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Stations of Mychal 
virtual program notes and libretto

Welcome to “Stations of Mychal.”


This project began to take shape in the mind of tenor Richard Novak some five years ago, as a way to bring Father Mychal Judge’s life – and the lessons it offers about the power of love, hope, faith, tolerance, courage, and joy – to the world in the form of a song cycle.  The genre includes some of the greatest works in the vocal repertoire, by composers such as Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Schönberg, Britten, Copland, Argento, and Barber. Contemporary composers have continued the form’s vitality in a variety of musical styles, including works by Daron Hagen, Kim D. Sherman, Libby Larsen, John Muriello/David Gompper, Jason Robert Brown, Sandra Seaton/William Bolcom, Jennifer Higdon, Maria Schneider, and our own Kevin Salfen among others. As a way of bringing an individual voice to the stage, of exploring in depth a life, a journey, a set of preoccupations or a collection of images, the song cycle is perhaps unequaled in its aptness and malleability. 

The process of developing “Stations of Mychal” began in earnest about three years ago, as Rick Novak began to assemble the creative team (composer, librettist, and performing ensemble) and further developed relationships with people who were close to Fr. Judge in various ways so that we might learn about him from people who knew him and witnessed his ministry. Some of these invaluable connections to Fr. Judge are listed at the end of our program notes along with other citations of more traditional bibliographic resources. 

The structure of the cycle is inspired by the Christian tradition of the “Stations of the Cross,” “Way of the Cross,” or “Via Dolorosa” (Way of Suffering/Sorrow), marking the final passage of Christ to the cross. St. Francis of Assisi’s writings helped codify and popularize the ritual reenactment of the Stations in churches and cathedrals worldwide. The Stations of the Cross have become an organizing principle in many art forms from medieval liturgical painting and drama to musical forms to modern drama. The structure offers an opportunity for reflection and contemplation of each step as well as a ritual, ceremonial template for forward motion as in a narrative.  

Our song cycle does not literally recreate the Passion of Christ, but the form resonates with aspects of Mychal Judge’s life that have been called Christ-like by numerous commentators, and gives a sense of “deep structure” to his journey, as each Station allows us to pause along the way for reflection and emotional expression – actions for which the human voice raised in song is particularly apt.

We thank you for being part of this journey and look forward to your responses to “Stations of Mychal.”


Rick Novak, conceiver/performer

Rick Davis, librettist

Kevin Salfen, composer

Ames Asbell, performer

Joey Martin, performer

Follow along in the libretto below to read the text as you experience the performance. 

I. Invocation

Lord, take me where You want me to go;

Let me meet who You want me to meet;

Tell me what You want me to say;

And keep me out of Your way.

II. Family Pictures

Robert Emmett Judge 

Came smiling into this world

Eleventh of May, 1933, in Brooklyn.


At least I like to think 

I was smiling.

More likely I was bawling

Like any newborn babe

Breathing the world’s cold air.


I learned to use a smile

As weapon, tool, or blessing. 

When my name was Michael,

When I became a Father.

When I was Father Mychal.


My twin, my sister Dympna

Came two days late to the party,

Ever and always a part of me,

My sounding board, my mirror.


My father’s name was Michael.

Got sick when we were three.

Our Mother Mary Ann would take us 

To the hospital to see him, 

But children couldn’t visit there.

We stood outside 

And saw him there

Through the window glass. 


Ireland is green, they say.

My father's Ireland,

A land he loved, 

A land that called to him.

A land of light and joy.

Blue sky, green grass. 

A land beyond time,

County Leitrim.

Hills and lakes and heroes.


Sidh beag agus sidh mór,

A song my father sang

About a battle long ago

In County Leitrim.


His songs and stories stopped

When I was six.  

When I was just a boy. 


We carried on, 

My sisters and my mother.

My twin, my Dympna,

Erin, Mother Mary Ann. 


As the world runs down

Into something called the Great Depression,

She does everything she can

To keep us moving.


Hard on us,

Hard on herself, hard on God.

Because the times are hard.

We know we have to carry on.

We cannot choose. 

III. At Pennsylvania Station


People come and go

Trains run in and out

Like breath from the lungs 

Of this dirty city

At Pennsylvania Station.


I shine the dirty shoes

Of men who come and go

Who can pay an Irish boy

To scrape off the grime

Of this dirty city

At Pennsylvania Station.


