Mychal Judge, a Roman Catholic chaplain with the New York City fire department, died along with about 3,000 people in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Twenty years later, and Judge’s legacy is still discussed, with his admirers calling for his sainthood.
Judge became known as “Victim #1” because his was the first recorded death after the attack. He went to the scene of the attacks to pray for the victims and first responders rolling into the area. As he went into the lobby of the north tower of the World Trade Center, the 68-year-old died when debris fell on him.
New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry promoting the rights of LGBTQ+ people, is calling on those who admire Judge to form an association in order to support his canonization by the Catholic Church.
Judge spent 40 years as a priest, often working with marginalized groups including LGBTQ+ people and those living with HIV.
In a planned blog post to be published Saturday, New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will write, “The time has come for the Catholic Church to officially recognize Fr. Mychal Judge as a saint by canonizing him.”
The fact that Judge was gay didn’t become widely known until after his death, according to New Ways. While Judge did not work with the ministry, he did work with LGBTQ+ Catholics in the city.
In a press release, New Ways said it got involved in the movement to canonize Judge after an official from the Vatican got in touch to find people to testify about Judge.
An association, however, is needed to continue the process, according to the official.
“The work of such an association would require many hands,” DeBernardo will write, “and would most appropriately be done by a coalition of the varied and diverse people and groups whose lives Father Judge touched.”
“Mychal Judge shows us that you can be gay and holy,” James Martin, a Jesuit priest who advocates for greater LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Catholic Church, told the Associated Press.
“Father Judge’s selflessness is a reminder of the sanctity that the church often overlooks in LGBTQ people,” Martin said. “Heaven is filled with LGBTQ people. All the church has to do is start to recognize this.”
Judge grew up in Brooklyn, and he was the son of Irish immigrants. He became a priest in 1961. After recovering from alcoholism through Alcoholics Anonymous, he became involved in ministering to marginalized groups. In 1989 he founded one of the first Catholic HIV ministries that visited hospitalized patients and their families. He joined the city’s fire department in 1992.
Only a few friends knew Judge was gay. The fact became more known after his death. Judge’s friends say he observed his vow of celibacy.
Sal Sapienza, a Protestant minister in Michigan, met Judge after he saw an ad in a queer publication looking for volunteers for HIV outreach in 1989.
“It was so clearly obvious you were with someone so spiritually connected, so different from other people,” Sapienza told the AP. “What is a saint? Part of it is they inspire us to want to rise higher along our spiritual path, to be the best versions of what God wanted us to be. Mychal was the best example of that.”
Sapienza noted the way Judge connected with so many people.
“He met people exactly where they were,” Sapienza explained. “The macho group of fire department guys, they kind of claimed him for their own. The Catholic gay community also claimed him, thinking ‘Father Mychal is our guy,’ because he was really able to connect with everybody.”