Father Mychal Judge—the first recorded death at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001—is on the pathway to becoming the first openly gay saint in the history of the Catholic Church. He died as he lived: ministering to the suffering as a firefighter, patriot, priest, and saint.
As Mychal rushed into the North Tower with firefighters, the Mayor called out, "Father Mike, pray for us!" Mychal responded, "I always do! I always pray for you!"
When commanders gave orders to evacuate the building, he refused to abandon the firefighters still trapped inside saying to the lead, "My work here isn’t finished." Other priests came Ground Zero, but Mychal was the only one to actually enter the World Trade Center.
He offered absolution, prayers, and the Last Rites in the lobby as death rained all around him, until his own death—the result of blunt force trauma to his head.
After his death, fellow firefighters carried him out in an image that to me has embodied the definition of authentic American patriotism and humble service. It's a modern day pieta that reminds me of how I imagine Jesus's friends carrying him to the tomb after his death.
Father Mychal helped them during time of need and got them medical care, clothing, housing, and a future. He had a particular heart for HIV/AIDS patients during a time when many were treated as lepers.
Everyone thought Mychal was their best friend, because he was.
Here's how the priest put it at his funeral: "In the next weeks, we're going to have name after name of people being brought out of that rubble. And Mychal is going to be on the other side of death — to greet them.
“And so, this morning we come to bury Myke Judge's body, but not his spirit. We come to bury his voice, but not his message. We come to bury his hands, but not his good works. We come to bury his heart, but not his love. Never his love."
As told by Christopher Hale