What We Know About The Fire Department Chaplain Who Was Among The First To Die On 9/11

As the 20th anniversary of the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches, Americans will remember all of the lives that were lost in the tragedy. Close to 3,000 people died and thousands of others were left injured or with permanent health issues, says History — not to mention all the affected loved ones. A lot of the casualties that day were plane passengers on the hijacked flights, people who worked in the Twin Towers and nearby buildings, passersby in the area, and first responders who went to answer the hundreds of emergency calls made after the first plane crashed. One of them was Father Mychal Judge — a priest with the city’s fire department. On that fateful day, Judge joined the firefighters as they responded to the North Tower (via NPR).

Shortly after they went into the building, the south tower started to collapse. As the building went down, it caused wreckage to fall onto the North Tower. Soon after, Judge was dead. Once the first building had completely fallen down and cops and firefighters on the scene were able to enter, they found the priest unresponsive and carried him out. It took five men to carry his body out of the building just before it, too, collapsed a half-hour later. The sad incident of his rescue was captured in a now-famous photograph, and Father Judge became one of the first documented deaths of the 9/11 attack.

Remembering Father Mychal Judge

Father Judge was part of a religious order called the Franciscan friars in the city. He was also chaplain for the Fire Department of New York, and knew the firefighters of the nearby firehouse, Hook and Ladder Co. 24, very well. In fact, Father Judge knew a lot of people and was beloved by many, per New York Magazine.

Born on May 11, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, Judge spent most of his priesthood in New Jersey (Holy Name Province). But he later returned to New York in the late ’80s, and in 1992 he became a chaplain for the city’s fire department. From then on Judge was known as a neighborhood guy, just as much he was known for being a priest. Per NPR, he spent a lot of time with the firefighters of Hook and Ladder Co. 24 as it was located directly across the street from his friary.

His death was the first of what would be many. But because he was the first known casualty, his passing stood out. As a result, his funeral attendance was massive. Everyone attended, even President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton (via The Chicago Tribune).

According to the people who knew Father Judge the best, despite holding another title, he was a first responder, too. It is why he was compelled to run into the North Tower to provide assistance. But he was a more complex person than the sum of his training.

More than a priest

Per NPR, Father Judge was also known as Father Mike — particularly to those close to him. He was also a gay man but kept that known to very few people. When he wasn’t leading any religion-related events, he was in the firehouse spending time with the firemen. He talked about a lot of things with them from sports to life, often over lunch or coffee. And apparently, he also liked to sing.

Judge was also very passionate about helping the needy and was known to help those who were homeless or dealing with addiction. It was advocacy that was dear to him because he, too, once suffered. According to NPR, Judge dealt with alcoholism before recovering. He even went to meetings for his illness, which is where he’d befriended a non-believer.

Every year he is remembered in a walk dedicated to him and other victims called Father Mychal Judge 9/11 Walk of Remembrance. The street that his friary was located on is named after him (via NYC LGBT Sites), along with a ferry boat (pictured).

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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