It all started with a friend's social media post.
"Has anyone heard of the film "Remembering Mychal," she asked?
This friend, a former co-worker turned Disciples of Christ Pastor, was desperately searching for the film as she wanted it to serve as the foundation for her planned sermon that would be on 9/11.
While I had, in fact, heard of the film and even thought to myself "I've seen that!," the truth is a fairly basic search came up dry and what began as a favor for a friend turned into an all-out search for this film about Father Mychal Judge, FDNY Chaplain of 9/11, and led me to the digital doorstep of the film's writer and director, Brendan Fay.
Truthfully, I didn't hold out much hope that Remembering Mychal was in release. After all, I'm an established film journalist and these kinds of things are rather easy to track down with a little effort.
Barring actually finding it in release, I found it even less likely that I would successfully reach Brendan Fay and be able to figure out a way for myself and my friend to actually watch the film.
Ye of little faith.
Shortly before Fay was scheduled to leave for Poland, I was able to exchange e-mails with the passionate activist yet warm and welcoming soul. And yes, he ensured arrangements were made for both of us to view the film prior to his departure.
I share this story precisely because it's filled with the love and humanity that radiates throughout the simple yet remarkable Remembering Mychal, a 50-minute feature doc that recalls the 'Months Mind' gathering after the attacks on 9/11 where people shared their memories and stories of Fr. Mychal Judge. If you can make it through Remembering Mychal without crying, you're either a life form other than human or there's something else seriously wrong.
The film centers around October 11, 2001 a month after Franciscan Chaplain Father Mychal Judge died in the 9/11 attacks in the World Trade Center, when friends gathered to grieve, find hope and remember their priest and friend, Fr. Mychal. In stories, prayer and song, parishioners from New Jersey and New York, recovering alcoholics, firefighters, Franciscans, People with AIDS, Irish musicians and the LGBTQ community unwrap the life and heart of Mychal Judge. In tenderness, tears and laughter - a compassionate and human Father Mychal emerges and it's as if all of of these things add a richness to the images of Father Mychal of which we're all remarkably familiar as they became early images of one of the nation's most tragic days.
I believe my first tears fell as we began to hear Mychal's voice from September 10, 2001 as he delivered what would be his final benediction and homily during the rededication and blessing of the Bronx fire house, Engine 73/Ladder 42. His words - "You do what God has called you to do. You show up. You put one foot in front of another. You get on the rig and you go out and you do the job - which is a mystery." Less than 24 hours, Father Mychal would be the first identified fatality on a day when thousands lost their lives. Yet, one can't help but get the feeling that even if he'd known his fate for the day Father Mychal would have shown up for the mystery of it all.
Remembering Mychal features appearances by Malachy McCourt, Pete Hamill, Mychal McNicholas, Michael Daly, Tommy Ryan, Jose Rodriguez, Debi Rabbene, Larry Boes, and Mary Somoza among others. Music, remarkable music, is courtesy of Mary Courtney with Morning Star along with renowed Irish musicians and composers Cormac Breatnach, Jack Harrison, and Michael James Regan.
Remembering Mychal weaves a beautiful tapestry of achival footage, images and words of Father Michael, and a broad history of his years as Franciscan parish priest along with outreach to grieving families of Flight 800, AIDS ministry, his advocacy for the LGBTQ community, the recovery community, and his fierce dedication as chaplin to the New York City Fire Department.
Remembering Mychal is refreshingly devoid of razzle-dazzle, a simplicity honoring the simplicity of Father Mychal's life and ministry and long history of "showing up." This is a film that could easily be called raw, yet that rawness makes it an even more powerful documentary and it makes it a film that I've been unable to shake long after having watched it and had it influence a man whose ministry already captivated me.
The journey of Remembering Mychal continues as Fay explores screening opportunities overseas, including Poland, and actively seeks distribution that will allow the film to reach a wider audience.
Regardless, Remembering Mychal is a quietly unforgettable documentary documentary the life and ministry and dedication of Father Mychal Judge and the legacy he continues to have 20+ years later. I consider myself fortunate to have seen the film and can only hope that the film finds the audience it so much deserves.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic