The Last Hours of a Holy Hero
Article Originally published on MySendOff.com
I wonder what my last hour will be.
Will it be trying to help someone, trying to save a life?
~ Mychal Judge in a 1992 interview.
The effects were immediate and overwhelming. No one could have anticipated the shocking devastation that was looming over the horizon as the first of two hijacked planes steered toward the World Trade Center. No one could have known the lives that would have been lost and the lives that were sacrificed that day.
In the wake of the devastation that occurred on the morning of September 11, 2001, Father Mychal Judge, a fire department chaplain since 1992, hurried to the site. A man of considerable respect, Judge was a fabled New York figure, who many considered a living saint. With an extraordinary charitable work, a deep spirituality and a knack for bringing strangers together, Judge was known for ministering to the homeless, the hungry, recovering alcoholics, AIDs victims, the sick, the injured, the grieving and anyone who may have been alienated by the Church.
However, it was his heroic efforts at Ground Zero, after the first plane struck the North Tower that the story of Judge flourished into legend and created an iconic image of a holy hero and a crusader for those in need.
It was shortly after arriving on scene with firefighters, where Mayor Rudy Giuliani had already disappeared into the maw of deaths dark cloud, having only been two blocks away from the South Tower. With white ash dusting his head and shoulders, Giuliani saw the arrival of Judge and called out to the chaplain, invoking Judge’s last public words.
“Father, pray for us,” Giuliani said.
“I always do,” Judge responded. “I always pray for you.”
And that is what he did, from the moment he arrived at the devastation of Ground Zero to the time of his death in the lobby of the World Trade Center North Tower, Judge administered Last Rites to the victims of the attack.
While there were other priests who arrived on the scene to offer their support, it was Judge who entered the North Tower, where an emergency command post had been organized. There he continued to offer absolution, prayers and assistance to the injured and the dead as ruins and rubble rained down around him. Even after the orders were given to evacuate the building, Judge refused to abandon the hundreds of firefighters who remained trapped inside.
“My work here is not finished,” Judge was quoted as saying by New York Daily News columnist Michael Daly.
Continuing to provide assistance to many still trapped inside the building, Judge climbed up to the mezzanine. With jumpers falling onto the plaza outside, he cried out, repeatedly saying, “Jesus, please end this right now. God, please end this.”
Though the chaos which ensued did not stop him from doing everything he could to assist those who needed help. It was within moments that the South Tower collapsed, causing an explosion of shattered glass, concrete and debris to crash through the North Tower lobby. In the midst of the disaster, Judge suffered blunt force trauma to the head.
Shortly after his death, Judges’ body was recovered by NYPD lieutenant Bill Cosgrove, who had earlier been helping to guide rescuers in and out of the area.
Cosgrove, who was inside the lobby at the time the that Tower Two collapsed, remembered finding Judge as he and a number of firefighters began their slow exit out of the darkened building. When they took Judges’ pulse and discovered nothing, Cosgrove, two firefighters, one named Christian Waugh and two civilian bystanders, carried Judges’ body from the North Tower lobby to nearby St. Peter’s Church. Being the first body recovered from the scene, Judge was recognized as the first official victim of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
During that fateful day, there were many heroes, and among them was Judge.
In commemoration of Judges’ heroic presence during the September 11, 2001, Judges’ memorial was visited by 3000 people; France posthumously awarded him the the National Order of the Legion of Honour; he’s been recognized as a de facto saint, while others have already considered him a saint by widespread acclamation.
In 2002, The Mychal Judge Police and Fire Chaplains Public Safety Officers Benefit Act was passed into law by the US Congress, which sees that any chaplains killed in the line of duty receive public safety officer death benefits, as well, a portion of West 31 Street has been renamed by the City of New York as Father Mychal F. Judge Street.
To date, an annual remembrance walk known as the Father Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance takes place every Sunday before the 9/11 anniversary in New York. Beginning with a Mass at St. Francis Church on West 31 Street, the walk retraces Judges’ final journey to Ground Zero.
The wonderful thing is saying yes and accepting God’s Grace.
We could say no and walk away.
But when we say yes and go forward, great and wonderful things will happen.
It takes courage in the midst of fear, but you do it with the grace of God.
~ Mychal Judge