20 years later, a remembrance for the NYFD’s fallen chaplain

When the two towers fell and the New York Fire Department rushed in to save victims, Father Mychal Judge, chaplain of the NYFD, entered the burning buildings, too: he prayed in the lobby for victims and first responders. One of the many searing images from 9/11 is Father Judge's body being carried out of the rubble. In remembrance, this animated segment from our partners at StoryCorps is told by his close friend, Father Michael Duffy.

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  • Father Michael Duffy:

    My name is Father Michael Duffy, and I am a Franciscan Brother to Father Mychal Judge. We Franciscans are a little odd and one of our oddities is there's a form we fill out and it's called "On My Death."

    It says where you want your funeral mass to be, who you want to do the homily and et cetera like that. So, 9/11 happened on a Tuesday. Well, the next day the phone rang and it was our provincial in New York and he said, 'Mychal wanted you to do the homily.'

    And I said, 'Well yes, but this is different. It should be someone with a little more import. So, I think you should do it.'

    And there was a long pause. And he said, 'But Mychal wanted you.'

    So, I mean, what are you going to say to that?

    Family and friends of Mychal Judge. Good morning everyone. . .

    I said to myself, when I see Mychal I'm going to kill him. (Laughs)

    I stand in front of you and honestly feel that the homilist at Mother Teresa's funeral had it easier than I do.

    There were 3,000 people at his funeral. The church wasn't big enough to hold them. They were outside. Bill Clinton was there, Hillary Clinton, all New York. And the moment arrived, I stood up and I reached in to get my glasses and couldn't get to the pocket because my vestment was covering them. Thank goodness I'd practiced it because I couldn't read it!

    He loved to bless people. And I mean physically. Even if they didn't ask. A little old lady would come up to him and he would put his big thick Irish hands and press the head til I think the poor woman would be crushed."

    Everyone thought Mychal Judge was their best friend. He'd remember significant things in their life and he would write a little note — just one or two lines. Of course, they'd write him back. So, he had a big black satchel filled with letters to answer.

    He would say to me once and 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. I don't need a thing in the world. I am the happiest man on the face of the earth. Why am I so blessed? I don't deserve it.' "

    Mychal Judge's body was the first one released from Ground Zero. His death certificate has the number one on the top. Of the thousands of people who perished in that terrible holocaust, why was Mychal Judge number one? And I think I know the reason. Mychal's goal and purpose in life was to bring the firemen to the point of death so they would be ready to meet their maker. Mychal Judge could not have ministered to them all. It was physically impossible — in this life. 'In the next few weeks we're going to have name after names 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 so, this morning we come to bury Mike Judge's body, but not his spirit. 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.

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