NEW YORK – The founders and leaders of Mychal’s Message began a busy week of events honoring fallen Fire Department of New York chaplain Mychal Judge, OFM, with a book release party on Sept. 7 to celebrate Mychal’s life and the publishing of He Said Yes, a book by Kelly Ann Lynch.
|Left, Shannon Hickey, her mother Kelly Lynch, and grandmother Sharon Hickey, pose with an advanced copy of He Said Yes at the Sept. 7 book-signing event held in New York City.|
Editor’s Note: Copies of He Said Yes are available online through the Mychal’s Message Web site and the Paulist Press Web site. Those links are shown at the bottom of this page.
Lynch, who founded Mychal’s Message in 2002 to support the work and spirit of family friend Mychal, wrote He Said Yes, a 32-page children’s book to tell the story of an ordinary boy from Brooklyn, N.Y., who became an extraordinary Franciscan priest and the beloved New York City Fire Department chaplain who died on Sept. 11, 2001. He was the first officially recorded fatality following the attack on the World Trade Center.
The book, geared for children aged five to nine, was published by Paulist Press, Mahwah, N.J., and is the first biography about the FDNY chaplain written for children. It is illustrated with 12 full-color drawings by M. Scott Oatman, of Ocean City, Md., who was at Friday’s gathering to sign books with Lynch. The event was held at Tir na Nog restaurant in midtown Manhattan, several blocks from St. Francis of Assisi friary where Mychal last lived.
“Mychal’s Message” was created when Lynch’s daughter, Shannon Hickey, suggested that the family collect and give away socks to homeless people in memory of Mychal as a way to both mark the anniversary of her liver transplant and honor a dear family friend. The friar had been a big part of her family’s life in both good times and bad.
The family was a member of the Province’s parish in East Rutherford, N.J., before relocating to Pennsylvania in the late 1970s.
According to Lynch, because Mychal was an inspiration to Shannon, and on her transplant anniversary in January 2002, she wanted to celebrate her life by remembering his.
“Our family had been in mourning since September and I doubted that we would be ready to have our annual party,” said Lynch, who was a single mother when her infant daughter underwent the transplant. “But, because Shannon, only 11 years old at the time, came up with her idea, we celebrated and we began a tradition of giving to the homeless.”
Five Years of Charity and Spreading Mychal’s Spirit
Since the Jan. 2002 party, through which the family collected 1500 pairs of socks, Mychal’s Message has given away 125,000 items to the homeless, Lynch said with a proud smile. These items include coats, undergarments, hats, blankets, towels, and shoes.
Their projects evolved into an organization, Mychal’s Message, whose slogan is “Encountering the homeless and poor; meeting basic needs while restoring dignity with hope.”
With most of the items that it gives away, Mychal’s Message includes a card showing Mychal’s Prayer:
“Lord, take me where You want me to go,
Let me meet who You want me to meet.
Tell me what you want me to say,
And keep me out of Your way.”
Mychal’s Message is an initiative run by three generations – Lynch, an energetic thirty-something, her mother Sharon Hickey, and her daughter Shannon, now 17 and a senior at Lancaster, Pa., Catholic High School.
“My mom, my nanna and I work closely on everything,” Shannon said. “We bounce ideas off each other and never let a name or a project progress unless we all like the idea.”
“I love helping people,” Shannon said.
Friendship with Friars
In addition to the extended family of Mychal’s Message including the husbands of Kelly and Sharon, and the younger siblings of Hickey, Christopher and Erin-Mary Lynch, several friars attended the Sept. 7 book release party. They included Michael Duffy, OFM, of Philadelphia, Pa., Cassian Miles, OFM, at right, of Wood-Ridge, N.J., and Ronald Pecci, OFM, of Bronx, N.Y.
Michael, who knew the Hickey family when he served at St. Joseph Church in East Rutherford from 1971 to 1975, said that the family believes that the prayers Mychal said for Shannon while she recovered from her liver transplant operation saved her life. They do wonderful work, he said.
The family’s collections were a success “not only for them personally and emotionally but their work filled a great need for our people,” said Michael, who now works at the Province’s St. Francis Inn. They initially donated to the St. Francis Inn and later expanded their outreach to the breadline at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City.
“Their donations are a great asset to our work as they provided countless socks, thermals, blankets, coats,” said Michael, who gave the homily at Mychal’s 2001 funeral. “Mychal’s Message was even instrumental in placing a mural depicting St. Francis on the outside of the Inn. It is a great teaching tool to bring the spirit of peace and reconciliation to our people.
|Michael Duffy, left, and Ron Pecci, upper right, with the Lynch-Hickey family.|
Ronald worked with Mychal while both served at St. Joseph Church in West Milford, N.J.
Cassian became acquainted with the Hickey-Lynch family when he was director of communications for the Province.
“Fr. Cassian happened to pick up the phone when we first called the office,” Lynch said. “He has been a wonderful friend ever since.”
The friars have been awesome to us,” Shannon said, “especially Fr. Jerome Massimino, OFM, Fr. Cassian, and Br. Tom Cole, OFM, who was great the way he connected with kids.”
Blessed Bloomers and Home Sweet Home to Raise Money and Awareness
Mychal’s Message is running several other charitable events this week to honor Mychal and to help the homeless.
On the morning of Sept. 11, they distributed packages of both useful and spiritual items at the breadline at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street as part of the annual Blessed Bloomers project. They brought 800 packages each containing the same items (categorized for men and women) – an undershirt, two underpants, a pair of socks, two mints and a prayer card for distribution to the hundreds of people who come each morning to the church.
“This was our 18th visit to the breadline since 9/11,” Lynch said, with a look in her eye as if many more will follow. “Whatever isn’t given away that morning is delivered to Create, the program run by Ben Taylor, OFM, in upper Manhattan.”
Later this week, the organization will hold its annual Home Sweet Home event in Lancaster. On Sept. 15 and 16, approximately 100 teenagers will sleep outside in cardboard huts to attract awareness about homelessness.
For the first time, “we have three people from the National Coalition for the Homeless coming who will speak at the event,” Lynch said.
Lynch and her daughter were interviewed on Monday morning for Sirius Satellite radio. They talked with Gus Lloyd for nearly half an hour, she said, again spreading the message of Mychal.
On Sept. 6, the night before the book release party, the movie The Saint of 9/11 was shown at New York University according to director Brendan Fay, who attended the He Said Yes celebration. Approximately 160 viewed the film that relates the many people and causes that Mychal helped throughout his life including the homeless, AIDS patients, those challenged with addictions, and firefighters.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.