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A beloved Fire Department chaplain lives on through the ministry of an 11-year-old girl and her mother.
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
All this week, the Register is recalling the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Each day, we are featuring the recollections of an individual Catholic who was there or whose lives were impacted by the tragic events. We invite you to recall your own experiences of that day in the comment box below.
God can bring good out of what evil tries to do and see that good ripple out even far and wide.
Kelly Ann Lynch was living in Lancaster, Penn., at the time of 9/11. She and her family had known Franciscan Father Mychal Judge from the 1960s in New Jersey, when her parents were married and had their children baptized. As Lynch left a Mass for the victims of 9/11 that evening, her husband called and told her Father Mychal had been killed.
Father Mychal, chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, had rushed from his home at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in Manhattan in response to the plane crash. He was ministering to an injured firefighter at one of the twin towers when he was struck by falling debris. His was the first recorded death on 9/11.
Firefighters carried his body into nearby St. Peter’s Church and placed it before the altar. The 68-year-old Brooklyn native, son of Irish immigrants, had celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination earlier that year.
News of the friar’s death was devastating for the Lynches. Father Mychal had been a source of strength and comfort for them 11 years earlier, when their baby daughter, Shannon, had a rare liver ailment and was not expected to live. “Father Mychal was the one who got me through that time in my life,” Lynch said. “He was there and a tremendous source of spiritual comfort and guidance…. He was so inspired by God and driven by the Holy Spirit. He was always there.”
Lynch said as soon as Father Mychal died, she wanted to share his story. At weekday Mass she was inspired to write a children’s book. “I heard in my soul, He Said Yes,” which turned into the title. “He continually said Yes as he heard God calling him to be there with his people, helping the poor and the firemen.”
Every January, on the anniversary of Shannon’s transplant, the family thanks God for the gift of her life at Mass. At the celebration in 2002, the first after Father Mychal’s death, instead of gifts, Shannon asked for socks for the homeless to give away in memory of the friar.
That first year, she got 1500 pairs. To every pair the family attached a prayer card with a prayer Father Mychal had written, and they gave them to homeless at Francis of Assisi.
“Lord, take me where you want me to go; let me meet who you want me to meet; tell me what you want me to say,” the prayer says. “And keep me out of your way.”
Since the beginning of the Lynches’ apostolate, called Mychal’s Message, they have collected and distributed tens of thousands of pairs of socks, underwear, toiletries, baby necessities, clothes and many other items for the homeless and poor. benefiting not only people in New York but in six states as far as Louisiana and even Iraq.
“9/11 has clearly, surely deepened and strengthened my faith and the faith of my family,” Lynch said. “It has also taught us to simply love. Since Sept. 11, knowing Father Mychal has challenged us to be better, to give more, to love more, to recognize everyone you encounter has a story and to pull each other along the way (to heaven). 9/11 has really taught us that.”
Tomorrow: The archbishop of New York recounts what happened on 9/11.
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.