Tony the Tour Guy's Blog

A not very regular series of posts on New York City history, historic preservation, genealogy and related themes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A REAL New Yorker: FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge

So much has been written, said and even sung about Father Mychal Judge, the first recorded FDNY 9/11 casualty. I don't intend to repeat what others have said so much more eloquently than yours-truly ever could. The point of listing him here is to show how this Franciscan priest not only exemplified the ideals of his order's founder, but was a true New Yorker in the best sense of the term.

At a time when his religion's leaders were becoming increasingly conservative and intolerant of dissent, and the very term "Christian" was being hijacked by reactionary twits like Pat Robertson, Mychal Judge stood out as the real thing. He celebrated Masses for Dignity, the gay Catholic group, and showed love to everyone - not simply those who strictly subscribed to Rome's teachings. Judge was also, by all accounts I've read, charming, witty and generally fun to be with. He was close friends with the rock band Black 47 - whose leader Larry Kirwan wrote a beautiful ballad in his memory.

NYC is a skeptical town. Pompous, self-righteous Holy Joes who claim to know what is best for everyone else aren't very popular around here. We've heard it all before, from Henry Ward Beecher's womanizing, to rich teenage gurus to the Covenant House scandal. If somebody wants to earn respect while talking about religion, it helps to understand that God's people are a quite varied lot, in terms of their background and lifestyle, and don't always hold to the same creeds. Those who cannot deal with such an idea, or who spout glib moralism while doing the exact opposite, won't last long here. New Yorkers can quickly spot a hypocrite.

We New Yorkers are more interested in how one lives and treats others than formal doctrines. As for vocation, firefighting, driving a patrol car and (yes) even playing rock and roll are just as legitimate a calling as the formal ministry.

Fr. Judge was definitely not a pious Preacher Sam. He was the genuine article, which is why so many people loved him. The term "humility" is derived from the same root as the term "humous." In its most fundamental sense, it means to be "earthy." From this perspective, Mychal was truly a humble man.

I have heard of a movement to push for the canonization of Fr.. Mychal. Not only are the present leaders of Catholicism not very likely to confer such a title on him, but I have the distinct impression that the good padre would laugh heartily at the whole notion.


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