The Message of Mychal Judge’s Last Homily

Kevin Mullen, OFM Features

Mychal Judge presided at the wedding of the parents of a future Siena student on Sept. 9, 2001, two days before his death at The World Trade Center. (Photo courtesy of the De Franco family)

In an article published by Siena College on Sept. 11, Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, describes the connection to Mychal Judge, OFM, of a current Siena College freshman and the lasting contribution that the late FDNY chaplain has had on people of good will.

In August of 2020, Daniel De Franco began his journey at Siena College. Before coming to Siena, he was already connected to our community in that both his grandfathers were members of the FDNY and they were friends of Mychal Judge, OFM, the former assistant to the president at Siena College and the legendary Chaplain of the FDNY who was killed on 9-11-01.

Daniel’s family connection gets closer to Siena when you learn that Fr. Mychal presided at Daniel’s parents’ wedding on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2001 – two days before the attack on New York City. This unique connection to the FDNY and the person of Fr. Mychal Judge, along with his solid academic record, explains why Daniel is now fully connected to Siena on his own since he is the recipient of the Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM Scholarship from the college. Recalling this connection to Siena leads me to remember the lasting contribution that Fr. Mychal Judge made to Siena College and, in truth, to all people of good will.

On the day after the De Franco wedding, Sept. 10, 2001, the day before terror struck the city of New York, Mychal Judge’s routine would have included interactions with his Franciscan brothers and some pastoral work for the people in and around St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in Manhattan. However, of particular note on his schedule that day was a special ceremony that was being held in a firehouse in the Bronx. The house was being re-dedicated and, as one of the chaplains of the FDNY, Mychal was invited to preside at Mass, to preach, and to offer a blessing. Firefighters, who were on the job as well as retirees from the house, gathered with their family and friends for this special ceremony. The words that Mychal spoke in his homily that day before the twin towers collapsed has come to be known as “The Last Homily.”

Most homilies are proclaimed and then forgotten, but not this one. It was unique and it reminded me of what a wise professor of preaching once told me – never tell a congregation that – “you practice what you preach, rather say, I try to practice what I preach.” Over my many years of preaching, this teacher’s words have proven true. But there are exceptions. Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, is one of those notable exceptions.

In his homily at the firehouse on Sept. 10, our brother and everyone’s friend, spoke words that he lived to the full on the very next day and proved that it is possible “to practice what you preach.”

On Sept. 11 each year, Americans pause to pray and reflect. When you do so, please meditate on the message that Mychal Judge shared with his listeners on the day before he died. After he offered a prayer in which he gave thanks to God and to all the people who had assembled, Mychal reminded the firefighters about the vocation that they shared:

Good days.  And bad days.  Up days.  Down days.  Sad days.  Happy days.  But never a boring day on this job.  You do what God has called you to do.  You show up.  You put one foot in front of another.  You get on the rig and you go out and you do the job – which is a mystery.  And a surprise.  You have no idea when you get on that rig.  No matter how big the call.  No matter how small.  You have no idea what God is calling you to.  But he needs you.  He needs me.  He needs all of us.

He went on to challenge his listeners to remember that they must:

Be kind to each other.  Love each other.  Work together and do what you did the other night and the weeks and the months and the years before and from this house, God’s blessings go forth in this community.  It’s fantastic!

Finally, as he brought his remarks to a close, he said:

What great people.  We love the job.  We all do.  What a blessing that is.  A difficult, difficult job and God calls you to it.  And then He gives you a love for it so that a difficult job will be well done.  Isn’t He a wonderful God?  Isn’t He good to you?  To each one of you?  And to me!  Turn to Him each day.  Put your faith and your trust and your hope and your life in His hands, and He’ll take care of you and you’ll have a good life.

Yes, our brother Fr. Mychal Judge lived “a good life” and we are all blessed that he shared part of it with the Siena community. When the Lord called Mychal, he was ready – his words in “The Last Homily” demonstrate that he was prepared on 9-11-01 to hear God’s voice.

May his memory and his example continue to inspire the Siena community. Rest in peace, Fr. Mychal – your job is complete, we hope to complete ours as you taught us.

— Kevin Mullen, Provincial Minister of Holy Name Province since June 2014,  graduated in 1975 from Siena College where he served as president from 2007 until 2014.  The June issue of HNP Today included a reflection by Kevin titled “Racism and Ways to Confront a Crisis.”