9/11/2001 As I sit in my house still recovering from Pancreatitus, the sound of military helicopters and jets pass overhead from time to time. I am struck by the loss of a great man in the true sense of the word.
1966 or so:
An alter boy is impressed at the Priest he meets at church. "This is Father Mychal boys, he will be running the alter boy's group now" we are told by the pastor of our church one afternoon after school. Seems like a cool guy. Next thing you know he is getting a bus to take us all to Bertram's Island at Lake Hopatcong in NJ. There was no 6 flags in NJ yet, this was the only game in town at the time. There is an amusement park there and he feels we all deserve a fun trip for our service as Alter boys. With a giant roll of tickets he hands us all a bunch and off we go into this park to knock ourselves silly on the rides.
The following year I think, our bigoted little town, Rochelle Park, was shocked to hear a black family moved in. Our all white town was shaken. A petition was circulated by a few of the good folks in town to say they didn't have a problem with "those people" Blacks, moving in. Well the new priest was one of many who signed this document. Can you imagine what gall it took to even have a petition about this subject. Tolerance at the time was a term which referred to how tight to make a bolt not how to accept others different then ourselves.
Well this good priest signed this petition. He was different then any priest I had ever met till then and since. Something about the fact he not only told us how to be, but proved it in his life with his actions. Next thing you know he was gone. The higher-ups in the church thought he was too controversial to stay. The people from the town sent letters to the Arch Diocese to complain about him and that was enough to ship him out. I lost touch with him for many years after that.
I find out from a friend that there is a priest in Carlstadt who is excellent. I should come to Saint Joseph's and check him out. Low and behold there is Father Mychal. I say hello and he remembers me. We chat, I show him my new car and he blesses it for me after noon mass. We talk for a while and I tell him how much I missed him after he was gone. He tells me to be good and know that it was all for the better. He had no animosity towards anyone in the town. Impressive.
I have gotten involved in the "Born Again" movement. My parents think I am in some kind of cult and want me to talk to a priest. Well the only priest I know and trust is Father Mychal. So off me and my dad go to Saint Joseph's church for a meeting with Father Mychel. He is comforting and reassuring to my dad and tells him "There is nothing wrong with this book." , holding the bible I now carried all the time in his hand, then says to me "Mike, if you let this come between you and your family, (holding up the bible) something is wrong. God wouldn't do that." My dad feels better, I feel better and we leave together in a better state then when we came in.
About the same time, a man in Carlstadt takes his family hostage and is going to kill them. I am watching the news and see the coverage. They say he was talked out of it by a local priest. I see on the TV something that blows me away. There is Father Mychal climbing a ladder to a window where the man is sitting with a shotgun. He talks the man down and no one is hurt. this priest is something and I feel proud to have known him.
I hear about a year afterwards he is going to leave this church. My heart breaks again. I so enjoyed this man and his work. He is so down to earth.
1990 or so:
Thanksgiving morning I am watching TV. The news is on and I see Mayor Dinkens handing out food to the homeless. Who is handing him the sandwiches to give out? Father Mychal. Seems he had moved into the city after leaving Saint Joseph's in NJ. He was putting his life out there to help the homeless in NYC. I was impressed but not surprised. This man gave up everything in life to share God with everyone he met. I thought I would love to go and see him someday to let him know how much he meant to me in my life but never found the time.
1995 or so:
I hear from my mom Father Mychal is sick and may die, I promise myself I am going to look him up and say hello. I so loved this man. Time is short though. I have so much to do. I never find the time. Seems Father Mychal recovers and goes back to doing God's work.
The day is horrible. I watch as the second of two terrorist attacks hit the World Trade Center live on TV. I am shocked and bewildered. I want to be close to the people who love me. I head out to pick up my daughter and her two stepbrother's at school. I hear on the radio along the way that tower two of the World trade center is collapsing. My heart drops to the floor. When I see my daughter I am thankful she is OK and bring her and her one step brother with me to get the other at the middle school. As Nick emerges he tells me the other tower has collapsed also. I am almost in tears but try to be strong for the kids. This is a hellish day.
After making sure everyone in my family is OK, I return to my home, alone I sit and watch TV wondering how we as a people will deal with the terrorist's who did such an act.
My mom calls me to let me know she is home from Atlantic City safely. She tells me she has bad news. Father Mychal was killed in the attack. I listen in disbelief. I don't want to know. I act incredulous at the thought. She must be wrong. Later Mayor Giuliani is having another press conference. I watch this somber man as he tells of friends he knows were lost in the collapse of building one. "Father Judge" comes out of his mouth. I stare not moving a muscle.
Father Mychal Judge was a good man. It doesn't surprise me he was at ground zero to help people in trouble. He was the Chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. He always did as he preached, he put his money where his mouth was. Shocked yes, surprised no. Sad, extremely.
It has come to my attention that the reason Father Mychal was there was to give last rights to the fire and police men before going into the building to save the lives of the people trying to escape. These brave men and women knew they may not come out alive. Father Mychal knew as well. They went anyway despite the chance of dying. "What greater love has a man then to give up his life for a friend?"
I was too busy to go see him. I am so sorry for that, somehow though I am sure he knew in his heart we all loved him even if we couldn't find time to tell him and I am sure he forgives me. I couldn't let my tears go though, without telling all of you of this wonderful man and what he meant to one soul on this earth, no matter how insignificant I am.
Art Russ Junior had a great sports radio show many years ago in NYC. He ended every show with these words, "Yesterday is a canceled check, Tomorrow is a promissory note, Today is the only time you have so spend it wisely." Such words are so true. Tell someone you know how much they meant to you in your life. I didn't and am forever sorry for that. Don't do as I do. Do as Father Mychal did. He was a greater man then anyone I ever knew or that I will ever be. He will be missed, Heaven is a more better place with him there. God Bless everyone affected by this tragedy and God Bless America.
Michael P. Randazzo