On the bright fall morning of September 11, 2001, firefighters across New York were summoned to a scene of unimaginable horror: Two hijacked airlines had crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. As firefighters rushed into the burning buildings, they were accompanied by their chaplain, Fr. Mychal Judge. Hundreds of them would die that day, among the nearly three thousand fatalities in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Fr. Judge would be among them.
In the days that followed, the story of his life and his sacrifice would become known around the world: how he had joined the Franciscans at the age of fifteen, how he had acquired a wide reputation for his ministry among the poor and homeless, alcoholics, and people with AIDS, and his outreach to the gay community and to others alienated or marginalized in the Church. There were stories about his own struggles with alcohol and his recovery with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, and stories of his love for the firefighters, his courage in joining them on the front lines, his support as they coped with stress and sorrow. There seemed to be special meaning in the fact that Fr. Mychal was listed as the first certified casualty of 9/11.
A photograph of his fellow firemen carrying his body from the wreckage to a neighboring church became an icon of that day: an image of loving service and sacrifice, a hopeful answer to message born of fear and fanaticism.