Very recently, my brother, FDNY Captain Mike Alexander, received a Humanitarian Award from the NYC Fire Department in the name of Father Mychal Judge. Apart from the iconic story of Father Judge’s role in 9/11, I didn’t know anything about him.
My gut told me a humanitarian award in his name was created for reasons other than his 9/11 role. He gave his life while helping those in One World Trade, but many brave souls did. With a little research, I found out what made Father Mychal Judge so extraordinary.
One month after the beloved FDNY’s Chaplain’s body was pulled from the wreckage of the lobby in One World Trade and three weeks after his televised funeral, a group of the friar’s friends held a more intimate memorial, filled with storytelling and Celtic music.
The evening consisted of priests, nuns, lawyers, cops, firefighters, recovering alcoholics, local politicians, homeless people, rock and rollers and middle aged folks from the suburbs. They all flowed into the Good Shepherd Chapel on Ninth Avenue in New York City.
An Irish band played jigs and reels, a journalist from the Daily News read one of his columns and Malachy McCourt – author and actor with everlasting wit, positioned himself by the altar and played the role as emcee.
As one New York Times journalist put it… the crowd was so colorful, so diverse, it could’ve been mistaken for the set-up to a joke. “A lawyer, a priest and an Irishman walk into a bar…”
Only Father Mychal Judge could get a room like this together. It’s not very often you see firemen, policemen, homeless people and politicians rubbing elbows. But that’s who Father Mychal was. He had a gift for bringing strangers together… like this crowd.
Malachy McCourt tells about a very old postcard of a giant Jesus looking in the window of the Empire State building, long robes flowing. “And that was Mike Judge in New York. He was everywhere. Over the city… And ohhh, how good it was to know he was there.”
He thrived on never standing still and kept an unimaginable schedule. It seemed as if he had a secret tunnel under the city that allowed him to be in six places at once. At any given moment, he may be baptizing a fireman’s child, consoling an AIDS patient or listening to a Celtic rock band.
Father Judge’s phone was constantly ringing, and on a normal day, he received thirty to forty messages. It’s been said he had to replace his answering machine every six months. His outgoing message thanked people for calling to ask him to christen their baby or officiate at their wedding, but he apologized he could not because he was dedicating all of his time to the service of the Fire Department.
The firemen loved him dearly. He had a memory like an encyclopedia for their family members names, birthdays and special interest’s. He frequently gave special little gifts meant particularly for that individual. Once, after visiting President Clinton at the White House, he handed out dozens of cocktail napkins with the Presidential seal. He had somehow managed to stuff them into his habit while he was there.
Two things are very clear to me now. First, it is obvious why there is a Humanitarian Award in the name of this particular, well, humanitarian. Secondly, it is obvious why my brother received it. I’m his sister, and he didn’t need to receive an award for me to know what kind of individual he is. But after learning about the character of Father Judge, a better man could not have been picked to follow in his footsteps.