Review: Saint of 9/11

This somber, reverential documentary examines the life of Mychal Judge, a priest who died at the World Trade Center while serving in his role as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. Judge’s popularity extended across a surprisingly broad spectrum of the city, and the documentary works best when it tries to tie together the various facets of the priest’s life.

Judge was born in Brooklyn in 1933 to Irish immigrant parents, and entered a Franciscan seminary as a teenager in 1948. After a decade as a friar, he was ordained a priest in 1961. Judge worked in three parishes in New Jersey, but found his true calling aiding the homeless in New York City. As a gay priest and recovering alcoholic, he was at the center of the most controversial aspects of the Archdiocese of New York during the 1980s.

It was his work as a chaplain to the Fire Department that brought Judge to the attention of a broader public. His ministry after the 1986 crash of TWA Flight 800 in the waters off Long Island showed a remarkable sensitivity and compassion to the families of the victims. Judge also gained considerable respect for his commitment to AIDS patients, for his peace efforts in Northern Ireland, and for his preaching, shown here in some brief, tantalizing video clips.

Throughout the film, director Glenn Holsten is limited by the lack of available footage of Judge. Most of Saint of 9/11 consists of talking heads who share reminiscences about the priest. The documentary could have made its points equally well without some of the more hagiographic comments, and some early montages border on the maudlin. Still, Judge comes off as a warm, smart, and courageous priest free of pretensions.

Holsten handles the attack on the World Trade Center with welcome discretion. Footage shot of Judge just before his death show the priest stunned by the enormity of the disaster. As a friend observes, the priest would have bridled at any suggestion that he was a saint. Holsten’s occasional hyperbole notwithstanding, it’s likely that Judge would have enjoyed this film.

Credits

Featuring: Brian Carroll, Tom Von Essen, Shannon Stapleton, Mychal McNicholas, Brendan Fay, Christopher Keenan, Fred Langevin, Malachy McCourt, John McNeill, Everald Brathwaite, Eddie Mouson, Patrick Kowalski, Patricia Lewsley, Eugene McManamin, Steven McDonald, Father Fergus O’Keefe, Pauline Campbell, Father Brendan O’Rourke, Sister Stephanie Flaherty, Mary Lanning, Brother Tom Carey, Jose Rodriguez, Tom Ryan, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton.

Crew: Directed by Glenn Holsten. Executive producer: Malcolm Lazin. Co-producer: Brendan Fay. Narrated by Ian McKellen. Edited by Kathleen Soulliere. Director of photography: Christopher Landy. Music by Michael Aharon. A Red Envelope Entertainment and IFC Films presentation of an Equality Forum production.

 

IFC Films/Color/1.85/91 Mins./Not rated

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