Remembering Father Mychal

| September 15, 2011

What were you doing ten years ago when a silver plane flew into one of the Twin Towers in New York City while Katie Couric and Matt Laurer talked on NBC’s “Today Show”?

I was at home in Prospect watching for 36 hours over three days as the tragedy unfolded.  Later, I attended the Cathedral of Assumption’snoon mass on Wednesday attended by 2,000 grief-stricken people.

Muhammad Ali, the world’s best known Muslim sent us a message that he is an American whose Islamic religion condemns murder.

On Sunday, I attended St. Clements House Church at the home of the Rev. Alfred Shands and his wife Mary, a dear friend.  A member told me, “Lucie, you look sad.”  I was proud I looked sad after 36 hours of watching constant TV coverage that was dramatically and courageously photographed and narrated.

One instance stood out on TV. Five firemen were caught on camera early September 11 carrying the body of Father Mychal Judge, a New York City Fire Department priest at Hook and Ladder Co. #24.

Father Mychal was a handsome and spirited Franciscan who worked for 25 years on fire runs, helping the injured, homeless, the poor and AIDS victims.  Bill and Hillary Clinton attended his funeral and Hillary spoke at nearby St. Francis of Assissi Church.

His death was bizarre:  He had taken off his helmet to give the Last Sacrament to a fellow fireman who had been killed by a man jumping to his certain death.  Father Mychal was killed by falling debris. The falling debris probably would not have killed him had he had his helmet on.  The five firemen were caught by a news photographer for this picture.  They refused to be interviewed at first, then realized their error.

“Wait,” said one of the Irish firemen, his ruddy face covered in white dust and streaked by tears. “We just lost Father Mychal Judge,” he choked out.  “He was our chaplain for 25 years.  He gave his all to everybody and loved everybody.

They carried their beloved priest back to the firehouse wrapped in a blanket and laid him in his bunk..  Later they placed his body on the altar of St. Francis of Assisi nearby where they prayed the prayer Father Mychal had taught the firemen. He said it every morning to be guided by the Holy Spirit, one of the firemen said.

 “Lord, send me where you want me to go.
Show me the people you want me to meet.
Tell me the words you want me to say
And please, Lord, keep me out of your way.”

To get a photograph of  Father Mychal, I immediately called The Associated Press, United Press, and finally Reuters.
Eventually, a lovely female voice at Reuters answered the phone.  I told her I was a society writer in Louisville. She said, “I have fond memories. When I was nine years old, attending camp in Indiana across the river from Louisville, I won first prize for catching the biggest fish.”

I talked about her camp and then asked if she knew the photographer who took Father Mychal’s picture with the firemen. She said she knew the photographer and I told her I wanted to buy it.  “He can’t sell it to you but I can give it to you if you promise never to tell my name.”  The picture was e-mailed to The Voice from Reuters.  I sent her red roses to Washington, D.C. a week later.

Why did she talk about camp when she was a child I wondered in the middle of all that death and tragedy?

Over the past week, I finally learned the answer while watching the coverage of the 10th anniversary. The woman was one of the many victims who have post-traumatic stress disorder. They cannot bear to think of the horrors of 9/11 and often only remember pleasant things.

All we have to do is follow Father Mychal’s prayer and be vigilant to show love, pardon, light, and compassion in our everyday lives.  I told my St. Clement’s House Church we all have a gift to give others.  We must be vigilant to give our gifts today, beacuse, as Father Mychal used to say, “Remember to do it today because if you want to make God laugh tell him you will do something tomorrow.”

Category: The Social Side

About the Author (Author Profile)

Lucie Blodgett
Always out and about at happenings around town, Lucie Blodgett has been writing a weekly column for The Voice-Tribune for more than two decades.

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