The Story of the Patrolman’s Fraternity of St. Michael
By Matthew Reid, New York Police Department (NYPD)
The police profession, harking back to the very first days of American policing in the 1840’s, has always been a heavily Irish Catholic profession. That being said, later on the Italians began to bring significant numbers into the profession, as well as the Germans, Polish and during the last half of the twentieth century Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics. One thing that all of these ethnicities have in common is that they are heavily, and in most cases, entirely Catholic.
Because of this, the Catholic faith has always played a very large role in the vocation of law enforcement to many generations of young men, and later women who hail from these ethnic groups. The vast majority of officers serving the public were products of Catholic schools. The strong desire to do what has always been referred to as “God’s work” has become a way a life for many families over the generations.
During my fifteen years as a New York City Police Officer, I have witnessed the almost complete disintegration of Catholic adherence and piety on this once-devout job. It was not in good shape when I came on the job, but it has gotten steadily worse over the years.
Losing Your Soul In the Job
There have always been temptations on this job and I have told many that it is very easy to lose your soul on this job, as sadly many have. I myself was fallen away from the faith of my youth for many years. I fell into some of the traps that so many of my law enforcement brethren find themselves in.
As I got married and had children I realized how important my Catholic faith really was to me. The problem was, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, I realized that I didn’t know the Faith well enough to properly defend it against the inevitable questions that my children would ask later in life.
I decided to delve into the faith of my ancestors, not knowing where it would lead me. It led me to praying the Rosary steadily for the first time in my life, to six months later the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) at St. Agnes in New York City. As I sat there with my wife, still at the time a cradle Lutheran who had no interest in converting to Catholicism, I honestly have to admit that I had tears in my eyes. It had all finally clicked and made sense to me.
The Most Beautiful Thing I Had Ever Seen
This Mass was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. ‘Awe’ is the best word to describe it. I had always wondered about why my grandparents’ faith was so different from later generations and how seriously they took it. This Mass was why — and I was hooked, immediately. I simply could not get enough of this Mass; the beauty, the splendor, the other-worldly nature of it that seemed to make the world outside completely disappear.
My wife was quite taken with it as well. During our conversations about our faith, and there were many, I would ask her about converting to Catholicism and she would often say, “why should I convert to Catholicism? The Catholic Mass is just like the Lutheran service, but the Lutherans do it better”.
Sadly, I could not argue with her. I had been to Lutheran services and there was more reverence, more traditional sacred music and ALTAR RAILS. I had never seen an altar rail in my youth and made my First Communion receiving our Lord standing and in the hand, as we were all instructed to do so. My Lutheran convert wife however, made it kneeling at the altar rail where there isn’t even the belief in the real physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
We continued to go to the TLM regularly and I prayed the Rosary fervently for her conversion. One night as we were getting for bed, she said to me “I’m ready. I’m ready to convert”.
The Rosary led me to this Mass and the intercession of our Blessed Mother and the power of the traditional Mass are what led to my wife’s conversion. I have seen first-hand the power of the TLM.
I began to read exhaustively about the Faith and couldn’t get enough. I read the voluminous stories of converts who did so as a result of experiencing the TLM.
Talking to Cops About The Faith
As I became more and more frustrated with the lack of a true Catholic culture and identity on my job, I began to speak to many people about why there wasn’t a serious Catholic identity on a job that is 35,000 strong — 75 percent of whom are baptized Catholics. To think that out of a pool that large that you are hard-pressed to find a Catholic who does the minimum by going every Sunday and Holy Day is a truly sobering experience. I spoke with individuals who were part of the Catholic fraternal group of the NYPD, but it appeared to be by many accounts in disarray with a rapidly dwindling membership.
After much prayer, I found myself being almost effortlessly pushed to start an organization that would be passionately and unapologetically Catholic in a job that had gotten so politically correct and relativistic with regards to issues of faith. I was encouraged by many with this venture, but no one encouraged me like my former co-worker and office mate Kathleen Kenny. She, being a member of the NYPD and in law enforcement for much longer than I, understood more than most how very needed this was. She is the one who handled the arrangements with the priests and churches at first and for that I owe her my sincere gratitude. She is a wonderful and faithful friend.
I decided to dedicate this new group to our patron saint as police officers, St. Michael the Archangel. We named it “The Patrolman’s Fraternity of St. Michael”. We held our first meeting in March of 2014 and have had a meeting approximately every two months since then. We first began having our meetings at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in East Harlem with Father Christopher Salvatori, who was incredibly accommodating, but the location was an issue for many and I found that for first-time attendees, the Low Mass seemed to confuse them.
