Mychal Judge, O.F.M. will always be remembered as the Catholic Priest who was the chaplain to the New York City Fire Department and who, while performing his duties on that September day, became the first certified fatality of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Born as Robert Emmett Judge on May 11, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, he was one of three children, an older sister Erin and a younger twin sister, Dympna. During the ages of three to six, Judge’s father was in poor health and dying and Judge would shine shoes for money for the family and visit St. Francis of Assisi Church where he found his life calling.
Judge studied at St. Francis Preparatory School in Brooklyn and, at age 15, he transferred to St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, New York. Following that he entered St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York. He dropped the “Fallon” from his name and changed the spelling of Michael to the Irish form of Mychal. In the year 1986, he was assigned to his old stomping grounds of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan where he remained until his death.
In 1992, Judge was appointed a chaplain to the New York City Fire Department which required him to offer prayers and encouragement to all, but especially the firemen and their families and was known to work 16-hour-days when necessary. He was also recognized for ministering to the homeless, addicts, immigrants, gays, those with AIDS, and people who had generally been forgotten by society.
On September 11, 2001, upon hearing of the attacks Judge hurried to the site where he was met by the then mayor of New York City, Rudy Guiliani who asked Judge to pray for the city and its victims. Judge did as instructed by Guiliani and as his training and compassion had taught his and immediately began to pray for the city, over bodies that were lying on the streets, and then finally in the North Tower where he was near the command station.
At 9:59 am, when the South Tower collapsed the debris went into the North Tower lobby and killed many people, including Mychal Judge. According to his official biographer and columnist Michael Day from the New York Daily News, Judge was praying aloud “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”
Mychal Judge’s body was found by a lieutenant from the NYPD and was carried out of the North Tower by the Lieutenant, two firemen, an FDNY EMT, and a civilian bystander. This was captured by Shannon Stapelton, a photographer from Reuters and is in the documentary 9/11 by Jules and Gedeon Naduet. Judge’s body was carried to the church of St. Peter’s Catholic Church and laid before the altar before it was taken to the Medical Examiner.
Mychal Judge is designated as the first victim of the September 11 terrorist attacks although others had died before because his body was the first to be recovered from the scene and identified. Since that day there have been many attributes and tributes to Judge, including the “Father Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance,” a statue at St. Joseph’s park in East Rutherford, New Hersey, and he was posthumously awarded the Dooley Award by GALA0-ND/SMC which is an alumni organization of the University of Notre Dame.
There have also been comments regarding Judge’s lifestyle. He was a recovering alcoholic since 1971 and quite a few people knew that he was a homosexual, although he was true to his Catholic oath and remained celibate.