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By Lynn and Bob Gillen

Links for Learners | December 2001

No Greater Gift: Mychal Judge, O.F.M.


Finding Curriculum Connections
Finding Links
Understanding Basic Terms
A Chaplain's Life of Service
Are You Capable of Heroic Service?
Prayer Attributed to Father Judge
Research Resources

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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:
Christian lifestyles—lives of service; vocation and career

Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs outside the classroom, such as:

Parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; young adult discussion programs; seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.
Parents will also find this material useful in initiating discussion around the dinner table, in home study, at family activities.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for the key words and terms below as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself or from the resource materials cited throughout the Links for Learners. You can also find a list of terms on the glossary page of



Spiritual kingdom

Rescue mission



A Chaplain's Life of Service

We are most familiar with the work done by our parish priests, our local rabbis and ministers. These religious leaders serve residential neighborhoods, ministering to people where they live.

Other religious leaders serve specific groups not associated with a neighborhood, groups with a common mission or purpose, people in unique circumstances. We call these ministers chaplains.

  • The U.S. Senate has had a chaplain since 1789, elected by the Senate to serve as a spiritual advisor and counselor. Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie, the present chaplain, serves some 6,000 senators, aides and their families. The U.S. House also has a chaplain. The current chaplain, Father Daniel P. Coughlin, is the first Catholic priest to serve as House chaplain.
  • The domestic chaplain served nobility and gentry for centuries, often working apart from the normal supervision of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
  • Chaplains serve in the military, ministering to soldiers and their families on their bases or in wartime battlefields. The U.S. Army, for example, has a chaplain's school at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.
  • The Boy Scouts of America use chaplains to minister to Scouts of all faiths.
  • Chaplains serve students away from home at colleges such as Providence in Rhode Island.
  • Many hospitals have chaplains who care for the sick and dying and their families.
  • Numerous city police departments rely on chaplains to support their members, especially in time of crisis.
  • Chaplains minister to prisoners in jail.
  • Even the nation's truckers have a chaplain's network to support them while they're on the road. "Chaplain Bob" is one, serving truckers and travelers at a truck stop in western Pennsylvania.
  • And, of course, firefighters across the country have chaplains to minister to their spiritual needs.

Chaplains do for their groups just what a local priest does for his parishioners: celebrate liturgy; offer reconciliation and healing in the sacraments; counsel about family problems; help with substance abuse; offer support in time of grief; pray with their people.

Chaplains dedicate their lives to service. Most live lives of "ordinary" heroism, being there day in and day out for their people. Some, like Father Mychal Judge, are thrust into dramatic or life-threatening circumstances where extraordinary heroism is called for. During the Korean War, for example, a military chaplain named Emil Kapaun was captured along with many American soldiers. He served the soldiers heroically in prison camp, feeding them, making them warm, praying with them, until he himself died of pneumonia in 1951.

What motivated Father Mychal to run into a burning office tower in New York? Do you wonder where people like him find the courage, the spiritual strength, for heroic service?

The accompanying article suggests that what made Father Mychal so sensitive to the needs of others was his awareness of his own vulnerabilities. Perhaps this is precisely what made him capable of heroic service. As a boy, he lost his father and struggled to help support his family. He later dedicated his life to ministry, often caring for families who had lost a loved one. When TWA Flight 800 crashed in the ocean off Long Island, New York, Father Mychal became a counselor to the families of the victims.

The accompanying article was written only days after Mychal Judge's September 11 death. Some weeks later, other aspects of Mychal Judge's private life became public. A November 12, 2001, article in New York magazine describes the friar as a gay priest and a recovering alchoholic. There is no indication of scandal, only the fact that he was a celibate man of gay orientation who had been sober for 18 years when he died.

Father Mychal found the courage to minister to people afflicted with AIDS. He supported the gay and lesbian community of New York City, opening the doors of St. Francis of Assisi church to an AIDS support organization when it could find no home.

Are You Capable of Heroic Service?

Try this exercise to gain perspective on the different forms a life of service can take. Set up three columns on a piece of paper. Using the links bulleted in the section above, create a list of five or six job duties common to various chaplaincy roles. Make this list Column A.

Write a brief list or "job description" that captures some of your own responsibilities as a teen. You might include family duties such as caring for younger siblings and school responsibilities such as class leadership or even getting passing grades. Make this list Column B on your paper. Do the duties and the characteristics of a chaplain have any parallels to your own teen life?

For Column C, read two selections from St. Matthew's Gospel and create a list of Christian duties from Jesus' directives in his Sermon on the Mount and from his reply to the righteous: When did we see you hungry and thirsty, a stranger, naked or in prison?

Do you find any parallels, any common Christian obligations, among the three columns? While you're listing the responsibilities in the three columns, be aware also of your personal vulnerabilities. What could keep you from living up to your duties? Recall what the tribute to Father Mychal said about the source of his sensitivity to others. When you can acknowledge to yourself, for example, that you sometimes feel lonely, that you crave a hug or a warm word from an often-indifferent parent, then you can find the strength to console a classmate in need. Then you can participate in a school service project and bring a few moments of joy to an elderly person or a handicapped child. Then you can be a hero in the service of others.

In spite of their anxiety and fear, teenagers across the country are responding in the wake of the September 11th attacks with an increased sense of direction and purpose, according to CNN. Some are signing up for military service, some are participating in peace rallies and others are writing letters to local newspapers and government leaders. CNN quotes several teens now considering careers in politics.

Certainly there is no lack of inspiration. The men and women among the police and firefighters, the volunteer doctors, broadcast journalists, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Father Mychal—all stand as symbols of dedication and service.

You too may find inspiration from your fellow teens, or from the heroic women and men of September 11th. For career direction and information, you may find these links helpful:

Prayer attributed to Father Judge

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,
And keep me out of your way.


Research Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

The New York Times
The Los Angeles Times
Time magazine
The Associated Press
The Chicago Tribune
People magazine
The History Channel
The Miami Herald
The Close Up Foundation Washington, D.C.-based organization
ABC News
Channel One’s online resource
The Vatican
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
The New American Bible
Documents of Vatican II

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