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Admirers Still Urging Sainthood for Chaplain Killed on 9/11

Those accounts depicted Judge as “the best icon” of humanity, Escalante told The Associated Press via email this week. But there was a hitch: The Franciscans — who would be expected to lead a sainthood campaign on behalf of someone from the order — declined to do so for Judge.

“We are very proud of our brother’s legacy and we have shared his story with many people,” the Rev. Kevin Mullen, leader of the Franciscans’ New York-based Holy Name Province, told AP via email, “We leave it to our brothers in the generations to come to inquire about sainthood.”

Escalante hopes supporters persevere and form a viable organization that could pursue sainthood in the coming years. Among the tasks: building a case that a miracle occurred through prayers to Judge.

“The negative decision of the Friars cannot be seen as a preclusion to going ahead with Fr. Judge’s cause,” Escalante wrote. “It’s just a challenge to American people.”

Francis DeBernardo, leader of the LGBTQ Catholic advocacy group New Ways Ministry, was among those providing Escalante with favorable testimonies about Judge.

DeBernardo told AP he’ll soon announce plans to form an association promoting Judge’s sainthood, ideally with help from firefighters, LGBTQ people and other communities he ministered to.

“It would be a testimony to Fr. Judge’s legacy if these diverse sectors of society came together to work for the canonization of a man that they all already know is a saint,” DeBernardo said via email.

Sal Sapienza, now a Protestant minister in Michigan, was a 20-something wavering Catholic in New York in 1989 when he saw an ad in a gay publication seeking volunteers to do AIDS/HIV outreach. Answering the ad, Sapienza met Judge at St. Francis of Assisi.

Throughout their collaboration, Sapienza marveled at Judge’s faith and generous spirit.

“What is a saint?” Sapienza asked. “Part of it is they inspire us to want to rise higher along our spiritual path, to be the best versions of what God wanted us to be. Mychal was the best example of that.”

Particularly striking, Sapienza said, was how Judge interacted lovingly with others, whether they were homeless people or wealthy celebrities.

“The macho group of fire department guys, they kind of claimed him for their own,” Sapienza said. “The Catholic gay community also claimed him, thinking, ‘Father Mychal is our guy,’ because he was really able to connect with everybody.”

Sapienza had joined the Marist Brothers, a Catholic order, and took a pledge of celibacy after leading an active gay social life. But within a few years, he left the church, no longer able to reconcile his faith with a disapproving view of homosexual relations as “intrinsically disordered.”

He remains grateful to Judge for supporting that decision.

To whatever extent he was saintly, Judge is remembered for earthly traits — a vibrant sense of humor, a willingness to critique the church hierarchy. According to Sapienza’s biography of Judge, the priest awoke one morning early in his career after a night of heavy drinking to discover he’d acquired a shamrock tattoo on his buttocks.

In 1974, long before settling in New York, Judge was pastor of St. Joseph Church in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

John Barone, then a youthful truck driver and now the 68-year-old owner of an engineering firm, was impressed by Judge’s caring ministry to his family when his mother-in-law became seriously ill. Sometimes in church, Barone recalled, Judge would become so impassioned that he’d descend from the pulpit and preach from the aisle.

“He was genuine — you knew he truly walked in Christ’s shoes,” Barone said. “If someone was an underdog, he was their champion.”


Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

This article originally appeared here.

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David is a New York-based reporter with The Associated Press, covering national social issues. His past postings include Nairobi, Johannesburg, Paris, Sarajevo, and Toronto.