The Police Altar at the Historic Church of St. Patrick
by Maury Collins
Peace Officers Memorial Day is held annually in the United States on May 15, in honor of federal, state and local officers killed or disabled in the line of duty. It is observed in conjunction with Police Week.
The idea of a Peace Officers Memorial Day came into effect on October 1, 1961, when Congress asked the president to designate May 15 to honor law enforcement officers. President John F. Kennedy signed the bill into law on October 1, 1962. Each year, the president of the United States proclaims May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the calendar week of each year during which such May 15 occurs as Police Week.
According to the Legal Information Institute, the president is requested to issue a proclamation to: designate May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day; to direct government officials to display the United States flag at half-staff on all government buildings; and to invite state and local governments and the people to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
Many people in the United States will pay tribute to officers who lost their lives or were injured in their jobs. According to Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), about 150 officers are killed in the line of duty each year, and their families and co-workers are left to cope with the tragic loss.
The Police memorial service in Toledo is scheduled for May 16that the police memorial garden behind municipal court. The Toledo Police Memorial Garden was dedicated May 13, 1981 – In memory of those City of Toledo policemen who gave their lives in the line of duty.
The Police Mass at Historic St. Patrick’s Church is on Sunday May 19th . After the annual Blue Mass last year, the following was placed on the official Toledo Police twitter account: “Today we celebrated the annual Blue Mass at the Historic Church of St. Patrick in downtown Toledo. Thank you to all that made this possible. This church holds a special place in the hearts of your local police officers and firefighters.”
The Police Altar at the Historic Church of St. Patrick came about in 2009; a year after the Firefighter’s Altar was dedicated. Rev. Dennis P. Hartigan, pastor at the time, felt that there should be an altar dedicated to police. He asked Retired Toledo Policeman Dave Smith to set up the altar.
Dave, now a Deacon at the Church, asked Dave Meegan and Gabriel Edwards for advice. Dave and Gabriel are retired Firefighters, who started the Firefighter’s altar.
Just as the Firefighter’s Altar is unique and probably the only one of its kind in the country, so too is the Police Altar. The Firefighter’s altar is dedicated to St. Florian, patron saint of Firefighters. The Police Altar is dedicated to the patron saint of police officers, St. Michael the Archangel. Deacon Smith told me, “Even though the Firefighter’s Altar has a first class relic of St. Florian, he doesn’t think he will find a relic of the Police Patron Saint.”
The Altar contains three Police hats. One is the hat worn by Sergeant Dave Smith, the second, a Sheriff’s hat from Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp, and the third, a hat from Bryan Smith, a policeman in New Zealand.
Also on the altar are pictures of the previous “Blue Masses,” showing an increase in numbers each year. A picture titled, “Lonely Night,” dedicated to the families of police officers, and one titled, “Sign of Peace” from the National Sheriffs Association. The currant pastor, Father Denny, found a mosaic of St. Michael the Archangel by Tom Cullen; it was purchased with donations from Police officers.
As word spread about the Police Altar, patches from many areas of the USA, Canada and even New Zealand came in. The front of the altar is covered, and a display on the wall beside the altar has the overflow. There is a bell donated by Cheri Bryer, which is rung at the Blue Mass for fallen Police officers.
There are two flags beside the altar; the Police flag and a special United States of America flag with the names of the Police and Firefighters killed during the 911 attack in New York City. There is a book of pictures from Deacon Smith’s visit to New York City to honor those who gave their lives on that September morning.
The last item I found was a book of pictures, which was on display at the funeral of Keith Dressel. Det. Dressel was killed in the line of duty on Feb. 21, 2007, when he and two other officers attempted to approach two young men who were violating the city’s curfew ordinance and involved in a drug transaction. He was shot in the chest at point blank range. He was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Toledo Police Chief George Kral helps to get the word out about the Special Mass each year. Deacon Dave Smith is a proud Irish American and a Hibernian. Putting the Police Altar together and maintaining it is a labor of love. Sunday Mass is at 10:00 AM on Sunday May 12. Even if you can’t make the mass, stop in to see this beautiful church with its’ two unique altars, dedicated to the brave men and women who protect us from harm.
* Maury Collins is a charter member and past president of the Toledo AOH division. He may be reached at ma************@gm***.com.
Don’t Forget, Send Maury ma************@gm***.com) and John (jo*****@oh********.com) your Toledo Irish events news and pics so we can let everyone know. Deadline is 10thof the month, for the following month, so Jan 10 for February issue, etc ….