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The Book of Mychal: The Surprising Life and Heroic Death of Father Mychal Judge

The Book of Mychal: The Surprising Life and Heroic Death of Father Mychal Judge

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by Michael Daly

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The inspiring story of New York Fire Department Chaplain Father Mychal Judge

His death certificate bears the number one. As chaplain to the Fire Department of New York, Father Mychal Judge was officially the first to go. A loving priest with a gift for the gab-gregarious yet humble, a healer with the ability to wipe away a widow's tears and put a smile on a


The inspiring story of New York Fire Department Chaplain Father Mychal Judge

His death certificate bears the number one. As chaplain to the Fire Department of New York, Father Mychal Judge was officially the first to go. A loving priest with a gift for the gab-gregarious yet humble, a healer with the ability to wipe away a widow's tears and put a smile on a fireman's face.

And on September 11th Father Mike rushed to the fires at the World Trade Center as quickly as those who fought them, losing his own life while tirelessly ministering to New York's bravest.

Father Mike recounts the colorful, astonishing and at times troubled life of a priest who saw the potential for good in everybody-in the homeless person he slipped a dollar to on the street; the alcoholic he sought to coax to an AA meeting; the early victims of AIDS he embraced and comforted; the troubled young men he visited in jail; and the thousands of firefighters he blessed as they rushed to their rigs answering the call.

Here was a priest who rejoiced in the life around him and understood that even the most terrible times present us with wonders-that good always arises from the bad in the most unexpected ways.

Or as Father Mike would say, "My God is a God of surprises."

In this touching book, author Michael Daly retraces the footsteps of Father Mike as his vocation takes us inside the firehouse, inside his friary and his Church, and inside the chaos that often befalls New York.

This is the tale of a larger than life priest who, in death, became a symbol of how much we truly lost that Tuesday in September. Father Mike is the inspirational story of a hero priest who blessed so many lives and will long be remembered by it.

Editorial Reviews

On the tragic morning of September 11th, Father Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department chaplain, died while ministering to the mortally injured at the World Trade Center. "Father Mike" was so beloved by firefighters and their families that his death certificate bears the number 1. This intimate and affectionate biography was penned by Michael Daly, a New York Daily News columnist and, more important, a longtime friend of Father Mike. An inspirational life of a larger-than-life character.
Library Journal

Father Mychal Judge (1933-2001), chaplain of the New York Fire Department, was one of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. His death certificate was numbered one-the first official death in the terrorist attack. The Franciscan friar was almost a legend among NYFD firefighters, a man who spent his years tending both physically and spiritually to the sick, injured, and the families of the fallen. This book, powered by dialog-sometimes of conversations said to have taken place decades ago and evidently re-created by Daly (New York Daily News ) from his interviews-reads with all the immediacy of a novel. Its anecdotes, sketches, recollections, and episodes, which superficially seem unrelated, coalesce into a book that combines biography and inspirational testament. Although skeptics may question the quoted dialog, Daly, a friend of Father Mychal, offers a compelling and moving human portrait of a man dedicated to God and duty. If only each of the victims of 9/11 had a Daly to tell their stories. Recommended for public libraries.-Glenn Masuchika, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., University Park

Kirkus Reviews
New York Daily News columnist Daly (Under Ground, 1995, etc.), a Pulitzer-Prize finalist for his 9/11 coverage, plumbs the life of the beloved former chaplain of the New York City Fire Department. Born Robert Emmet Judge to Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, N.Y., Judge had always dreamed of becoming a priest. After the death of his father, he and his sisters (one, his twin) were left in the callous care of his stringent, "fierce" mother Mary Ann and the corporally sadistic teachers at the Catholic school. Ever determined, Judge graduated from life as an altar boy to the Franciscan Friars in his mid-teens. Though living within the celibate, all-male environment bolstered his burgeoning homosexual feelings, Judge quickly progressed to an ordainment of priesthood, a name change and assignments at churches in New Jersey. He began enriching the lives of parishioners and commoners alike with his gracious demeanor and gentle approach. His struggles were few but significant: A battle with alcoholism resulted in subsequent recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous, and differences with a few conventional priests caused problems. Known for his all-encompassing "omnisexuality," Judge found his calling in HIV advocacy with the development of an AIDS ministry and eventually as chaplain for the FDNY, a physically and emotionally draining post. Though an illicit ongoing nonsexual love affair between Judge and a much-younger Filipino nurse spices up the text, Daly's professional tact never falters. Judge's life of tireless pastoral work ceased when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, ending his life at age 68. He was the first recorded casualty of 9/11. Using letters, journal entries and commentaryfrom friends and family, Daly imbues his deft, comprehensive tribute with compassion and grace. A worthy tribute to an inexhaustible humanitarian.
From the Publisher

