Steven McDonald, NYPD Detective and Catholic Hero, Dies at 59

Detective McDonald made many public appearances over the years, speaking of his faith as a Catholic and reminding people that if they wanted forgiveness, they had to show it to others. He constantly thanked God for sparing his life.

(photo: EWTN)

As newspaper columnist Richard Grenier mistakenly believed George Orwell wrote: “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” This is why we laud and honor soldiers, police and security personnel for protecting our rights.

For many years, I never referred to police officers as “cops”, as my mother told me as a child it wasn't as respectful a term as “police officer.” And, for years, I've dutifully avoided the word. Having earned the friendship of many officers over the years, I came to realize that my mother's reverence for these men and women can still allow for the informal word to be used every now and again.

Detective Steven McDonald (1957-2017) was an NYPD cop who was shot on July 12, 1986.

The City stopped dead in its tracks when we heard the news. The attack left him quadriplegic.

Today, the City stopped once again. Steven McDonald died on January 10, 2017, after suffering a massive heart attack only a few days earlier. He died at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. He was 59.

McDonald was a native of Queens Village and grew up in Rockville Centre on Long Island, one of eight children of David McDonald, a police sergeant, and his wife, Anita.

They don’t come more impressive than Detective McDonald. He was a former U.S. Navy hospital corpsman and a third-generation police officer. But even these accomplishments are nothing compared to what happened after he was shot.

Detective McDonald went far beyond these "merely" heroic actions and did something quite superhuman. He forgave Shavod Jones, the man who shot him.

On that hot summer afternoon in 1986, the 29-year-old Officer McDonald and his partner were on patrol in Manhattan's Central Park and approached the 15-year-old Shavod Jones and two of his friends, who were loitering near the boathouse at the northern end of Central Park. The officers wanted to question them about local bicycle thefts.

As he approached them, Officer McDonald noticed a bulge in one of the boy's socks. The policeman insisted on seeing it and was immediately shot three times. The first bullet hit right above his eye. The second hit his throat which resulted in the officer having difficulties with speech. The third bullet shattered his spine, paralyzing him from the neck down. The officer needed a ventilator for the rest of his life.

At the time of the attack, Officer McDonald had served on the Force for two years.

President Ronald Reagan phoned the wounded officer while he recuperated at Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital.

Mr. Jones was convicted of attempted murder.

In early 1987, several months after his attack, at his son’s baptism in the same hospital's chapel, Officer McDonald publicly forgave Jones saying, "I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life."

In the summer of 1988, Officer McDonald sent stamps and a box of stationery to Mr. Jones along with a note saying, "Let’s carry on a dialogue." He later met with Mr. Jones’s mother and attended services at a Baptist church in Harlem with his grandmother.

A more detailed account of the officer's forgiveness for his attacker appeared in the foreword of a 2014 book titled, Why Forgive?, which was written by his friend Johann Christoph Arnold.

Officer McDonald was soon afterwards promoted to first-grade detective.

Detective McDonald made many public appearances over the years, speaking of his faith as a Catholic and reminding people that if they wanted forgiveness, they had to show it to others. He constantly thanked God for sparing his life.

McDonald made trips to Northern Ireland in the sake of reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants. Fr. Mychal F. Judge, the Chaplain of the New York City Fire Department accompanied him.

Fr. Judge was later killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center when debris rained down on him while he was ministering to victims. Fr. Judge was designated as “Victim 0001” of that attack.

At the time of the shooting, Officer McDonald had been married to Patricia Ann “Patti” McDonald for less than a year. The couple was expecting their son Conor.

In March, 2007, Patricia Ann was elected Mayor of Malverne on Long Island.

In 2010, Conor later followed his father's footsteps and joined the NYPD as a fourth-generation police officer. He has achieved the rank of sergeant.

Jones, on his part, served nine years in prison for the shooting. He called Detective McDonald to apologize. They later met briefly.

Jones was later killed in a motorcycle accident on Sept. 9, 1995, three days after his release on parole from prison. He was speeding while performing wheelies in East Harlem, his old neighborhood, and crashed into several parked cars.

In 1989, Detective McDonald co-authored his autobiography, The Steven McDonald Story, with his wife and writer E. J. Kahn. In the book, McDonald thanked his fellow police officers, Mayor Edward Koch, a good friend of the Church, and many in the religious and business communities. Detective McDonald wrote that "there is more love in this City than there are street corners."

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, released a statement regarding McDonald's passing writing, “Detective Steven McDonald was an icon of mercy and forgiveness, a prophet of the dignity of all human life, a shining example of the best of what the New York Police Department represents, a loving husband and father, and a fervent and faithful Catholic.”

A funeral Mass will be held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Friday, with Cardinal Dolan as the main celebrant.

The police call themselves, the “Thin Blue Line.” They are that last defense of the defenseless in a civil society. How do I know? Just ask the citizens of a war-torn nation ruled by warlords, terrorists and criminal gangs.

The police have a tough job even if every law-abiding citizen supported them. Their job is exacerbated by the unthinking and uncaring and worse yet, those who support the unthinking and uncaring.

We need to support those who unflinchingly and unselfishly support us. They are our rough siblings, parents, spouses and children who allow us to sleep peacefully in our beds at night.

May hosts of angels carry Detective Steven McDonald to his final rest.

As to the police officers who serve and protect us still, may God bless and keep you. May St. Michael the Archangel, Patron of Cops, watch over you all.