Across the street, a church.

Brown brick. A brown-robed friar

In backlit glass with arms outstretched.

Saint Francis.


I’m shining shoes

But something calls me there

Across the street.


Peace. A candlelit quiet.

Men in brown robes,

No shoes to shine, 

Sandals softly treading

The stones and tiles. 


I am called to this: vocation.

A vow of poverty, a vow of love.

I am chosen, I do not choose. 


But now the world’s at war

And I, I shine the shoes

Of men who come and go

Like breath from the lungs

Of this dirty city

At Pennsylvania Station. 



What was I feeling when I looked up at that church?
When I saw the image of Saint Francis 

Towering above the door?

Saw the friars ministering to the poor?


When I looked up at that church,

When I went inside and spoke

With the men in brown robes,

And saw their simple ways,

Caring, loving, giving,

Making dark places light,

I found my life. 


Those men in robes

Made manifest

What matters in this world.

Not cars or clothes or money,

Romance or fancy living. 


I saw in them a dream of who

I thought I might become.






Willing to be poor. 

Willing to be chaste.  

Willing to obey.


I am willing.  

I am called. 

I will answer. 


Wherever it takes me

I willingly go.

IV. Ordination

The long, long journey to the altar is almost finished.

Discernment, Vocation, Formation, 

And now, my solemn Profession.


As I lie prostrate before God,

The spirit of Saint Francis fills me:


“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is dark, light.

Where there is sadness, sadness, joy. 


“O divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console.

To be understood as to understand.

To be loved as to love. 


“For it is in giving that we receive,

And it’s in pardoning 

That we are pardoned,

And it’s in dying, dying

That we are born to Eternal Life. 



Rising up, I feel strong Franciscan hands

On my forehead, and hear the words

I have longed to hear:


Consecrare, et sanctificare digneris, Domine.

manus istas per istam unctionem, et nostrum benedictionem.



I am a priest.

V. Demonsong

“I confess to Almighty God

that I have sinned in thought, and word, and deed;

in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,

by my fault, by my fault, by my most grievous fault.”

VI. Dignity

Saint Francis kissed a leper 

On the road to Assisi.

Got off his horse, walked up

To the man with half a face,

And gave him alms,

And kissed him.


Back on his horse, he looked around;

The man was gone.

Jesus Christ! Saint Francis thought.

I’ve just embraced my Lord and Savior. 


Why does my church

Teach me not to serve, not to touch

These men who waste away?

Sometimes their families shun them,

They lose their work, and then – 

Lepers. They turn into lepers.

Is it for the sin? Is it for the crime?
Of loving other men.


In the railroad flats and hospitals

Of this dirty city, I come and go,

To bring a little blessing

To the lives of men with AIDS.

Some from high society,

Some from off the street;

All equal in God’s eyes, all loved.

Someone has to show them.

So I, I wash the feet 

Of dying men

In the railroad flats and hospitals

Of this dirty city that I love. 

VII. Alvarado

There was a presence

In the back of the church.

Unseen, then seen, unseen.


I felt him there

As surely as I feel

The breath of God.

God is love.

God is love.



He is love. 

One holy, one wholly



Both touch me

Without touching me.

I touch them both

Without knowing if they
Feel my touch. 



Faith must be enough.

Can it be enough?


Love is love

Is love is love

Is God.

VIII. Into the Fire


Do you hear the sound of the Pipes and Drums?

The Emerald Society is on the march.

Beating snares, booming bass,

Drones and chanters calling out

The music of old Ireland.


To honor the life of a fallen friend,

To celebrate in a great parade,

To sing, to dance, world without end,

To bring a smile to the face, to bring a tear to the eye.  

To walk a mile together.



I was reluctant.

At first I didn’t want the job.

These men, who talk of sports

And booze and women,

Would not want me to be their chaplain.

Not my style.


But God had other plans

And I’m so grateful.  


These men put fear aside,

Go straight into the flames,

Up stairs and ladders, 

Through burning halls.

The glow of fire ahead

Lights up their faces. 


We all should praise their names,

These men are saviors,

Every day they show me 

With their courage

What we call grace.



O, how I love to hear and say their names.

Paddy, Timmy, Brian, and Jim.

