By Father William Hart McNichols
A gay priest is considered a saint by many since his heroic death in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.
Father Mychal Judge (1933-2001), chaplain to New York City firefighters, responded quickly when Muslim extremists flew hijacked planes into the twin towers. He rushed with firefighters into the north tower right after the first plane hit. Refusing to be evacuated, he prayed and administered sacraments as debris crashed outside. He saw dozens of bodies hit the plaza outside as people jumped to their deaths. His final prayer, repeated over and over, was “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”
While he was praying, Father Mychal was struck and killed in a storm of flying steel and concrete that exploded when the south tower collapsed. He was the first officially recorded fatality of the 9/11 attack. Father Mychal was designated as Victim 0001 because his was the first body recovered at the scene. More than 2,500 people from many nationalities and walks of life were killed. Thousands more escaped the buildings safely.
After Father Mychal’s death, some of his friends revealed that he considered himself a gay man. He had a homosexual orientation, but by all accounts he remained faithful to his vow of celibacy as a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan order.
The charismatic, elderly priest was a long-term member of Dignity, the oldest and largest national lay movement of LGBT Catholics and their allies. Father Mychal voiced disagreement with the Vatican’s condemnation of homosexuality, and found ways to welcome Dignity’s AIDS ministry despite a ban by church leaders. He defied a church boycott of the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens, showing up in his habit and granting news media interviews.
Many people, both inside and outside the GLBT community, call Father Mychal a saint. He has not been canonized by his own Roman Catholic Church, but some feel that he has already become a saint by popular acclamation, and the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America did declare officially declare him a saint. For more info on Father Mychal, visit his Wikipedia entry or the Saint Mychal Judge Blog.
The above icon by Father William Hart McNichols shows Father Mychal with St. Francis of Assisi as the World Trade Center burns behind them. They hold out a veil to gather and help people who cry out in times of violence and terror. In the text accompanying the icon, Father McNichols describes Father Mychal as a Passion Bearer who “takes on the on-coming violence rather than returning it… choosing solidarity with the unprotected.”
Father McNichols is a renowned iconographer and Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico. After earning a Master of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute in New York, he studied icon painting with the Russian-American master Robert Lentz. Like Lentz, he paints icons with contemporary subjects, as well as many with classical themes. Some of his icons express compassion for people with AIDS, based on his experiences working at an AIDS hospice in New York City in the 1980s. Father McNichols is one of 11 artists featured in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” by Kittredge Cherry.
This post launches the new GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies will be covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.