Most Inspiring Person of the Year Award
FATHER MYCHAL JUDGE
"I don't deserve it! Why is God doing this to me?"
Most people say this in bitterness, when they're angry with God. But often before last Christmas, Father Mychal Judge said this in gratitude for his many blessings: the Franciscan priesthood he loved, his work as a fire chaplain, his family, his friends. Why did he need holiday presents, he asked, when God had already blessed him so richly?
On the morning of September 11, when Father Mike heard that the World Trade Center had been attacked, he quickly changed into his chaplain's uniform and rushed to Ground Zero. He was killed by debris while ministering to anyone who needed him in the lobby of Tower One.
Father Mike's generosity of self, his spirit of joyful sacrifice, had impacted others for years. It extended from his ministry to AIDS victims and the gay community to interfaith work with New York’s Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center to providing ongoing support to relatives of the Flight 800 passengers. Officer Steven McDonald, a police detective who became permanently wheelchair-bound after an assailant’s bullet paralyzed him, says that frequent talks with Father Mike led him to forgive his attacker and become an outspoken advocate of forgiveness as way to heal anger. Father Mike's gentleness and deep compassion made every person he touched into a friend.
In 2001, not just New York City but the whole world saw Father Mike's love in action. He was the first World Trade Center victim officially recorded as dead, and a photo of firemen carrying their beloved chaplain out of the wreckage was the first image many Americans saw of the victims. Father Mike’s friends and fellow priests believe there’s a reason for those firsts: Father Mike went on ahead to welcome his fallen comrades into heaven. Says Steven McDonald, "Father Mike is there in that next life comforting those people that have passed on from this terrible tragedy. His work has just begun."