running
with the firefighters into the building. While he was
ministering to dying firemen, administering the Sacrament of
the Sick and Last Rites, Mychal Judge died. The firemen
scooped him up to get him out of the rubble and carried him out
of the building and wouldn’t you know it? There was a
photographer there. That picture appeared in
The New York Times, The New York Daily News and USA
Today on Wednesday, and someone told me last night that
People magazine has that same picture in it. I bet he planned
it that way. [LAUGHTER]
But you know when you step back and see how my friend
Mychal died, I’m sure that when we finish grieving, when all
this is over and we can put things in perspective, look how
that man died. He was right where the action was, where he
always wanted to be. He was praying, because in the ritual for
anointing, we’re always saying, Jesus come, Jesus forgive,
Jesus save. He was talking to God, and he was helping
someone. Can you honestly think of a better way to die?
I think it was beautiful.
The firemen took his body and
because they respected and loved him so much, they didn’t
want to leave it in the street. So, they quickly carried it into a
church and not just left it in the vestibule, they went up the
center aisle. They put the body in front of the altar. They
covered it with a sheet. And on the sheet, they placed his
stole and his fire badge. And then they knelt down and they
thanked God. And then they rushed back to continue their
And so, in my mind … I picture Mychal Judge’s body there in that church in the sanctuary, realizing that the firefighters brought him back to
the Father in the Father’s house. And the words that come to
me, “I am the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd lays
down his life for the sheep … Greater love than this no man
hath than to lay down his life for his friends. And I call you
my friends.” …
And so I make this statement to you this
morning that Mychal Judge has always been my friend. And now
he is also my hero.
Mychal Judge’s body was the first one
released from Ground Zero. His death certificate has the
number one on the top … and I meditated on that fact of the
thousands of people that we are going to find out who
perished in that terrible holocaust … Why was Mychal Judge
number one? And I think I know the reason. I hope you’ll
agree with me. Mychal’s goal and purpose in life at that time
was to bring the firemen to the point of death, so they would
be ready to meet their maker. There are between two and
three hundred firemen buried there, the commissioner told us
Mychal Judge could not have ministered to them all. It was
physically impossible in this life but not in the next. And I
think that if he were given his choice, he would prefer to have
happened what actually happened. He passed through the
other side of life, and now he can continue doing what he
wanted to do with all his heart. And the next few weeks, we’re
going to have names added, name after name of people, who
are being brought out of that rubble. And Mychal Judge is
going to be on the other side of death … to greet them instead
of sending them there. And he’s going to greet them with that big
Irish smile … he’s going to take them by the arm and the
hand and say, “Welcome, I want to take you to my Father.” …
And so, he can continue doing in death what he couldn’t do
in life …
And so, this morning … we come to bury Mike
Judge’s body but not his spirit. We come to bury his mind
but not his dreams. We come to bury his voice but not his
message. We come to bury his hands but not his good works. We come
to bury his heart but not his love. Never his love.
And so, I think … we his family, friends and those who loved him
should return the favor that he so often did to us. All of us
have felt his big hands at a blessing that he would give to us.
I think right now, it would be so appropriate if we called on
what the liturgy tells us we are, a royal priesthood and a holy
nation. And we … give Mychal a blessing as he returns to the
So, I’d ask you now could you all please stand.
And could you raise your right hand and
extend it towards my friend Mychal and repeat after me.
Mychal, may the Lord bless you.
Mychal, may the Lord bless you.
May the angels lead you to your Savior.
May the angels lead you to your Savior.
You are a sign of his presence to us.
You are a sign of his presence to us.
May the Lord now embrace you.
May the Lord now embrace you.
And hold you in his love forever.
And hold you in his love forever.
Rest in peace. Amen.
Rest in peace. Amen.