For the first time in 15 years, NYPD Det. Steven McDonald was not there to lead the annual Father Mychal Judge Walk of Remembrance on Sunday, an event he created to honor his friend killed in the 9/11 terror attacks.
The beloved hero cop — shot and paralyzed over 30 years ago — died in January, but his strong spirit loomed large. Almost 1,000 people walked the 3-mile route Sunday that Judge took on Sept. 11, 2001, from his midtown church to the World Trade Center.
“This is Steven’s legacy,” said Rev. Christopher Keenan, who took Judge’s spot as FDNY chaplain. “He visited every firehouse and every precinct that he could to ask people to walk. He was relentless in making aware the gift of Mychal’s life.”
After McDonald was shot and paralyzed in 1986, Father Judge inspired him to accept his situation and find a higher purpose, said Conor McDonald, Steven’s son who is an NYPD sergeant.
“This was the most important accomplishment I think he did after he was injured, besides forgiving the young man that shot him and spreading his word of forgiveness and reconciliation,” McDonald said. “He put his heart and soul into this walk because Father Mychal meant so much to him.”
The remembrance started with a rosary and Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street, where Judge lived. Holding photos of McDonald and Judge, walkers stopped at several firehouses and police precincts to read the names of first responders who died on Sept. 11.
Patti Ann McDonald smiled at the warm camaraderie among participants as they walked together in the bright afternoon sun.
“I think it’s important not just to remember Father Mike but all of the people who were taken that day and all the people who have passed away since,” she said.
“This was something that Steven loved,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “It’s sad he’s not here but I’m so incredibly happy to see so many people here today.”
McDonald and Judge formed a tight bond, even taking their message of forgiveness to Northern Ireland, home to bloody struggles between Catholics and Protestants.
“They were a pair,” said Michael Daly, a special correspondent for The Daily Beast who authored “The Book of Mychal” about Judge. “Steven was the purest spirit of the New York City Police and Mychal was the purest spirit of the New York City Fire Department.”
“For those of us who loved both of them, we are walking for both of them this year,” he said.