FATHER MYCHAL F. JUDGE, Chaplain, FDNY died (b 1933) a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York and first officially recorded victim of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Following his death, a few of his friends and associates revealed that Father Judge was gay — as a matter of orientation, they insisted, rather than practice, as he was a celibate priest. According to fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen: “I actually knew about his sexuality when I was in the Uniformed Firefighters Association. I kept the secret, but then he told me when I became commissioner five years ago. He and I often laughed about it, because we knew how difficult it would have been for the other firefighters to accept it as easily as I had. I just thought he was a phenomenal, warm, sincere man, and the fact that he was Gay just had nothing to do with anything.” Essen, with his wife, went to Mychal when they learned their son, Broadway star Max Von Essen, was gay. To put them at ease about the news Mychal took that occasion to say, “I’m gay, too.” As for Mychal being “celibate,” he did have a partner but was out about that to an even smaller circle.
Judge was a long-term member of Dignity, a Catholic GLBT activist organization that advocates for change in the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
Since October 1, 1986, when the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith issued an encyclical, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, which declared homosexuality to be a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”, many bishops, including Cardinal O’Connor of New York, banned Dignity from Catholic properties. At that time, Judge welcomed Dignity’s AIDS ministry to the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi. At Judge’s memorial service, Malachy McCourt said that he had heard “if Mike got any money from the right wing, he’d give it to the Gay organizations. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s his humor, for sure.”
Ironically, Judge’s firefighter helmet was presented to Pope John Paul II in memory of his death. Although there has been call within the Roman Catholic Church to have Mychal Judge canonized, there is no indication that this process is being seriously considered by the Church hierarchy. Several independent Catholic and Orthodox denominations, most notably The Orthodox-Catholic Church of America, have already declared him a saint. A film, The Saint of 9/11 portrays Mychal’s life as a spiritual adventure and an honest embrace of life, where alcoholism and sexuality were acknowledged. Inspired by his life, the documentary embraces Mychal’s full humanity.