When Robert Judge was a young boy he had his own share of problems. In fact, Robert had enough trouble that many would consider him doomed to a life of desperation and struggle. He had been born into the “Great Depression” of the 1930s and all of the desperate poverty that this entailed for a family of recent Irish immigrants in Brooklyn. When Robert was only six years old he watched his father die slowly and painfully from some dreadful sickness that seemed to steal into their lives by night and rob them of their peace and their hope for a future. In the aftermath of his father’s death Robert began shining shoes to supplement the loss of income. Each day he would go to New York city’s Penn Station to shine the shoes of anybody willing to pay. Robert took occasional small breaks to go and visit the nearby St. Francis of Assisi church. In this church he received an education in the life of Francis of Assisi and in what it meant to be a Franciscan friar. As the day turned to evening, Robert would walk back home to deliver all but twenty-five cents of what he had made that day to his mother. The quarter he kept for himself he put into the hands of the first beggar he came across–Robert knew what it meant to give even when there wasn’t much to give.
As he grew older, Robert decided to pursue the priesthood because he recognized the power of the path of renunciation and sacrifice. As a boy he had learned to give and now he felt a calling to continue to give even if it cost him more dearly. So, Robert studied and eventually received his B.A. from St. Bonaventure University before going on to be ordained a priest at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C. When he became a Franciscan (a member of the Order of Friars Minor) Robert took the name Mychal as his own. He served in a variety of positions but for the last fifteen years of his life he was a member of the monastery at St. Francis of Assisi church in New York city–the same church where he had first felt the stirrings of God’s call upon his life. Though he battled loneliness and alcoholism for many years he was able to overcome these destructive forces and through the help of Alcoholics Anonymous he was able to remain sober. He was known to do such amazing things as to give away his clothing to the poor and homeless and to sit for hours with those that many in the Church rejected–gays and lesbians, alcoholics, people with AIDS, and those who had been hurt and alienated by the Church. Mychal–who had learned to give even when there was little left to give–was a friend to the friendless. In 1992, because of his stunning reputation as a man of God who truly cared for the downtrodden and outcast he was appointed Chaplain of the New York city fire department.
On September 11, 2001, Mychal heard the shocking news that two passenger jetliners had been hijacked. When these civilian aircraft were turned and flown into the World Trade Center buildings he dropped what he was doing and rushed toward the site where hatred and death were unfolding. When he arrived he was stopped by the mayor Rudolph Giuliani and asked to pray for the victims of the attack, their families, and their city. Mychal wasn’t content simply to sit back in prayer and, instead, he surged forward to live out his prayer and offer the sacrament of extreme unction (last rites) to the wounded and dying among the victims. Realizing that there was more work to be done, he entered the north tower and began praying over the rescuers who had set up a command post in the lobby. He offered prayers and assistance to the men and women escaping unexpected hatred and continued to offer the prayers of the Church and the last rites to those who were approaching death. Mychal had learned a life of giving and sacrifice supported by prayer and faith and in those last moments he was found pouring himself out for those whom he loved and for whom his Lord had died. When the collapse of the south tower began to rumble through the lobby, Mychal began repeating the prayer: “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!” With this prayer on his lips, debris from the collapsing tower rushed into the north lobby and struck Mychal in the head. He died shortly thereafter and became the first official victim of the tragedy of September 11.
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