“Michael Daly rescues the life of the Rev. Mychal F. Judge, the Franciscan friar and Fire Department chaplain, from 9/11's mythic piety.... and finds a life of epic richness.” —The New York Times

“A compelling and moving human portrait of a man dedicated to God and duty. If only each of the victims of 9/11 had a Daly to tell their stories.” —Library Journal

“If you read one book this year, then this should be the one.” —Irish Voice

Book of Mychal does justice to 9/11 chaplain.” —Boston Herald

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Chapter one

The first surprise was always the size and strength of his hands, hands that at the greeting clasp seemed meant for riveting the high steel or fielding a hot grounder, hands that blessed and anointed as if the spiritual were as actual as honest labor or tender sex. Hands that made the holy real, just as the hands of the firefighters waiting beside him prepared to make the real holy, hefting tools and tugging at air tank straps.

His own hands hung useless at his sides as he now stood on West Street in a Roman collar and a black standard-issue FDNY firefighter’s protective turnout coat, gazing from under the brim of his white fire helmet. He and the firefighters around him were witnessing an elemental law of nature by which a falling object accelerates at thirty-two feet per second minus the particular air resistance, be the object a lead weight dropped by Galileo from the Tower of Pisa or a human being leaping from the upper floors of One World Trade Center.

Male or female, young or old, healthy or ill, urban or suburban, black or white or Hispanic or Asian, married or single, parent or childless, straight or gay, rich or poor, generous or miserly, kind or cruel, fierce or meek, virtuous or sinful, dreamy or practical, toned or flabby, Christian or Jew or Muslim or Hindu, all fell at the same ever-increasing rate. The only variants were density and surface area. Mundane business papers wafted gently down, but even the most decent person was soon plummeting at nearly 150 miles per hour.

Those who leapt from the topmost floors of the North Tower fell for as long as nine seconds. The people on the floors closest to where the plane actually hit had maybe seven seconds, still time to think of loved ones and pray to their particular notion of the Almighty. A Roman Catholic, for example, would have been able to say a Hail Mary but not an entire Act of Contrition. Everybody had time to utter "Oh, God!" or "God, no!" or some other plea even atheists cry at the onrush of death. All likely remained as keenly conscious as skydivers.

Some jumped together, holding hands. Most leapt singly, often tumbling as they fell. At least one man stayed feet first, his red-and-blue tie streaming above him. But most were on their backs as they reached the lower floors, facing the heavens if not necessarily heaven. Their last sight was of the perfect baby-blue sky as they struck the pavement with a velocity that instantly turned a living person into a bright red splatter. The sound was jarring, loud, a body becoming a bomb.

Other sounds, the wailing of sirens, converged from uptown and downtown and crosstown, more sirens than had ever been heard in the city. Engine companies and ladder companies and rescue companies kept arriving, eventually more than 240 FDNY units from all five boroughs. The attack had come just as the firehouses were changing shifts, and many companies arrived with double the usual contingent of five. Anyone who happened to be hanging around came, too. Those who could not cram onto the rigs drove their cars and pickup trucks or commandeered taxicabs. One young firefighter rode the subway from Midtown in full gear, standing amid gawking passengers. Off-duty firefighters reported on their own. One had been golfing. Another had been surfing at Rockaway, riding in to shore when he saw the distant smoke. Another bicycled from Brooklyn. Another hit traffic in the Battery Tunnel from Brooklyn to Manhattan and ran the rest of the way, emerging at the foot of the towers.

The firefighters who did not have equipment rummaged the rigs at the scene. They joined the others in pulling on air packs, grabbing tools, and shouldering thirty-pound hose lengths as they would at a routine tenement blaze. Then they saw the jumpers.

A figure would be tiny and indistinct at first, but grow more and more detailed as it fell closer, its gender and race soon becoming clear, then startlingly vivid, an individual human being in the instant before striking the pavement. The sound of each reminded the firefighters what would happen if one of these bodies struck them. There was none of the usual fire-scene banter as they gazed skyward and tried to gauge when they could dash those final steps into the tower while burdened with fifty-six and a half pounds of gear and whatever tools they carried.

