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Mychal Judge Inducted into Irish American Hall of Fame

Part of the Mychal Judge exhibit at the Irish American Heritage Center (Photo courtesy of Michael Duffy)

On Sept. 11, 2001, Mychal Judge, OFM, rushed from the friary at Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan to the scene of the World Trade Center attacks. After administering last rites to a firefighter, Mychal was hit by debris and killed.  He became the first officially recorded fatality following the attack.

The Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago held its annual black tie gala – the sold-out Irish American Hall of Fame Awards presentation – earlier this month. This organization honors Americans of Irish heritage who are leading, or have led, noteworthy and influential lives. This year, one of the inductees was our Mychal.

This National Heritage Center is located in a massive former academy. Every room and every floor is packed with Irish memorabilia – photos, a library, flags and banners, stories – items all reflecting the Irish experience in America, both the good and the bad. In one of the rooms were exhibits of each inductee’s life. Mychal’s section contained his FDNY fireman’s helmet, testimony letters, and an icon of Mychal created by Robert Lentz, OFM. The purpose of the Irish American Hall of Fame is to preserve the story of the Irish in America, according to the organization’s website.

At last Saturday’s gala, Ronald Pecci, OFM, and I represented Holy Name Province. The evening began with a packed hallway surrounding a kilt-clad bagpipe band that rocked the old rafters with their loud drums and pipes. Bill Murray, an inductee, was about 10 feet away from us, obviously enjoying the raucous music.

Afterward, the band members, the tuxedo-clad guests and the ladies in evening gowns clutching their bling-sparkled handbags were led to an upper floor and into a large gala-decorated banquet hall that held about 300 guests. We were seated at table #3, right under the dais.

I started off the evening’s program, which was emceed by a Chicago radio personality, with a blessing. Seven categories of inductees were recognized:

Arts & Humanities: Bill Murray and Martin Sheen – actors
Business & Industry: John Fitzpatrick – of Fitzpatrick hotels in NY and Ireland
Education: Lawrence J. McCaffery – author of book on Irish Americans
Public Service: Audie Murphy – military decorated purple heart and movie star
Religion: Mychal Judge, OFM
Science: Mark and Scott Kelly – astronauts
Sports: Maureen Connolly (Little Mo’) – tennis champion and philanthropist

Michael Duffy and Ronald Pecci with actor Bill Murray at the induction ceremony (Photo courtesy of Michael)

Each honoree was introduced by someone connected to his or her life. Then, a short film was shown on their significance to our society. Each clip was professionally made and beautifully edited.

Mychal was introduced by his step-niece, Lorraine Jessich, and his first cousin, Eileen Judge, who flew in from Ireland for the occasion. The film on him was one of the best portrayals of him since his death. It truly reflected who he was to the people he served. It showed several moments of his last homily on September 10 as well as interviews of the New York City mayor, FDNY officials, friends, parishioners, and other people. Mychal’s video was put together by his friend Michael Goldman of New York, who shared the video on his website.

Videos showing the inductees who were unable to attend – Martin Sheen and the Kelly brothers – addressing the crowd at the event were also shown.

The owner of the Chicago White Sox introduced Bill Murray, who gave a humorous response to his award. The evening ended with singing, Irish dancing, of course, lots of mingling, chatter and picture taking. After all, the place was filled with 300 Irish men and women!

All in all, it was a very upbeat, joyous, entertaining evening. And Mychal Judge did HNP proud.

— Fr. Michael, guardian of Juniper Friary in Philadelphia, delivered the eulogy at the September 2001 funeral for Mychal Judge. An interview by Michael, about the late friar, was aired Sept. 9, 2011 by National Public Radio

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