Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, June 21, 2018

blue_mass-Pg3_Jun10Procession into cathedral begins. (Photo by Jack Sheedy See more photos in Photo Gallery)

HARTFORD – Chief Charles Flynn ordered his firefighters to "short jack" truck 12. Men of the Wethersfield Fire Department extended a stabilizing jack from behind the cab. Working quickly, they anchored it flat to the surface of Farmington Avenue. In front of the Cathedral of St. Joseph, the ladder began to pivot upwards amid loud beeping sounds.

This was not a fire emergency. The truck’s ladder was hoisting an enormous 20-by-40-foot American flag before the start of a Blue Mass on May 2 in honor of Connecticut’s police, fire and other safety personnel.

Retired Hartford Fire Department veteran Ernest LaRose, 85, was present at the Mass. He recalls the horrific morning of Dec. 31, 1956, when fire gutted the old Gothic brownstone cathedral. "We went in on the second alarm," Mr. LaRose recalled later. "It was really a mess. There was a lot of smoke, of course, just like you see it in the movies." He battled the fire for more than four hours.

Mr. LaRose, a 28-year veteran of the department, worked for about 14 years with Company 7 and the last 14 years as a dispatcher. He now lives in Florida and was in Connecticut visiting family at the time of the Blue Mass.

As the flag waved outside the rebuilt cathedral, a roaring phalanx of motorcycle police led a quarter-mile parade of more than 100 blue-uniformed men and women from more than a dozen cities and towns. State police and personnel from the Department of Correction also took part. They walked in a procession up the steps, joined by a Knights of Columbus honor guard from the Bishop McMahon Assembly 105 in Hartford. Priests, deacons, servers and Archbishop Henry J. Mansell followed them into the cathedral.

"It’s just sort of a remembrance of officers and firemen and EMS who have died in the line of duty because they were doing their job," said Sgt. Peter Vanek of the East Hartford Police honor guard. "Every day, you never know what you’re going to face when you go to work. It’s something we care about," said the 22-year veteran of the force.

The Blue Mass – the second in the Hartford Archdiocese – also honors living men and women who serve or have served. The tradition began in 1934 in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and it became more popular after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when more than 400 emergency workers died while trying to save people.

In his homily, Archbishop Mansell praised the men and women for their bravery. "You have to go out every day, every night, knowing that that day and night could be the time you are called to eternal life," he said.

Recognizing that they lay their lives on the line every day for their comrades and the community, Archbishop Mansell cited John’s Gospel: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (Jn 15:13).

"We owe you," he said. "The community owes you."

Brian Heavren, Hartford’s assistant chief of police, said the Blue Mass is a fitting prelude to National Police Week, May 9-15, when the nation remembers officers who died in the line of duty.

"It kind of prepares everybody for the month ahead, especially in the law enforcement community, to remember the officers that have lost their lives," he said. Fire companies have a similar time of remembrance in October, he said.

Sgt. Vincenzo Calabrese, who has served with the Torrington Police Department for 15 years, said, "It’s great. It’s excellent. It’s nice to see the honor for men and women who died in the line of duty. It’s a great honor for all of them."

Rafael and Kasia Garcia, of SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Hartford, attended the Mass with their son, 6-year-old Severyn. Mrs. Garcia said she learned of it through her church bulletin.

"So we wanted to come and we thought it would be one way to get my son more interested," she said. "I don’t think people realize it’s such a beautiful Mass. And the choirs! I love the singing. It’s awesome," she said.

The Cathedral Choir, led by Dr. Jeffrey Douma and organist Dr. Ezequiel Menendez, provided the music. Police Pipes and Drums of Waterbury performed the processional music. Recessional music was by the Connecticut State Police Pipes and Drums.

Lt. Robert Allan of the Hartford Police Department, an organizer of the event, said twice as many uniformed men and women took part this year, compared with last year’s inaugural Blue Mass.