By Jim Smith
On Sept. 11, firefighters laid the body of their chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, on the altar of St Peter’s Church, just as he, too, had laid down his life in sacrifice for the Fire Department he loved.
But time has passed, and as the life of the Fire Department of New York goes on, so the firefighters have found a new chaplain — Father Christopher Keenan, a brown-cassocked Franciscan brother like Mychal Judge, also based at St Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street.
That alone, Keenan acknowledges, is far from enough to fill the shoes of the man beloved all over the city, of whom one eulogist recalled, “he had friends in the White House and the poorhouse.” But already, the Fire Department seems to be embracing its new chaplain.
“There could be no better replacement for Father Mychal,” said one firefighter, Jimmy Hosford of Ladder 24, “because Father Chris is in the same mold. Franciscans are the salt of the earth, and that’s good, because firefighters are ordinary people.”
Keenan was born one of six children, the son of Irish immigrants who had come to New York in the 1920s. A graduate of St. Bonaventure College and the New York Theological Seminary, he became a Franciscan at the age of 22. Like Judge, Keenan ministered extensively to AIDS patients in the 1980s at two hospices he helped set up in Boston.
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As a young man, he had worked as a teamster loading and unloading trucks. Judge had also known manual work, having been a shoe-shine boy for a time outside Penn Station. Their families also knew each other as the two men grew up.
But Keenan has no illusions about emulating Judge’s unique and iconoclastic life, and has said that he is determined to plow his own path in the new job. Unlike Judge, he will not be assigned full time to the Fire Department but will share his duties with six other chaplains.
Since Sept, 11, duties for chaplains and priests have expanded — there are firefighters to counsel, the families and children of the missing and dead to console. At first, Keenan, who recently recovered from cancer surgery, wondered how he could find the strength.
In the end, he said, speaking to firefighters “challenged my narrow sense of faith,” and he rose to the occasion.
By Jim Smith
BOSTON — The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking a dismissal of the $50 million wrongful-death suit of the family of IRA gun-runner John McIntyre, who was allegedly killed in 1984 by James “Whitey” Bulger and his gangland associates.
McIntyre disappeared in 1984 at the age of 32 after reportedly telling police that Bulger, who at that time was a prized informant for the FBI, was involved in the unsuccessful plot earlier that year to smuggle tons of arms and ammunition to the IRA off the coast of Ireland from the fishing trawler Valhalla.
McIntyre’s remains were uncovered from a gravesite in Dorchester in January 2000 after police and federal agents were led there by a jailed associate of Bulger.
In its lawsuit, the McIntyre family contends that the FBI agents protecting Bulger in 1984 told him that McIntyre was implicating him in the gun-running scheme. During that period, Bulger, who has since been indicted for the murder of 18 people, was helping the FBI bring down the Italian Mafia in New England.
Bulger has been a fugitive since January 1995, when he was allegedly tipped off about a pending indictment by his FBI handler, John Connolly, who is one of the agents named in the McIntyre suit.
In seeking a dismissal of the suit, the Justice Department contends that it was filed too late after McIntyre’s death, a claim that has angered members of McIntyre’s family, who blame the FBI for having kept information about the murder of McIntyre from them for years.
Three Massachusetts congressmen who sit on the Judiciary Committee agree with the McIntyre family that the suit should go forward. In a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft earlier this month, Reps. Barney Frank, Martin Meehan and William Delahunt state that the Justice Department had collaborated in secret with Bulger in the past and is now “invoking its own secrecy about that collaboration to thwart an effort by the victim’s family to receive justice in federal court.”
The letter urges the Justice Department to reverse its position so that the suit can be “discussed and ultimately resolved on its own merits, not by the invocation of an inappropriate procedural rule.”