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Gay priest was 9/11's first recorded casualty
Father Mychal Judge in July 2001.
September 8th, 2011
04:44 PM ET

Gay priest was 9/11's first recorded casualty

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

You may not hear a lot about gay Roman Catholic priests.

But one such clergyman is getting a lot of attention this week: Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar who donned a brown robe and sandals and who was the first recorded casualty of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Among the many hats Judge wore was as chaplain for the New York Fire Department. He was killed after going to the World Trade Center with some off-duty firefighters after the first plane hit.

Much of the coverage Judge is getting this week refers to him as the “Saint of 9/11,” the name of a 2006 documentary about the priest that was produced by a gay activist.

An apparently celibate priest, Judge reportedly told few about his sexual orientation. He made no secret, meanwhile, that he was a recovering alcoholic, attending two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a month.

An NPR profile of Judge presents a portrait of an irreverent holy man, one who could curse a blue streak but who spent evenings returning the dozens of messages left on his answering machine from those seeking help:

Another retired fireman, Jimmy Boyle, agrees that Father Mychal was one of the boys — but not when he was performing religious ceremonies.

"He could go into the firehouse, have a cup of coffee, have a meal, listen to all the talk, watch the ballgame, hear your problems, talk about anything you want," Boyle says. "But when he said Mass in the firehouse, I always felt when he got to the Eucharist, he just transformed himself. He became like Christ. He was just so pious."

Judge was also pretty famous, at least in New York (he’d also managed to arrange a White House meeting with Bill Clinton). Here’s how New York magazine opens its Judge profile:

One month after Mychal Judge's body was pulled from the shattered lobby of 1 World Trade Center, and three weeks after his televised funeral, some of the friar's friends decided to hold a smaller memorial evening of Celtic music and storytelling. Priests, nuns, lawyers, cops, firefighters, homeless people, rock-and-rollers, recovering alcoholics, local politicians, and middle-aged couples from the suburbs all streamed into the Good Shepherd Chapel on Ninth Avenue. Pete Hamill read one of his columns from the Daily News, the Irish band Morning Star played jigs and reels, and Malachy McCourt - actor, author, and irrepressible raconteur - stationed himself by the altar, briskly moving things along as emcee. The crowd was so motley, so colorful, it looked like the setup to a joke. (A priest, a lawyer, and an Irishman walk into a bar ... )

There’s a lot to learn from all this week’s Judge remembrances, about the events of September 11, about New York life, about the workaday existence of priests. But one of the biggest lessons is how many religious people defy the stereotypes about them.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 9/11 • Catholic Church • New York • Pastors

soundoff (528 Responses)
  1. Robert

    What a worthless piece of news.

    September 30, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  2. Derrique Stuckey

    Who...cares...? What relevance does this have on anything?

    September 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.