Flaherty, Drennan, Fitzgerald, Fitzpatrick,

Corcoran, McDonald, O’Flaherty, O’Donnell,

O’Dwyer, O’Brien, O’Connor.  


You get the point.


We celebrate. We mourn.

We remember.  Together.



And how I love my fire car,

With lights and sirens,

Plates that say “F.D.N.Y.”

What a splendid way to ride

Past the traffic jams and trucks and cabs

Of this infernal crowded city.  


My fire car has room

For coats and shoes

And scarves and hats

For the ones that winter finds outside.

My other flock. 


They’ll always be with us. 

I offer them some simple help.

A coat and crisply folded dollar bill,

The things they need right now.

And a blessing. That is all. 


Then lights and sirens,

Turnout coat and helmet on,

Another call. 



Do you hear the sound of the Pipes and Drums?

The Emerald Society is on the march.

Beating snares, booming bass,

Drones and chanters calling out

The music of old Ireland.


St. Patrick’s Day!  The green is everywhere.

But here and there you see a rainbow.
There’s more than one parade, you know.

Pride is universal. Green is beautiful. 

But I’m at home in all the colors

Of the rainbow.

IX. Vigil

Forty days we watched 

As bits of Captain Drennan fell

Or were taken by the surgeon’s hands.

A bit of leg, a bit of arm, a bit of face

The bits that could not stand the burn

Until finally the core gave out

And he fell. All of him.


I came and went, as chaplains do.

I held what parts I could.

His wife, his Vina, by his side.

Trusting his doctors,

Trusting his priest,

Maybe not trusting God.


Until the end perhaps,

When after forty days

We all felt his spirit rise

Like smoke.

X. Peacemaker

There was an Irish cop

Named Steven McDonald,

One day in Central Park,

Crossed paths with Shavod Jones. 


Fifteen years old, a kid with a gun.

And scared enough

Or mad enough

Or desperate enough

To use it.  


A shot.

A shot.

Another shot.

Officer down.


Officer McDonald

Would never walk again.

I prayed with him;

At first it was my duty.

Then it became a gift from God


When Officer McDonald did

What most us could not.

Forgave that kid, and told the world.

And told Shavod. 


Blessed are the peacemakers.


If any land cried out

For the blessings of peace,

Lord, it was Ireland.


Then came Good Friday, 1998.

The North and the South

Made a peace, or started to.


Steven and I – both Irish, you know –

Would help them, heal them.

But as we were leaving,

A moment of terror

In the North.  In Omagh. 


A blast. A fire. 

Twenty-nine dead,

Some two hundred injured.

Men, women, children, 

Catholics and Protestants.



We decided to go.

Steven and I went to Omagh.

Drumcree. Belfast.

Places where forgiveness

Was in short supply.


We prayed with Protestants,

Prayed with Catholics;

Families and friends 

Of the people who died.

Then Steven said:

“I want to share 

My simple message

Of forgiveness.” 


Then the cop in the chair

And the friar in the robe

Found forgiveness, peace

On every side.

XI. Trans World

Rise up, big metal bird.

Rise up, ungainly wonder of the world.

Carry your precious cargo of souls

To Paris, and onward to Rome.

Carry the High School French Club

From Montoursville, P.A. 

To a new destiny.


Crossing Long Island shore

A fireball.

Bodies fall.

Metal falls.



Falling. Falling. Falling. 

Families wait.

Bodies float and sink.

Pieces of wreckage

Slowly reassemble.

But not their lives.

Not these families’ lives.


I tell them this to try to help

And as I say it, I believe it.


God is present, loving, smiling, having received our loved ones.

They are in His presence, warmed by His love.
Our world is empty without them.

Our hearts are broken, our sadness immense. 

We live in sorrow together.

We need You, Lord. Please come and touch us. 

Fill us with courage. Calm our discomfort.

Give us signs of Your presence.

We ask You, we beg You: 


XII. The Last Homily (September 10, 2001)

I told my friend the other day

I didn’t know how much longer

I could keep this up.

All those good men gone.
All those families grieving.

All those homilies for the dead

And what can I say to the living?


But God always surprises.

This time he took me to the Bronx

To preach a homily to the men

Of Engine 73, Ladder 42, FDNY.

A warm sun rises on September 10th, 2001.

And I teach myself again

What I believe, and why. 


Good morning, everyone.