For almost the past year we have been meeting at the Church of Holy Innocents in midtown Manhattan, which is convenient for many. We also meet on Wednesday evenings for the Missa Cantata. The High Mass with choir and all the “smells and bells” really resonates. I remember my first TLM with the choir and chant and it was truly other-worldly; I see that in people the first time they go as well. What a blessing it is to have the TLM that we do today, compared to the dark days of the 1970’s and 80’s.
Our Mission: The Beauty of the Faith
Our mission is truly very simple: to introduce our law enforcement brethren to the beauty that is the Catholic Faith — unjustly withheld from so many. The easiest way to introduce them to this beauty is to introduce them to the beauty and reverence in the traditional Mass, the Mass of the saints and what built western civilization into the greatest civilization in the history of mankind.
The men in the Fraternity are from all five NYC boroughs, with some already attending the TLM with their families. Most however had never been to one and are in awe when they see the Mass of the Ages. It has such a power that I tell people that our job is really quite easy. All we have to do is to get guys to show up and the Holy Spirit, with the power of the Mass, will do the rest.
Guys will come up to me and ask “how come I have never seen anything like that before? It was amazing! Where can I go on a Sunday and experience that?” Some guys come because they hear about it from the other Catholic fraternal organization on the job, the Holy Name Society, others through word of mouth, still others in response to my emails and flyers. Some I just bug and drag there sometimes, even though they would in most cases probably not go. I know that once they are there it will be worth their while and hopefully they will start to regularly receive the sacraments again. It has been such a tremendous blessing to meet so many fine men of faith that I would otherwise not have met had it not been for the creation of this fraternity.
Guys will come up to me and ask “how come I have never seen anything like that before? It was amazing!
One thing that is very clear is that the knowledge of the faith amongst the vast majority of my NYPD brethren is so devoid of almost anything that existed prior to Vatican II that it is almost overwhelming. You truly get a sense, since we are such a large organization, that the modernists within the church have been successful beyond their wildest dreams in truly forming a new church; a new church in many ways from what had proceeded it.
The faith of our grandparents is not what my generation was raised with. We were raised with endless platitudes during the homily that just filled ten minutes, coupled with universal salvation and that Jesus was your buddy, not almighty God. That, sprinkled with folk Masses and silly sentimental jingles, just made the whole thing seem ridiculous. The new Mass, the way it is celebrated in most places, coupled with everything else was such a strange, awkward experience that so many have run away and never looked back. I remember as kid thinking how it all just didn’t add up. It all just seemed so disjointed and weak.
Men and Challenge
Men want to be challenged. Men like a challenge. If you don’t feel challenged by the TLM, then you must have been asleep with narcolepsy. The priest on the altar is like the general and you are following him to Calvary. It truly speaks to men, and I have seen the results and the power of the Mass in my NYPD brethren time and time again.
Father Villa, since he has become administrator of Holy Innocents, has been very supportive of our fraternity. He understands very well the problems faced within the police department, as he was chaplain to the Yonkers, New York Police Department for many years. He has seen firsthand the evisceration of true Catholic piety and practice amongst police officers and has generously offered his services for whatever it is that we need to re-evangelize our fallen-away brethren.
Bringing Hard Identity Catholicism Back To the NYPD
It truly is a daunting task when you think about how many souls have fallen away, but it is a necessary venture. He is always open to new ideas in the pursuit of getting more men on our job into the pews, and most importantly, keeping them there.
We have much work to do, but it is truly enjoyable work. I cannot think of a more rewarding thing than showing my law enforcement brethren what has been denied to us. This is our Catholic birthright.
As I said to my lovely, now-Catholic wife after our first TLM together, “I feel like my Catholic birthright has been denied for 35 years, but more importantly, I feel that Jesus Christ himself has been shortchanged and been denied the reverence and due worship owed to Him for the last 45 years.”
We are now raising our children in a Traditional Latin Mass Community where they will receive the sacraments in the traditional rite and have the Catholic formation that most of my generation did not. My four year old son already tells me that he wants to be an altar boy!
Where To Find the Fraternity
The Patrolman’s Fraternity of St. Michael meets at the Church of the Holy Innocents once a month on Wednesday’s at the 6PM Traditional Latin Sung Mass. The dates of the meetings change so if anyone is interested in attending, they can visit us on our Facebook page at “The Patrolman’s Fraternity of St. Michael“.
We are engaged in the much-needed endeavor of bringing hard identity Catholicism back to the New York City Police Department. I cannot even begin to tell you what a need there is for this.