The streets around St. Patrick’s Cathedral were shrouded in a sea of blue before the Funeral Mass for Detective Steven McDonald, the New York police officer who was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty 30 years ago.
Detective McDonald forgave his assailant and dedicated his life to spreading a message of love and forgiveness.
“Our Lord wanted his followers, all of us, to be known for our love and forgiveness,” said Msgr. Seamus O’Boyle during his homily at the morning Mass Jan. 13.
Detective McDonald died on Jan. 10 at age 59, four days after suffering a heart attack.
The police officer gave witness to that message through his life, said Msgr. O’Boyle, a priest of the Diocese of Westminster, London. He is a cousin of Patti Ann McDonald, Steven’s widow, who faithfully and unwaveringly supported her husband. He also officiated at the wedding of the couple in 1985.
“From the confines of a wheelchair, accompanied by that staccato cadence of his ventilator, Steven spoke,” the Irish priest said. Through his words and actions, Detective McDonald made visible the life and message of Jesus.
“It was never about him,” Msgr. O’Boyle said.
As pallbearers carried Detective McDonald’s casket into the cathedral—draped in a New York Police Department flag—the only sound was that of bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.”
Cardinal Dolan, who served as principal celebrant, said at the beginning of the Mass, “We're here to pray that Steven is now enjoying eternal life as he believed and to thank God for Steven’s splendid life of service.”
That dedication to serving others—from the moment he put on his police officer’s uniform in 1984—was expressed in a eulogy by Police Commissioner James O’Neill.
“Cops want to make a difference. Cops want to do good. Cops want to lead lives of significance,” the commissioner said.
If duty calls, police officers will give everything they have, he continued. “Although he was only able to breathe with the help of a ventilator, his voice was strong,” the commissioner said. “He helped redefine what a hero is.”
“What we can learn from Steven’s life is this—the cycle of violence that plagues so many lives today can be overcome only by breaking down the walls that separate people,” Commissioner O’Neill said. “The best tools for doing this, Steven taught us, are love, respect and forgiveness.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, in his eulogy, noted that there was a “unity of sorrow” in the city at the death of Det. McDonald, who stood as “a living example of everything we aspire to be.” The mayor thanked Patti Ann, the couple’s son, Sgt. Conor McDonald, and the entire McDonald family on behalf of 8.5 million New York City residents.
“We learned the right way to live from him,” de Blasio said. “Directly, he touched tens of thousands of lives, but in a greater way, millions were moved by his example.”
Former New York Rangers player Adam Graves also spoke about Detective McDonald’s devotion to the hockey team, and about the high esteem in which the players held him. The Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award is a highly prized honor given annually to a Rangers player.
In an especially moving moment during the two-hour Mass, Sgt. McDonald kissed his father’s casket on his way to the altar to deliver his eulogy. He thanked all those who expressed their love for his father and his family. “My dad said there is more love in New York City than there are street corners,” the 29-year-old said.
In remarks that received a standing ovation, he spoke of his parents’ marriage. "My parents created the most phenomenal life out of such darkness,” he said, saying the couple had “unmatched, unconditional devotion for each other.”
Sgt. McDonald, a fourth-generation NYPD member, called his father a “real superman.”
“When many of us would have let anger destroy our hearts, my father forgave the young man who shot him every single day. He made it his mission to have us all realize love must win,” he said.