EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The memory of the late Mychal Judge, OFM, will be honored next month with the dedication of a new statue in the town where he was stationed and is still remembered fondly by community members. On June 14, a sculpture of Mychal will be blessed at St. Joseph’s Park at the corner of Hackensack Street and Hoboken Road, across from St. Joseph Church, where Mychal served. The program begins at 1:30 p.m.
Mychal, who died on Sept. 11 during the attack on New York City’s World Trade Center, was stationed at St. Joseph’s Church twice — in the 1960s and the 1970s. After assignments at Siena College as well as at other North Jersey parishes, Mychal spent his final years in New York City serving as chaplain to the Fire Department of New York.
The idea for the statue came about when several people who knew or knew of Mychal wanted to arrange a tribute in the town where he had given many years of service, said Thomas Banca, a former member of the East Rutherford Council. Banca is also a longtime parishioner of St. Joseph’s, which was staffed by Holy Name friars for 99 years, until 2011.
People first began talking about the idea of a statue in 2001, after a Mass was celebrated on Sept. 11, said James Cassella, mayor of East Rutherford. Cassella had known Mychal since the 1960s, when Mychal arrived in East Rutherford and became active in the parish and in the community.
“I was in high school at the time,” he said. “I became friendly with Mychal and, through the years, even after he left our town, and I would see him at events around North Jersey.”
Donald Pitches, pastor of Carlstadt First Presbyterian Church, was instrumental in generating the idea of the tribute to Mychal, said Cassella, adding that during his 30 years in the area, the minister has had strong connections to the Franciscans.
“The project got off the ground in 2007,” said Rev. Pitches, whose church is just a few blocks from St. Joseph. “I never met Fr. Mychal, but I heard many stories about him. People told me that he along with two other Michaels — Michael Duffy, OFM, and Michael Tyson, OFM — were a presence in the community.”
The borough of East Rutherford liked the idea of the statue, and it has sponsored and paid for the sculpture, said Rev. Pitches.
“I have heard that Fr. Mychal did nothing that any other friar wouldn’t have done, but he did it in a way that made an impression on people and that served as an example for fellow clergy,” said Rev. Pitches. “I thought it was a good idea to honor him.”
“The park is the ideal place for the statue because it is the original spot where the parish school was located,” said the mayor.
The statue, designed by Hanlon Sculpture Studio of Toms River, N.J., was based on a photo of Mychal, said Cassella. Photos of the sculpture as a work in progress appear on a Facebook page called Father Mychal Judge — St. Joseph’s Park.
All are welcome to attend next month’s ceremony, which will include prayers, speakers, music and refreshments.
“We are working to arrange for a friar to bless the statue,” said Cassella, adding, “We miss the Franciscans at St. Joseph’s.”
Another event to commemorate the fallen fire chaplain was recently announced. The annual Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance in New York City will be held on Sept. 6. This walk, which has been held every year since 2002, begins on West 31st Street outside the firehouse across the street from St. Francis of Assisi Church and finishes in Lower Manhattan near the National September 11 Memorial. Information can be found on the event’s Facebook page, 9/11 Walk of Remembrance.
Over the past 14 years, HNP ministries, as well as many media outlets, have recognized Mychal on the anniversary of his death.
— Jocelyn Thomas is the Province’s director of communications.