(This story was published in 2001).
By: Gene Dermody
I watched them build the World Trade Center for years while traveling to the high school at Peter's (Jesuit) ... right across the Hudson River in downtown Jersey City. I remember that skyline before and now after the World Trade Center attack. The view from the top was the 8th. wonder of the world. I took every tourist there, and was never bored with it. My love affair with the WTC extended through my college years at NYU, as it was the last stop on the PATH train from Hoboken. I lived on the Westside of Manhattan for some 10 years, and saw those towers from various vantage points ... Brooklyn, New Jersey, the New Jersey TurnPike, etc..
The coverage of the NYC Firemen chaplain, Fr. Mychal Judge OFM (Franciscan), who died while giving last rites, also flooded me with teenage memories. He was all over the New York City TV coverage last week. He was an unselfish man who epitomized not only what a priest should be, but what a man should be.
He was our pastor back in the '60s at St. Joseph's RC in East Rutherford, NJ. I distinctly remember that he was a strikingly good-looking man under all those brown robes, a wiry, physical, Mel Gibson type.
I used to play the great pipe organ at the Sunday 9am Mass, and I sometimes would stray from the usual boring communion music to some slow Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black". Remember, this was pre-Vatican II, a solemn Tridentine affair. He would immediately pause, look up to the choir loft, and give me a look that could kill from the altar rail where he was dispensing the host. Sometimes he would catch me practicing some heavy Bach T&C on Saturday afternoon during those somber confessions. I learned the term "inappropriate behavior" from Fr. Michael.
I guess he rediscovered his Slavic heritage, since he must have later changed his Latin name Michael to the Cyrillic Mychal. That is why it took me almost a week to finally realize it was the same Fr. Michael.
He also was the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) advisor, of which I was the president for many years. I can remember arguing with him about everything from the Vietnam War to civil rights to sex-drugs-rock&roll, to (oh-yes) the 'h' word. He never condescended or pulled rank or behaved inappropriately. No matter how we disagreed (he was so liberationist theology, and I was a Goldwater Republican), he always treated me with kindness and respect. I did not know he was gay, I did not know I was gay, the word was not yet invented. Our relationship was purely 'apostolic', and he was for many years my father figure.
Fr. Michael was sometimes annoyed with my stubbornness, and with my stern convictions. I vividly remember this one admonishment which struck me then as weird. It went something like...
"Gene, you analyze too much. Trust your heart a little more, and you will be a lot happier."
I did not 'come out' until 1971. I never really gave it much more thought until this week. I guess we are all thinking about a lot of things we usually don't.
Gene Dermody, an active member of Golden Gate Wrestling, lives in San Francisco and is the Male Co-President of the Federation of Gay Games