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Growing support for 9/11’s ‘St. Mychal’


JULY 30, 2015, 9:46 PM    LAST UPDATED: FRIDAY, JULY 31, 2015, 9:37 AM

His grave lies just inside the cemetery gates, a few feet from a chain-link fence and the rattle and swoosh of cars, trucks and buses on Totowa’s Union Boulevard.

If you go there, you can understand on some level why many people want the Rev. Mychal Judge to be canonized as a Roman Catholic saint.

Judge, a Franciscan priest known for his infectious smile and eloquent preaching, served in parishes in Bergen and Passaic counties before moving to Manhattan in the 1990s and becoming a chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. He was killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001 – officially listed by the city’s medical examiner as the first casualty among the nearly 3,000 people who died that day.

Judge’s grave, amid the final resting places of more than 280 other Franciscan priests at Totowa’s Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, has since become an informal pilgrimage site, with many visitors leaving behind keepsakes – statues of firefighters, prayer cards, rosary beads and even personal notes to “Saint Mychal.”

“If you were here for Sept. 11, you totally get the connection and how much he meant to people,” said Holy Sepulchre’s manager, Mirian Tanis. “He does receive a lot of love even though he is not with us.”

But can love and attention turn Mychal Judge into a saint? And would it matter that Judge was also a recovering alcoholic who reportedly told several close associates that he was gay but never acted on his homosexuality because of his priestly vow of celibacy?

Whether Judge will be officially considered for sainthood may not be decided for decades, if ever, say experts familiar with Catholicism’s scrupulous and often politically and theologically fractious process of naming saints. But Pope Francis’ visit to New York City in September, which includes an interfaith prayer service at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, has prompted some advocates to push harder for Judge’s sainthood.