by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — In a year when law enforcement has faced unprecedented challenges across the country, the Catholic community gathered on Aug. 19 to support its police, sheriff, highway patrol and fire departments in its first-ever Topeka regional Blue Mass.
The Blue Mass — so named for the color often worn by police and firefighters — was offered “for all who serve,” but in a special way for those who have died. The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and concelebrated by area priests, including Father John Pilcher, pastor of Mater Dei Parish and the Topeka regional leader.
The Mass was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council 8059 of Mater Dei Parish and included a color guard provided by the James W. Gibbons Assembly 0286 and San Juan Diego Assembly 3452, both of Topeka.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann first expressed his gratitude to the area priests and Knights of Columbus who had organized the special Mass in order to show their support of, and appreciation for, all who serve the community.
Then, addressing those police officers and other emergency personnel in attendance, he said that he hoped that “in some small way, this Mass today gives you encouragement to know that there are many, many people that are very, very grateful for what you do each and every day.”
The archbishop also expressed gratitude to the family members of those who serve, noting that they, too, make tremendous sacrifices in order to support their loved ones in protecting society at large.
The custom of celebrating a Blue Mass in the United States goes back roughly 100 years. On Sept. 29, 1934, Father Thomas Dade, founder of the Catholic Police and Firemen’s Society, celebrated Mass at St. Patrick Church in Washington, D.C. More than 1,100 policemen and firemen donned their blue uniforms and processed to the church to honor fallen members of their ranks. The date was chosen specifically because it was the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of police officers.
The idea gradually spread to other dioceses. However, the practice spread nationally after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Topeka Mass, which organizers hope will become an annual celebration, took nearly a year to plan. Grand Knight John Anguiano, of Council 8059, said they hope in the future to time the celebration to National Police Week, observed during the week of May 15. Established by Congress and President John F. Kennedy, National Police Week and National Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15) are days set aside to honor and remember those who have fallen in the line of duty while protecting society.
Anguiano, who is a retired sergeant with the Topeka Police Department, said the Mass was very special to him.
“It meant a lot to me,” he said. “When I served, I lost three brothers in the line of the duty.”
Since his retirement, Anguiano has lost three more brother officers as a result of a traffic stop gone awry, a helicopter crash and a drug bust.
“Since 1995, six officers who I have served with have been killed. So, to have a Mass to honor those who gave their lives and to ask the Lord to watch over and protect those serving today meant so much to me.”
Captain Bill Cochran, a member of the Topeka Police Department for 28 years and a parishioner at St. Matthew Parish in Topeka, said the whole experience was amazing. He served as one of the gift bearers during the offertory procession.
“It was honoring and humbling at the same time,” said Cochran. “It’s always a great honor when you can attend a Mass celebrated by the archbishop. I thought his homily was energetic and to the point.
“And I hope it’s something we continue throughout the region — that we make an annual one.”