Books

The great hero of America’s awful day
Father Mychal Judge, An Authentic American Hero by Michael Ford (Paulist Press, £15.99)
Fr Mychal Judge is carried dead from the ruins of the World Trade Centre by New York firemen.

Anthony Redmond

Fr Judge, an Irish American Franciscan, died in the attack on the World Trade Centre as he gave the Last Rites to a dying fireman. During the last weeks of his life, Fr Mychal Judge had been reading the biography of the spiritual writer, Henry Nouwen, entitled Wounded Prophet, written by Michael Ford. The book had clearly made a huge impression on him.

As a consequence of this, Paulist Press invited Michael Ford to write a portrait of the now legendary New Yorker. The result is a moving and painstaking account of a truly human and compassionate priest, a man who left no stone unturned in his efforts to help and encourage those in trouble. 

The book is an impressionistic portrait drawn from many interviews with Mychal Judge’s friends, offered both as a tribute and a testimony to a one-time alcoholic who could never shake off his strongest addiction: a love for other people.

He also happened to be homosexual by orientation and, as Michael Ford says, many people pointed out that Mychal Judge’s sexuality was subordinate to his witness as a priest and a Franciscan. He ministered across the spectrum of city life.

What marked out his holiness was precisely his refusal to occupy any niche of conventional sanctity. Just as Francis of Assisi had challenged the Church of his day and become a saint, so Fr Judge is emerging as something of a hero of the post-Christian era. 

Here was a friar who dared to be himself. He was a prayerful, spiritual man, with a special devotion to Our Blessed Lady.

Mychal Judge has received numerous posthumous honours. The Pope blessed his white chaplain’s helmet in Rome, and he was one of the knights of the New York Fire Department to be awarded the Legion of Honour by President Jacques Chirac of France. There is to be a Mychal Judge Scholarship for the children of firefighters killed in the tragedy.

At his funeral, which was attended by thousands, a firefighter remarked: “I just think God wanted somebody to lead the guys to heaven.” The New York firefighters had a special affection for their charismatic chaplain.

Nervous world

In his Introduction to this fascinating book, Michael Ford writes: “The Fifteenth Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington comes at a time when a nervous world is only too aware that ISIS terrorists – and others – can strike anywhere at any time, as the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando illustrated.

“Yet this remembrance also falls during what Pope Francis has declared ‘a Holy Year of Mercy’ – a time of grace, peace, conversion and joy. On the one hand, the forces of evil continue to terrify, kill and maim; on the other, the power of goodness seeks to heal, save and reconcile. ‘There are no walls or distances which can prevent the Father’s mercy from reaching and embracing us,’ the Pontiff reminds us.”

Visiting the Ground Zero memorial in September 2015, Pope Francis said: “This place of death became a place of life too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division.”

Those wonderful firemen rushed to save lives in the World Trade Centre without any thought of themselves, or the fanatical hatred and cruelty of the terrorists who flew the planes into the buildings with the intention of causing mass death and destruction.