"When I say run, you just run!" a fire officer shouted. The F.D.N.Y. chaplain stenciled in reflecting yellow letters on the back of Father Mychal Judge’s turnout coat marked him as one figure unburdened of even the expectation that he dash into danger. He could have stayed at the staging area across from the tower with nobody thinking less of him. The sick and the dying and the bereaved had often said that the touch of his big Irish hands seemed the Almighty’s own and that he looked heaven-sent with his warm blue eyes and a marquee-handsome face lined only by his smile. But he could no more save those still trapped above than he could catch those who jumped and landed with such force there was nothing even to anoint. He was a sixty-eight-year-old priest, three years past the age when a firefighter would be forced to retire, and he could pray just as well from where he stood.

Still he had always stood witness at the forward command post as the firefighters battled what they sometimes called the Red Devil. And on this morning when there was only hell on high, absolute evil seemed to be challenging the value of life itself.

Just the day before, Judge had ended a firehouse dedication in the Bronx by placing his big right hand over his heart and singing "God Bless America." He now listened mutely to the unholy detonation of body on pavement, each seeming to be mocking proof that the cosmos was ultimately and absolutely indifferent, that the differences between people were inconsequential because people themselves were of no consequence, that what was real was just real, that if there is a God, then He has no hands at all.

Yet all around him was the manifest grace of firefighters poised to risk everything to save those of whatever persuasion, firefighters who routinely challenged the cosmic indifference of combustion and gravity by placing all lives ahead of their own. They moved as one when the order came to "Run! Run! Run!"

For Judge to have let his fear rule him would have been to shrink before a challenge to all decent people, to have let evil win. He moved with the firefighters, his black lace-up shoes in pace with their fire boots across the field of carnage, crunching on the broken glass and skirting the fresh red splatters.

He was a priest who could make a paraplegic man feel lucky and make a dying AIDS victim feel the kiss on his forehead was the kiss of the Almighty Himself. He was so dashingly handsome, he once arrived in his habit at a party and was mistaken for a male stripper in costume. He was so brash, he made the cardinal sputter, and so devout, he was sometimes lost in prayer for hours. He brought laughter everywhere—to the White House in the wake of scandal, even to grim vigils in the burn unit. He had a genius for saying exactly the right thing in the most extreme circumstances and knew when to say nothing at all. A former mayor called him his best friend, and homeless people listed him as their next of kin. He saw Alcoholics Anonymous as a miracle of wine into water where people struggled to save their own souls. He admired nobody more than those who saved lives, and on other days when firefighters died, he declared their firehouses holy ground, their spirit alive anew with every alarm. In the aftermath of this fire unlike any others, his own spirit would join with theirs to be more powerful than anyone could have imagined and, for a brief time anyway, defeat the evil and affirm all he believed. Those who loved him would remember what he often said of his most passionate love, who was neither man nor woman yet both.

"My God is the God of Surprises."

Excerpted from The Book of Mychal by Michael Daly

Copyright © 2008 by Michael Daly

Published in 2008 by Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher

Meet the Author

Michael Daly is a columnist for the New York Daily News. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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The Book of Mychal: The Surprising Life and Heroic Death of Father Mychal Judge 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
bigmikeTN More than 1 year ago
Truly a remarkable, inspirational story. After reading this memoir, it is easy to see why he was so revered by the NYFD firefighters that he worked with. It is hard not to be inspired by this story, and by this man. Difficult read for me, due to the emotional factor, but an incredible story.
It is on my must read list.
aldger More than 1 year ago
This book became a favorite friend that I rushed home from work to read. I will purchase several copies and distribute to special friends. The writer Mike Daly has captured the story of a Catholic Franciscan priest, the Chaplain of the NYFD. We witness Mychal Judge, dressed in sandals and a brown hooded robe tied with a simple rope, with no worldly possessions not even a wrist watch go about his life's work comforting people dealing with the most difficult of life's tragedies. In contrast to the greed of Wall Street executives we see this priest feeding the homeless, comforting the victims of AIDS, helping the TWA flight 800 families, and consoling the constant stream of NYFD widows and children left behind in the wake of the fireman's bravery. Even Mrs. Clinton in her public humiliation finds comfort from this marvelous Irishman. I am better for reading this book. An excellent book to inspire anyone and will aid those in duress.
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Tuckers_Mom More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because Mychal Judge was my sister-in-law's "UNK" He co-celebrated my brother's wedding to her and particiapted in the cristening of my nephew. Although I only had the privelege of meeting him a few times - I did go fishing with him and his brother-in-law once which easily could have been his first time with a rod and reel in his hands - I found him to be very genuine. The book was obvioulsy written by someone who knew, loved and respected him and it shows in the writing. Excellent job 5 stars!!!
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Noonatic More than 1 year ago
As a Catholic I find this book to be somewhat offensive. It does a lot of criticism of the Traditions of the Church. It's just wrong.