- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 25, 2002

NEW YORK Brendan Fay, preparing for a pilgrimage to the healing shrine at Lourdes, France, this summer, packed something extra: 400 pictures of the Rev. Mychal Judge.
Mr. Fay distributed the photos to his fellow pilgrims. In a crowd teeming with different languages and nationalities, "we didn't once need to explain who he was," recalled Mr. Fay, a longtime friend of Father Judge. "Everyone recognized the 'New York priest.'"
That was Father Judge, the fire department chaplain and first to die at the World Trade Center a modern martyr with perfect hair and a radiant smile. Many make their own pilgrimage down a two-lane stretch of North Jersey road to stand before his grave and pray.
Many more believe it is time to make Father Judge a saint.
"What a wonderful idea the possibility that there was a saint walking among us who died in such a magnificent way," said Burt Kearns, creator of a Web site urging Father Judge's canonization. "He's like a modern-day St. Francis."
Father Judge's canonization would be a true miracle on 31st Street, where the priest divided his time between the friary and the firefighters at Engine Co. 1/Ladder Co. 24. Officials of his church and order haven't been keen on the idea.
Father Judge's well-chronicled life and extraordinary death provide the "St. Mychal" brigade with all the evidence they need to push for his sainthood.
Father Judge, with his dry wit and boundless energy, tended to a flock that included all sorts: firefighters, the homeless, homosexuals, alcoholics. Up to 40 calls per day wore out his answering machine in six months. Father Judge maintained a schedule that seemed to pack 48 hours into each day.
Mr. Kearns, like so many others, never knew about Father Judge's life until after his death.
In January, Mr. Kearns was reading a newspaper when he was struck by the famous picture of rescue workers carrying Father Judge's limp body from the World Trade Center a shot compared by many to Michelangelo's "Pieta."
As a boy growing up Catholic, Mr. Kearns had viewed the saints as plastic icons glued to dashboards, or pictures hanging in his parents' bedroom. But looking at Father Judge, Mr. Kearns took a different view: Here, too, was a saint.
Three months later, Mr. Kearns opened his Internet campaign and it has opened his eyes. He has received thousands of e-mails from people expressing their love for Father Judge, or asking for his picture, or seeking a relic from the priest.
"You get a sense of awe," Mr. Kearns said.
There was the single mother in Colorado, who named her new son Mychal. And the Australian firefighter, who proposed Father Judge as the new patron saint of firefighters. And the Arizona man, who offered any assistance at all in the canonization effort.
"I know in my heart that Father Mychal is already a saint," read one e-mail. "He is in heaven, flying with the angels and with our Blessed Virgin. God bless him."
Consideration for sainthood typically must wait until five years after death, although Father Judge's backers hope for a waiver. It is unlikely, but so was the gregarious Irishman's posthumous elevation to star status.
The street beneath his old bedroom window at the friary now bears his name, as does a Hudson River ferry and uncounted post-September 11 children. His chaplain's helmet was presented to Pope John Paul II. One Father Judge biography is already on the shelves, with another one due next year.
Many who knew Father Judge believe the priest would find the attention comical.
"He'd think it was a real hoot, you know?" said Frank Carven, who met Father Judge in July 1996 after losing his sister and nephew in the crash of TWA Flight 800. "I can imagine him looking down, seeing all this canonization talk, and just chuckling."
Father Judge's fellow Franciscans aren't laughing, but they aren't taking the push for sainthood too seriously. One of the order's leaders, speaking after accepting yet another award for the late priest, gently applied the brakes to the St. Mychal movement.
"There is a rush to canonize Mychal these days, and I think it is a mistake," said the Rev. John Felice, provincial minister for the friars. "He was a very human, flawed complex person just like the rest of us. His real legacy is the stuff of greatness."
Mr. Fay, the homosexual Irish activist who brought the priest's pictures to Lourdes, felt mixed emotions about Father Mychal's proposed sainthood.
"It seems a crazy idea putting him on a pedestal, making him untouchable," said Mr. Fay. "But he was in his life, by the voice of people, already a saint."

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