As a small child, Fathey Mychal Judge sometimes gave his only quarter to a beggar on the street. Having lost his own father when he was six, Judge shined shoes at Penn Station to help his family survive. He would visit St. Francis of Assisi Church just across the street. Seeing the friars there made him realize he “didn’t care for material things… (he) knew then that (he) wanted to be a friar.” Judge began the path towards ordination when he was just 14. In 1986, he was assigned to St. Francis and would stay with them until his death. In 1992 he was made a chaplain of the FDNY.
He counseled firefighters, police, the families of TWA Flight 800 crash victims, AIDS patients, alcoholics and more. Many considered Judge to be a living saint. While praying, he would sometimes “become so lost in God, as if lost in a trance, that he’d be shocked to find several hours had passed.” Judge’s former spiritual director observed that, “He achieved an extraordinary degree of union with the divine. We knew we were dealing with someone directly in line with God.”
When the South Tower collapsed at 9:59, debris came flying through the North Tower lobby, killing many inside, including Judge, who was struck in the head. Judge had been praying non-stop since he arrived that morning, and performed last rites on those for whom he could.
Shortly after his death, an NYPD lieutenant found Judge’s body. Assisted by two firemen, an FDNY EMT and a civilian, they carried Judge’s body out of the North Tower on a chair. A famous photograph of this is “considered an American Pietà.” His body was first laid on the altar of St. Peter’s Church before being taken to E1/L24 on West 31st where he ate all his meals. His was the first officially registered death of the day, Number 0001.
After his death, Congress revised the rules so that a fire chaplain killed in the line of duty can receive the same Federal death benefits as firefighters. He was nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honor. His helmet was presented as a gift to the Pope. France awarded him the Legion d’Honneur. Nearly 3000 people attended his funeral. He was 68 years old.
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