Truly this firehouse is a chapel.

We can never thank God enough for that

And for the lives we have.

So, standing in His presence here this morning,

Let us pause.  Let us close our eyes. 

Let us thank God for some special blessings in our lives. 


Let us pray.


Thank you Lord for life.

Thank you for love.

Thank you for goodness.

Thank you for work.

Thank you for family.

Thank you for friends. 

Thank you for every gift

Because we know that every gift

Comes from you, and without you,

We are nothing.


We make our prayer, as always,

In Jesus’ name who lives with you forever and ever.


That’s the way it is.

Good days, bad days.


You do what God has called you to do.

You show up. Get on the rig.

Go out and do the job.

It’s a mystery – and a surprise.


You have no idea

What God is calling you to. 

But He needs you. 

He needs me.

He needs all of us. 


Be kind to each other.

Love each other.

Work together and do what you do

And from this house, God’s blessings go forth. 


Isn’t He a wonderful God?  

Isn’t He good to you?  

To each one of you? And to me.


Turn to Him each day,

Put your faith and your trust 

And your hope and your life 

In His hands,

And He will take care of you.

He will take care of you.


And this house will be a blessing.

A great, great blessing to this city. 



XIII. 8:50 a.m., 9-11-01

Jesus, please end this right now.

God, please end this. 

Jesus, please end this right now.

XIV. Dismissal

Lord, take me where You want me to go;

Let me meet who You want me to meet;

Tell me what You want me to say;

And keep me out of Your way.

Libretto ©2021 by Rick Davis. All rights reserved.


‘Stations of Mychal’ is made possible by a generous Research Enhancement Program (REP) grant from Texas State University.


Many individuals and organizations have contributed to the creation and performance of 'Stations of Mychal'. Some knew Fr. Mychal Judge personally and shared their stories, photos, and resources. Others learned through the creation of this cycle about the life and work of Fr. Judge. Some of these individuals are:

Fr. Christopher Keenan, Mychal’s successor as Chaplain to the Fire Department of New York. We owe Fr. Chris a special debt of thanks for his steadfast support of this work throughout its creation and for enabling its performance in New York City. He and his Franciscan colleagues have been inspirational from the beginning of this journey.

Gary Urbanowicz, Executive Director, New York City Fire Museum, for important consultation and making rare and valuable archival material available to us.

Michael Daly, for sharing his unique personal insights with us and for writing a definitive work on Mychal Judge, The Book of Mychal: The Surprising Life and Heroic Death of Father Mychal Judge.

Kelly Ann Lynch, co-founder of the charity Mychal’s Message and author of He Said Yes, the story of Father Mychal Judge, for bringing us personal reflections on the impact of Fr. Mychal, and for helping make his story accessible to young readers.

Sharon and Robert Hickey, co-founders of Mychal’s Message, for their stories of Fr. Mychal’s ministry. 

Captain John Bates: 9/11 Walk of Remembrance Coordinator for his support and enthusiasm in helping advertise our NYC performances.


Meredith Augustine, Director of Music at St. Francis for logistical assistance.

Reid May, our talented and wonderful audio engineer. 


Holy Name Province, for assistance in setting up NYC performances and donations to Mychal Judge Charities.


Our spouses/family members for their support, patience, and unconditional love!


Courtney Katzmeyer, our dedicated and brilliant Media Specialist.


Fr. Mychal Judge, for teaching us all about love, forgiveness, and how to follow Christ. Even in death, your life and ministry continue to inspire us all.

For more information on the life and work of Mychal Judge, see the following resources and sources. 

  • Father Mychal Judge: an authentic American hero by Michael Ford

  • Mychal’s Prayer: praying with Father Mychal Judge by Salvatore Sapienza.

  • The Steven McDonald Story by Steven McDonald and Patti Ann McDonald, with E.J. Kahn III.

  • The Franciscan Saints by Robert Ellsberg.

  • Real Irish New York by Dermot McEvoy

  • “Saint of 9/11,” a film by Glenn Holsten.

  • “9/11,” a film by Jules and Gédéon Naudet and James Hanlon. 

  • (for Air Traffic Control tapes and transcripts)

  • (Fr. Michael Duffy, StoryCorps)

  • (helped carry Fr. Mychal out of the WTC)

Ordination Process:

Franciscan Matters: