by Joyce Duriga
CHICAGO (CNS) — Hundreds of police officers and other first responders were on hand at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel the morning of Aug. 19 to pay final respects to Chicago Police Officer Ella French, who was killed in the line of duty Aug. 7.
They were there for her funeral Mass, which was celebrated by Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago. Every pew inside the church was filled and hundreds more police officers stood outside the chapel during Mass.
French was the first female Chicago police officer to be killed in the line of duty in two decades and the first officer to be killed since 2018. Her partner also was shot and remained in the hospital recovering from being shot in the eye and the head.
During his homily, Cardinal Cupich offered his condolences to French’s family. He also offered condolences the members of law enforcement in attendance.
“We can only imagine how the tragic death of another colleague in the line of duty impacts you as you take up the daunting challenge of providing security and peace on our streets,” the cardinal said.
French’s “senseless killing once again sharpens the gnawing anxiety you and your family members feel each day as you leave home, wondering if you will return safely at the end of your shift,” he said. “We know and appreciate that you sacrifice a lot, putting your life on the line.”
He prayed for the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron of police officers, to watch over them and “banish from your minds and hearts any temptation that leads you to conclude that you are alone or that you have to suffer in a lonely silence.”
The Gospel reading for the Mass was the resurrection of Lazarus, which, the cardinal said, shows how Jesus reaches all of us through our grief. The Lord’s words, “This is not to end in death,” are “for us” in mourning Ella, he added.
Speaking to her mother, Elizabeth, Cardinal Cupich noted that French was a compassionate woman whom everyone can learn from.
“Elizabeth, you told me that Ella always understood herself as a work in progress,” he said. “Ella took the time to know others, to connect with them on the level of our common fragile humanity and understood that she too always had more to learn, that no one should pretend to put the period at the end of the sentence of a person’s life or, worse, claim they could not learn from others or change for the better.”
To the wider congregation, he said, “Let us all take a step back and put aside any impulse that would divide us, and instead find how connected we can be when we share our burdens, our sorrows, our grieving.”
“Yes, let us grieve together for Ella,” he continued, “but also for all those she cared about, for the children young and old, cut down by gun fire every day, for our youth whose hopes for a better life are hemorrhaging as doors of opportunity open to others are slammed shut, for families afraid of becoming a victim of gun violence, or a carjacking, or an assault and for Ella’s fellow police officers who, like her, have given the full measure of their lives.”
“It is in discovering,” he added, “how close we can be to each other in sharing our common loss that we are given the hope that we are more than any trial we face, and can trust the words we hear today, this is not to end in death.”
Referencing the Gospel reading again, Cardinal Cupich noted how, while Jesus raised Lazarus, he asked others to help him remove Lazarus’ burial cloth. We must do the same, he said.
“The message is clear: We each have a role in seeing that this moment does not end in death,” he said. “That begins by claiming responsibility for each other, no matter where we live in the city. We should know and pray for the names of all victims of violence as we would a member of the family, for we are all brothers and sisters.”
“We each need to do our part to help law enforcement as they work to hold people accountable for their actions and stem the flood of illegal guns,” Cardinal Cupich said. “We all have a role in untying the cords of injustice that keep many of our brothers and sisters bound in poverty and despair.”
Following the funeral procession, more than 1,000 vehicles from the Chicago Police Department and departments from across Illinois and other states led the hearse in a procession from the chapel to the crematory.
That procession went past Leo High School, where students and staff lined the sidewalk to pay their respects.
It was the Catholic school’s first day of class.
Coming outside for the procession was natural for the school, which for the past five years has been focused on engaging with and helping the community, said Shaka Rawls, the principal.
“That’s not just supporting our local community, but we support our local police officers as well,” Rawls told Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper. “This is our opportunity to show support for Chicago’s fallen officer.”
It was especially important since Leo’s student population is largely African American young men, he said.
“I think, in particular, the narrative that young African American men are out here expressing their support in solidarity with police officers is more important than anything. We are trying to dismantle that disconnect between young Black and brown boys and the police,” Rawls said. “This is our opportunity to extend that olive branch.”
The school’s support did not go unrecognized by the officers in the procession.
One of the officers driving by used his loudspeaker to say, “Thank you all! God bless you all!” to the school community. Other officers used their sirens to show appreciation for the students.
Dan McGrath, president of Leo High School, said support for law enforcement has a long history at the school and that its 2012 valedictorian is a Chicago police officer.
In the days leading up to the funeral, vigils were held around the city for French.
About 400 people filled the street in front of the Chicago Police Department’s District 16 headquarters in the Jefferson Park neighborhood the evening of Aug. 11 for a prayer service led by Father Dan Brandt, director of the department’s chaplaincy.
Among those in attendance was Deacon Al Lopez from St. Aloysius Parish. A Chicago police officer for many years, he serves as a full-time chaplain in retirement. He has over 20 family members who are police officers.
He said police officers need prayers and support.
“We’re here in District 16 supporting the police officers and letting the guys know that we’re behind them, them and their family. That’s why you see such a big crowd here today,” Deacon Lopez said.
When he visits police stations for roll call he tries to lift the officers’ spirits.
“We tell them they were called, they were chosen to do this job and don’t give up,” Deacon Lopez said. “We let them know that we care.”
“Keep praying for them. They are husbands and wives. They have children. They have family,” he said. “They take that oath. That reminds me of Matthew 25: Blessed are the peacemakers.”