Roger E. Joseph Prize
Awarded posthumously to Father Mychal Judge and
The City of New York Fire Department
May 12, 2002
Investiture and Ordination Ceremonies
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York
Accepted by Daniel A. Nigro
Chief of Department, The City of New York Fire Department
It is indeed an honor to be here this morning at this wonderful
Ordination Ceremony accepting, on behalf of Father Mychal Judge
and the New York City Fire Department, the prestigious Roger E.
Joseph Prize. Father Judge would be most pleased to be in the company
of Victor Kugler, Raoul Wallenberg, Rosa Parks, and the many other
distinguished winners of this award. He was quite an individual.
I cannot help but think that only Mychal Judge could get the Lutheran
Chief of Department to the Synagogue on Sunday morning to honor
a Franciscan! And somehow it feels completely right and natural.
I must say though that this is not the first time that I ve been
here. When I was about 12 years old, a very wise pastor who at that
time served at my church took a group of us to three of New York
s finest houses of worship: St. Patrick s Cathedral, Temple Emmanuel
and Riverside Church. He did this, I later realized, to show us,
as one of our Fire Chaplains, Rabbi Joseph Potasnick, tells us often,
that we are more alike than different. Three beautiful hymns of
praise built by men of three faiths to the glory of their one God.
And just as one can feel comfortable in the house of a friend and
neighbor, I feel comfortable in your house, or should I say in the
house of our God.
In February I received a letter from Rabbi Ellenson that began:
"I am most honored to inform you that the Hebrew Union College-Jewish
Institute of Religion wishes to recognize Chaplain Mychal Judge,
posthumously, with the awarding of the 2002 Roger E. Joseph Prize
for his singular courage in carrying out his ministry in a manner
unprecedented in its breadth and diversity." My compliments to Rabbi
Ellenson, the Joseph family, and to anyone else responsible for
the selection. You certainly understand Father Judge s ministry.
He was a man of inclusion not exclusion whose congregation extended
beyond St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street, and beyond the
New York City Fire Department. His pastoral care was extended to
many in our society who sometimes feel not only left out but also
actually prohibited from sharing in the life-giving grace of religious
partnership and affiliation. All who were touched by Father Judge
s magic were made to feel special, were made to feel worthy, and
were made to feel as if they also belonged.
We are here today because Father Mychal Judge acted on his beliefs.
Ministry is Service and Service involves action not just thinking.
Had Mychal simply thought that God loved us all, had he simply thought
that a personal relationship with God could help everyone, he would
still be remembered as a nice man, but we would be honoring another
today. He thought and then he acted, unafraid of offending some,
when and where his heart and his faith directed him. The expression
"Actions speak louder than words" is simple but profound. Every
society and every generation has recognized the wisdom contained
in that expression and created variations, such as: "Don t talk
the talk if you can t walk the walk." Well Mychal certainly walked
On the Morning of September 11th, when he was told of the tragedy
in progress, he, without hesitation, rushed to the scene and rushed
into the lobby of the North Tower. He knew that the firefighters
entering would need the comfort of his presence. He could have instead
stayed at St. Francis Church and prayed long and hard for the safety
of the firefighters that he served, but, as, much as he believed
in the power of prayer, I don t think he ever considered that option.
A man of action, a man who needed to be close to those he served,
needed to be there.
When I was young I had difficulty with the premise that evil physically
existed. That it could be a person or thing (the devil?) or a place
(hell?). Evil was merely an idea, a condition, the opposite of good,
I mistakenly thought. On the morning of September 11th, just as
it had done so many other times in our past, just as it had done
more than 60 years ago when Victor Kugler and Raoul Wallenberg bravely
faced it, evil put on the clothes on men and appeared in our midst.
On September 11th, evil stepped onto those airliners and evil physically
flew them at a speed of almost 600 MPH into the Twin Towers. Not
the idea of evil, not something in our imaginations, but real evil
that all of our senses responded to and recoiled from.
This real, physical evil that murdered innocents on September
11th, that continues to murder the innocent with suicide bombers
cannot be met and cannot be defeated by our hopes, our desires or
even by the best of our prayers. The physical presence of evil must
be met by the physical presence of good. Father Judge understood
these things on that terrible morning. He acted as he had throughout
his life, ministering without fear. He served our firefighters that
morning as he served all of his constituencies — with great love,
with great compassion and as a man of God.
As a representative of the New York City Fire Department and as
a personal friend of Father Mike, I thank all of you for this award.
He truly earned it.
Read Father Christopher
Keenan's Acceptance Speech.