Merrick Kohn proudly recalls the day he had the idea to honor police officers and first responders with a special Mass.
Kohn is a student at St. Joseph School in San Fidel, NM, and the son of two Catholic Laguna tribe members who also happen to be officers with the Laguna Police Department. He realized that his mom and dad signed up for the job in order to help people in their community, and wanted to recognize their efforts.
“My mom helped me come up with the idea of a Mass just for the police officers, to thank them for their service,” Kohn said. He presented the idea to Antonio Trujillo, his school principal at San Fidel. Trujillo heartily approved, but there was one problem – the school chapel was too small for the type of Mass they had in mind. It was soon decided that the Mass would be held in the nearby village of Cubero, at Our Lady of Light mission. With the help of Sister Ellen Corcoran, the parish administrator, the plan to hold a “Blue Mass” was set in motion.
The tradition began in 2015, when police and first responders from Cibola County were invited to a Mass celebrated by Bishop James Wall. Kohn says he wanted the bishop to be the main celebrant from the beginning, and he was excited when Bishop Wall agreed.
“I figured since law enforcement people are special, we needed a special priest!” he said.
This year, Bishop Wall asked Fr. Steve Davoren of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to be the guest homilist for the Blue Mass. The two first met when they were in seminary together, where Fr. Davoren was pursuing a call to the priesthood after serving for eight years as a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.
“What does a former police officer turned priest say in a homily?” Fr. Davoren asked at the beginning of his homily. Then he joked, “I prayed about it, and I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
Fr. Davoren spoke at length about the similarities between experiences of priests and first responders, noting that both vocations require acting with love.
“My dear friends, the truth is, what you have been called to is such a special vocation and ministry in life. And as our readings are so beautiful today, about love, about laying down your life and sharing that love for others. Love is to will the good of another, and that’s exactly what your vocation is to do every single day. As first responders, you are instruments of God’s peace, much like a priest. And when we do it in love, it makes all the difference.”
He told the people in the church about one of his lowest points as a police officer. He and his partner were called to a scene where a female police officer, a mother of young children just out of the academy, was killed in the line of duty. Although he hadn’t known her personally, the loss of a fellow officer was a tough reminder that the vocation of a police officer sometimes required the ultimate sacrifice.
One of those attending the Blue Mass was Peter Tanzilli, an officer with the Laguna Pueblo Police who had been recently injured in a shooting while responding to a call. Fr. Davoren thanked Tanzilli for his willingness to lay his life on the line, and asked everyone in the congregation to act as a family in supporting their community and one another.
“It’s easy to just read the Gospel,” Fr. Davoren said, “but my dear friends, you live the Gospel, helping complete strangers.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Wall blessed a collection of lapel pins of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of law enforcement officers. Students from St. Joseph School handed the pins out to each member of the congregation as they left the church. Afterwards, at a lunch provided at the church’s community hall, a beaming Kohn posed for a photo with the Bishop, Fr. Davoren, his parents and officer Tanzilli.
“I loved [the Mass], because we thanked all the police officers,” Kohn said. “I just want to thank all the people praying for my mom and dad, and other police.”