Kathleen Sprows Cummings, the director of the Cushwa Center for American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, wrote an essay for the National Catholic Reporter about which holy person ought to be canonized in this era of COVID-19 and reinvigorated civil rights protests. She discusses several candidates, including two whose canonization process has already begun: Fr. Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, and Bishop Fulton Sheen, a popular radio and television personality from the 1940s and 1950s. Both, she notes, are holy men, either of whom would represent “firsts” for the American Church: whoever is canonized first would be the first native-born American male and the first Irish-American to become a saint.
However, Cummings believes that there is another candidate who, if canonized, would be a “first” as well as hold more relevance for our present situation. She recommends a different Mychal, explaining:
“Many already regard Mychal Judge, a Franciscan chaplain to New York City firefighters who died on September 11, 2001, as an unofficial saint. Judge’s reputation for holiness had been established through his ministry to AIDS victims throughout the deadliest years of that plague, and putting him on a path to official sainthood now would inspire us to respond with compassion and courage to the current pandemic.
“But what makes Mychal an even more relevant saint for our times is his openness about his own homosexuality. Canonizing this people’s saint would compel the Catholic Church to be more welcoming to LGBT Catholics. More powerfully, it would help to shatter the strict code of silence surrounding all things sexual that exacerbated clerical abuse and its cover-up. No vaccine exists for this scourge. The only hope of a cure lies in radical reform, atonement, and telling the truth.
“St. Mychal Judge, pray for us.”
The canonization of Mychal Judge would inspire the faithful to greater openness around LGBTQ issues and remind us that every person is called to holiness. Another holy person in the Church, Thomas Merton, once said that “…to be a saint means to be myself.” Fr. Mychal Judge, by his openness about his own identity, shows us that authenticity is an important part of sanctification.
As the COVID-19 crisis reminds us of the urgency of the pursuit of holiness and the Black Lives Matter movement reminds us of the courage required to speak the truth against injustice, Mychal Judge is truly a saint for our times.
—Madeline Foley, July 16, 2020