New book pays tribute to Franciscan who said ‘yes’ to God

By Joshua Garner
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Kelly Ann Lynch recalls her friend, Franciscan Father Mychal F. Judge, as someone who always said “yes” to helping those in need.

That’s why Lynch named her new children’s book “He Said Yes: The Story of Father Mychal Judge.”

“He said ‘yes’ to so many things,” said Lynch of the New York City fire chaplain who died ministering to victims in the rubble of the World Trade Center’s twin towers Sept. 11, 2001. “He was an amazing man.”

His story and life of service to others was the inspiration behind Lynch’s first book, which hits store shelves in early September.

The idea to write a children’s book based on Father Judge’s life came to her during Mass in late 2002 near her hometown of Lancaster, Pa. She was still grieving the loss of a man she’d known all her life.

“I remember thinking Father Mychal’s story was too important not to be told or shared,” she said.

She described him as a proud Irish-American with a soft and soothing voice, recalling that he would often speak to her in a crowded room as if she were the only person there.

Her life lessons and experiences with Father Judge are found across the pages of “He Said Yes.” The book features vivid illustrations by artist M. Scott Oatman of moments in her life when Father Judge was present.

Lynch said Father Judge was an emotional constant in her life, always there to provide support. She had known him since she was a young girl growing up in New Jersey. By 23 she was married, with a 7-month-old daughter, Shannon, who was terminally ill with a failing liver.

Abandoned by her husband, whom she said could not deal with the pressure of their child’s illness, Lynch said she was left to fend for herself. It was Father Judge who urged her to let go and leave it up to God, she said.

And it was Father Judge who told her, “God cannot heal Shannon until you give her back.”

“I literally lifted her (Shannon) up to God and I let go,” she said. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Shannon Lynch, now 17, survived thanks to a revolutionary liver-transplant procedure. As with her mother, she said, Father Judge had become a constant presence in her life.

“I just remember all the love he had for us and our family,” she said. “He became a best friend to our family.”

And it was the love of the book that would eventually convince book publishers to print it.

Initially editors at Paulist Press said they did not know what to expect. After all, Lynch never attended college and most of her work experience was as a legal aide, not a writer.

“We loved Kelly’s manuscript. We loved the incredible paintings” by Oatman, said Susan O’Keefe, children’s editor at Paulist Press in Mahwah, N.J. “But at some point we had to step away and ask, ‘Can we sell it?’

“We took the leap,” she said in an e-mail to Catholic News Service.

The leap of faith is starting to pay off. The book sold more than 600 copies in preorders, an impressive accomplishment for a first-time author.

Kelly Lynch has become a minicelebrity in her hometown of Lancaster, appearing on the cover of the local newspaper and participating in book signings and interviews with national media outlets. She has already completed two more children’s books.

Still, Lynch said she will remain dedicated to keeping Father Judge’s memory alive and passing on his message, “Listen for (God’s) voice and say ‘yes.'”

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