Father Mychal Judge statue unveiled in East Rutherford

Kelly Nicholaides South Bergenite

The statue is larger than life, and befitting the legacy of Father Mychal Judge — the Franciscan Friar who left a trail of acts of kindness and courage and oversaw the spiritual needs of generations in East Rutherford and beyond.

East Rutherford elected officials unveiled the $40,000 bronze statue which is the centerpiece of the reconstructed and transformed park on the corner of Hoboken Road and Paterson Avenue. The property, owned by the borough of East Rutherford, sits across the street from St. Joseph’s Church where the Franciscan friar and priest worked.

Holding a rosary and looking out over East Rutherford, the statue of Father Mychal Judge was unveiled on June 14 as hundreds looked on. The event also marks the unveiling of the transformation of an underutilized park on the corner of Hoboken Road and Paterson Avenue. The site has been reconstructed as a passive park with benches tables and the statue as a centerpiece.

Judge was also FDNY chaplain who died at age 68 at the World Trade Center during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as he was administering last rites [sic – This is urban legend. Father Mychal Judge died in the lobby of Tower 1 when Tower 2 collapsed.] Father Judge, 68, was also a Franciscan friar and priest at St. Joseph’s Church.

The $40,000 sculpture was created by renowned artist Brian Hanlon, who has created similar statues of Padre Pio, Yogi Berra and boxer Larry Holmes. The clay model was completed, and the sculpture cast in bronze, and surrounded by clergy and police and firefighters from surrounding towns as well as representatives from the New York City Fire Department, including Chaplain Chris Keenan, Rotarians, Hibernians, and Knights of Columbus. Bagpipes and drums, a color guard march and speeches, the Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem and a prayer prefaced the statue’s unveiling.

“This is not a time for mourning and loss but a time to recognize a life fully and well lived,” said Reverend Donald Pitches of Carlstadt First Presbyterian Church.

Pitches recalled that Judge was part of three Mikes — Fathers Michael Tyson, Michael Duffy and Mychal Judge — all of whom wore the longer, coifed hair of the 1980s and were sometimes referred to as the three amigos or the three musketeers. Judge left Pitches with a lasting impact more so than most.

“His compassion showed for Detective Steven McDonald [after a New York City shooting that left him paralyzed in 1986], the Pan AM Flight 800 families, and on September 11, 2001. Is that not etched and burned in our minds? Father Judge was an inspiration to all, with his brokenness, his flaws, frailties, at times was vulnerable but faithful. His life shows us how to live,” Pitches said. “We come to relive the dreams of his mind, convey the message of his voice, carry the good works of his hands, and the love within his heart.”

Recalling his teenage years when Judge made an impact on youth, Mayor James Cassella noted creative ways Judge got teenage boys to go to Sunday and Wednesday masses, by making it a requirement if boys wanted to go to social church functions such as dances or retreats. St. Joe’s School football players were focusing on football just before the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

“Teens at first were oblivious to what was going on, as we were on the brink of nuclear war. Football was not a priority. He still wished us well and celebrated our wins,” Cassella recalled. “He looked over a teammate after a serious head injury in a game with Clifton and stayed with him until he was out of danger. That was Mychal Judge. Whether he was tending to a seriously injured teen, a police detective or people on September 11 at WTC, that was Father Mychal Judge and his life’s work. In the end, ‘the love you take is the love you make,’ Cassella said, quoting the Beatles song ‘The End.’

The crowd launched into singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” in the end, and the St. Joseph Church choir band performed.

The statue and park transformation reenergizes the underutilized park. In the past, it has seen a hockey rink and a tiny tennis court. Now there’s a new playground in the upper portion, and pavers, benches and the statue in the lower portion.

“Nobody really ever used it, and part of the problem was the location. Kids were going to Grove Street Park, Riggin Field or other areas in town,” said former Councilman Thomas Banca who spearheaded a fundraising drive to raise money and offset costs for the statue. “It wasn’t a big park for sports, and so this prompted us to look to make it a passive park.”

The Mayor and Council awarded a $322,176 contract on March 18, 2014, to Adamo Construction, the lowest bidder, for the St. Joseph’s Church memorial. Subcontractors approved to work include J&C Irrigation and Windsor Mechanical. The borough received a $250,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres in July 2010, and $53,423 from Bergen County Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust in May 2012. The remaining balance came from capital improvements ordinance, existing ordinances or the borough’s current fund, eliminating the need to bond.

Work completed changes the entire layout, including the removal of a hockey rink.

“It was removed and replaced with a checkerboard pattern of alternating two-foot square bluestone and sod,” said Councilman Jeff Lahullier.

A paver walkway runs directly across the checkerboard area, which includes four game tables and leading to the statue. The perimeter around the checkerboard area includes a paver walkway with park benches. A paver walkway meanders directly off the perimeter walkway to a circular flag pole area. The upper area includes new playground equipment, including a new swing set and park benches. Other features include new fencing along Hoboken Road and Prospect Terrace. Existing irrigation was modified and supplemented with a new system. Additionally, new light poles were installed, and electrical updates completed.

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