The day that St. Joseph is celebrated in the universal Church provided the ideal setting for the diocese’s annual Mass for Law Enforcement, a time to honor those who “protect and serve.”
On March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary is remembered for his role as protector of his family. It was also a time that some 700 men and women of law enforcement participating in the event commonly known as the Blue Mass were honored for their efforts to keep communities safe and bring criminals to justice.
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Addressing the congregation seated before him in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., began his homily on a light note by referring to the familiar opener from the long-time popular television drama, “Law and Order”: “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”
Recalling how in each episode, the police would confront a crime and apprehend the criminal in the first half- hour and then the district attorney’s office take the case to court in the second half-hour, the bishop said: “It’s all very neat and the most vexing crimes are resolved and put to bed in an hour,” a comment which drew a chuckle from the congregation.
Then as the bishop’s tone became more serious, he acknowledged the reality that “Law and order take a lot more effort, a lot more sacrifice” than what is presented in a television drama.
“The hundreds of women and men who ‘serve and protect’ us in the police uniform throughout New Jersey, from Mercer County to Burlington and Monmouth and Ocean Counties, on city streets and interstate highways, in institutions and in residential communities throughout the Garden State and along the Jersey Shore, you could stand up today, and like the lead-in to the TV show, you could say: ‘These are their stories, but rather, these are our stories.’”
“The difference would be your stories are real, your stories do happen. But there are rarely cameras that show what you do, day in and day out, or that depict your bravery and courage in public service and public safety.”
With Thanks and Appreciation
Bishop O’Connell told the representatives from federal, state, county and municipal agencies and departments that the Blue Mass, which happened to be celebrated on the same day as one of the most historic moments in the Church’s recent history, the installation of Pope Francis is an annual opportunity for the diocese “to recognize you, to thank you, to lift you up to God in prayer, regardless of your particular religious beliefs, to raise you up and ask Almighty God to watch over you, to care for you, to protect you.”
Looking out at a cathedral filled with law enforcement personnel from Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties, as well as from other parts of the region, the bishop invoked the intercession and protection of St. Joseph for all those who work to keep others safe. He said, “Joseph’s love for Mary and Jesus is a symbol of God the Father’s love for us all and so, in the Catholic Church, we call him the ‘universal patron’ of the Church. We ask his intercession today the way any child would approach his or her father: with confidence in his protection and care.”
As has been the tradition for the 14 years that the Blue Mass has been celebrated, the contributions of scores of bagpipers, fife and drum corps members and color and honor guards helped to create the solemn and dramatic atmosphere from the moment of the opening procession, to the final moments of the Mass. During the Prayers of the Faithful, three officers who died in the line of duty were remembered: Millville Police Officer Christopher Reeves; New Jersey State Police DSGT James G. Hoopes III and Illinois State Police Officer Kyle Deatherage.
Participating in the Mass were Sgt. Jay Aronow of the New Jersey Department of Corrections and Special Agent Michael Swangler of the U.S. Secret Service in Trenton, who proclaimed the First and Second Readings, while Patrolman John Furyk of Hamilton Township and Officer Christine Casullo of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department read the Prayers of the Faithful. Deacon Jim Scott, who ministers in St. Ann Parish and serves as assistant prosecutor for Mercer County, served as deacon for the Mass.
Blue Mass – A Special Tradition
Mass attendees appreciated the opportunity to participate in the diocesan Blue Mass, which is coordinated by the event committee, under the chairmanship of Retired Lt. Howard “Buddy” Allaire of the Trenton Police Department , and includes representatives of local police departments throughout the four counties, as well as the N.J. State Police; N.J. Fraternal Order of Police; U.S. Customs & Border Protection; U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security; Office of the Attorney General; N.J. State Association of Chiefs of Police; N.J. State Policemen’s Benevolent Association; N.J. Juvenile Justice Commission; Ocean County Sheriff’s Department; Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office; the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission; and C.O.P.S., among others.
Allaire reflected on the many years that the diocese has hosted the Blue Mass. He extended appreciation to Bishop Emeritus John M. Smith for introducing the Blue Mass in 2000 and to Bishop O’Connell for “being so kind” to allow the Blue Mass to continue as an annual diocesan tradition that draws law enforcement officers of various faith traditions together each year.
James Kostoplis, who is a member of the Baltimore City Police Department, said it was important for him to attend the Blue Mass with his father, James, who is president of the Honor Legion of Police Departments of the State of New Jersey, and a member of St. Mary Parish, Bordentown.
Noting that he drove from Baltimore to Trenton after completing his night shift the evening before, the younger Kostoplis remarked on how pleased he was to see so many police officers and law enforcement officials at the Mass.
His father expressed appreciation for the special opportunity the Blue Mass provides for the law enforcement community to “honor and pay respect” toward their fellow officers who were killed in the line of duty as well as to celebrate the lives and work of current and retired officers.
“There is such a strong feeling of camaraderie here today,” he said.