As soon as an amateur paparazzo snapped a picture of firefighters carrying his body away from the wreckage, Father Mychal Judge became the poster boy for the thousands of firefighters, police officers and EMTs that made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11. His name and story now grace a rehab center, a foundation for the homeless, a children’s book, a block in New York City and a 2006 documentary, Saint of 9/11, which is currently available on Hulu.
As not only Catholic, but also a former intern for the province of Franciscan friars of which Mychal was a member, I felt an eerie, instantaneous connection to this popular priest and fire department chaplain. Though I never knew him, Mychal seemed the type of person who could be your best friend after knowing you for five minutes.
He didn’t just stand at the pulpit shouting sermons; he was out in the world, giving his only coat to a homeless man, visiting patients without a mask at the height of the AIDS epidemic, using his final breaths to minister last rites to a fallen comrade at the World Trade Center. He considered “not having enough hours in the day to help everyone” to be his greatest sin.
I became a disciple of this humble “saint,” but why was the rest of the world, with its many races, religions, and political views, so moved by the story of an ordinary Irish-American priest? And why, out of so many public servants who died in the attack, did he stand out?
It is Mychal’s humanity that unifies viewers of all creeds. In many ways, he defied the stereotype of a stuffy preacher. When Mychal entered the priesthood, he was just another teenage punk from Brooklyn. He wore an earring. He was a semi-closeted gay man, a recovering alcoholic. He peppered his advice to close friends with curse words. He popularized a badass new spelling of one of the most common names in the country. And, according to a friend interviewed in the film, he had a tattoo of a shamrock “in a place you probably can’t talk about.” He was everybody’s priest.
So even if religion makes you cringe, pick up a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and watch this movie. I dare you not to be inspired, in awe and in tears.
And you can’t say no to a film narrated by Gandalf. Just sayin’.