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Online Extra: Gays Across America: NY chaplain recalled forkindness, AIDS ministry

by Seth Hemmelgarn

The body of Father Mychal Judge is taken from the World<br>Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
The body of Father Mychal Judge is taken from the World
Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters  

Advocates are pushing for a gay New York priest who ministered to people living with AIDS and rushed into the burning World Trade Center on 9/11 to be made a saint.

Father Mychal Judge, a New York fire department chaplain, became known as "Victim Number One" after he died when he and other first responders went to help others, according to Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Maryland-based, LGBT-supportive New Ways Ministry.

The ministry is asking people who knew Judge to share their stories of working with the priest. DeBernardo said his organization has heard from 15 to 20 people so far, and he'll pass on their contact information to a Vatican priest.

About two weeks ago, Pope Francis added the "Offering of Life" category so that somebody who "knowingly gives his or her life for other people" is eligible for canonization, said DeBernardo.

Judge fits that description "precisely" because his sacrifice was "so great," he said.

"I never met him but he was a hero to the Catholic gay community," and many of the people who have contacted New Ways "have told me that for years they have been praying to him, and they already see him as a saint," said DeBernardo.

Salvatore Sapienza, 53, of Saugatuck, Michigan, worked with Judge in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the AIDS crisis was hitting its peak in New York.

"The Catholic Church was not responding to the crisis at all, and many people in the gay community saw the Catholic Church as the enemy," said Sapienza.

With the help of Sapienza and some others, Judge started an AIDS ministry in the monastery where he lived.

"Nobody in the church was really doing anything until Mychal had the idea to start something," he said.

Judge was "larger than life," said Sapienza. "He really was like one of those people you see when they walk into a room gets everyone's attention."

The priest "always wore the Franciscan robe and sandals everywhere in Manhattan," even on the subway, he said. Judge explained he saw it as his uniform. Just as people would seek out police or firefighters when there was an emergency, Judge wanted people to be able to find him when they needed spiritual help, said Sapienza.

"He really was a saintly figure in so many ways," he said. "Unfortunately, we think of saints as being people who were pious holy rollers, and Mychal was a very real person. He was the New York City fire chaplain, so he was hanging out with these blue-collar firefighters from the boroughs, and he could laugh with them and tell jokes with them."

Sapienza added that Judge "saw the light in everybody. He saw the goodness in all people and met them where they were."

Judge, who was out to his circle of friends, "was very clear he was a celibate man. He was faithful to his vows," he said.

Every morning, Judge recited a prayer that said, "Lord today take me where you want me to go, let me meet who you want me to meet, tell me want you want me to say, and keep me out of your way," according to Sapienza.

Judge's habit of "surrendering to life" and being "in the flow of life" is probably what led him into the World Trade Center just after it was attacked, he said, adding, "That's where he was supposed to be."

DeBernardo, who declined to state his orientation, said, "It's hard to say" whether Judge would be the first gay saint, because historians have said there's evidence that other saints were lesbian, gay, or transgender.

For information on how to contact New Ways about Judge, go to


HIV advocacy at 'Girls Trip'

HIV advocates and service providers were marking the national release of the film "Girls Trip" by distributing condoms and local testing resources at the film's Oakland debut.

Bay Area Black Treatment Advocates Network, an initiative of the Black AIDS Institute, organized Friday's event at Regal Jack London Stadium 9. The film, which is about four friends' wild time in New Orleans, stars Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Many have been concerned for years about HIV infection rates among African-Americans across the country, and according to organizers of Friday's event, over 18 percent of the people who are living with HIV/AIDS in Alameda County are women. Most of those women are African-American.

"The disproportionate incidence of AIDS cases among African-American women highlights the deadly magnitude of the HIV/AIDS epidemic within our regions communities of color," organizers said in a news release.

Spokeswoman Denisha DeLane said in an email that similar events would probably be taking place again for the next two weeks.


Gays Across America is a column addressing LGBTQ issues nationwide. It runs most Tuesdays. Please submit comments or column ideas to Seth Hemmelgarn at (415) 875-9986 or



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