The chaplain to the New York City Fire Department was the first certified fatality of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Born in Brooklyn in 1933, the son of immigrants from Ireland, Judge was a boy shoe shiner at Penn Station who felt drawn to the St. Francis of Assisi Church across the street and at the age of 15, set out on the road to priesthood. After he was ordained as a priest he worked in various parishes in the Northeast before being assigned to the Manhattan church where he had first seen the Franciscan friars.
In 1992, Judge was appointed chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. As part of his service he offered prayers at fires and hospitals, and counseled firemen and their families. He ministered to the homeless and the poor, the ill, people with AIDS, LGBTQ folks and he anointed a man who was dying of AIDS. When the man asked him, “Do you think God hates me?” Judge picked him up, and kissed him, according to reports. Judge worked with St. Clare’s Hospital, which opened the city’s first AIDS ward, and visited hospitals and AIDS patients and their families, presided over funerals, and even counseled other gay Catholics.
Judge continued to be an advocate for gay rights, marching in Pride parades, and after his death, his friends revealed that Judge was gay and had been involved with a Filipino nurse named Al Alvarado in the last year of his life, which Judge recorded in his diaries. However, the Catholic church attempted to deny this and said that LGBTQ activists wanted to claim Judge as their own. But Judge was in fact a long-term member of Dignity, a Catholic LGBT activist organization that advocates for change in the Catholic Church’s view of homosexuality.
On September 11, 2001, upon learning that the World Trade Center had been hit by the first of two hijacked planes, Judge, 68, rushed to the site to do his work. There, Rudolph Giuliani, the Mayor of New York City at the time, asked him to pray for the city and its victims. Judge entered the World Trade Center North Tower where first responders were working. When the neighboring South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m., debris fell into the North Tower lobby, killing Judge.
NYPD Lieutenant William Cosgrove and two firefighters, and FDNY EMT, Kevin Allen and a civilian bystander, Former U.S. Army Maj. John P. Maguire, found Judge’s body and carried it out of the North Tower moments before the towers collapsed at 10:28 a.m.
Shannon Stapleton, a photographer from Reuters, took a photo of Judge’s body being carried out of the rubble by the five men and it became one of the most iconic images of 9/11.
Judge was designated as Victim 0001 and thereby recognized as the first official victim of the attacks because he was the first body to be recovered and taken to the medical examiner.
On September 15, 2001, 3,000 people attended Judge’s funeral service at St. Francis of Assisi Church, which was presided over by Cardinal Edward Egan, the Archbishop of New York. Former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton also attended, and Mr. Clinton said, “We should lift his life up as an example of what has to prevail. We have to be more like Father Mike than the people who killed him.”
There has been a movement to make Judge a saint, but that has been denied by his own order.