Father Figure

One gay priest won the love and loyalty of New York City’s fire department and, in the tragedy of September 11, became an icon.

BY Charlotte Abbott

August 26 2008 11:00 PM ET

Book of Mychal smaller (Getty) | Advocate.com

Though the middle
of the book bogs down in excessive detail, Daly does a
good job of portraying Judge’s delicate and often
painful balancing act between his work for the fire
department and his friendships with gay people in the
1990s—a time when the political battles between New
York City’s Catholic and gay populations were
especially bitter. For example, when Judge marched
with the city’s firefighters in the St.
Patrick’s Day parades, it was with the raw
awareness that the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization
had been barred from the lineup. Although the St.
Patrick’s marchers who pelted gay protesters
with beer cans made Judge “sorry to be
Irish,” they didn’t frighten him away from
marching in the city’s gay pride parades.

Daly also
presents Judge’s private life with sensitivity,
including his predilection as a young friar for
sipping a can of Tab he’d secretly filled with
scotch and his subsequent recovery with Alcoholics
Anonymous. Daly acutely observes that Judge had been
“obliged to marginalize his sexuality before it
even took form” but at times fails to ask the right
questions related to Judge’s sexual orientation. For
example, Daly writes eloquently about how Judge
established one of the earliest ministries for AIDS
patients in New York City in the 1980s, despite the
church’s official scorn for homosexuality. But
he doesn’t probe how Judge navigated church
politics on a purely practical level.

Even more
enigmatic is Daly’s account of Judge’s
decadelong romantic relationship with Al Alvarado, a
Filipino nurse 30 years younger than he. He presents
their relationship as celibate and relates several examples
of Judge deciding against seeing Alvarado in order to avoid
temptation. But Daly leaves the reader to wonder what
exactly the two men did when they went on vacation
together in London six years after they met. And while
Alvarado clearly cooperated with Daly for the book,
there’s little sense of why he remained in this
hands-off relationship.

These complaints
aside, what makes the book worth reading is its visceral
portrayal of how Judge used his inner turmoil as a vehicle
for becoming a more effective priest. The devout love
of the firefighters who went to such great lengths to
recover his body from the World Trade Center wreckage
is one testament to his success—the publication of
Daly’s book is another.

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