The Police Mass

  • Honoring Father Thomas Nangle: As this story is being posted, Father Tom Nangle is beginning his last Police Mass at the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. In just four more days he will be retiring from the Police Chaplains Ministry here in Chicago. It seemed fitting to dust off this old story from several years ago to commemorate his 38 years of service to the Chicago Police Department. God bless you Tom. May He grant you the long and rewarding retirement you so richly deserve. We will miss you.


It’s a chapel in the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls.  You’re buzzed in the front door and climb a flight of stairs to the second floor.  You enter the single unmarked door at the top and you are in the small chapel that seats about 45.

If you’re a few minutes early, you’ll find Father Tom Nangle, the Catholic Chicago Police Chaplain, in casual clothes chatting with those who have arrived before you. The priest moves easily among the small group and exchanges greetings and an occasional comment that only gives hint to his sometimes outrageous sense of humor.

Chiefs, Deputy Chiefs, Sergeants, Detectives, Patrol Officers, retirees and family members slowly fill the seats.  A pistol on a belt, handcuffs dangling loosely under a jacket, a scattering of blue uniforms and the crackle of a police radio are not uncommon in this chapel. A few minutes before Mass, Father Tom disappears and emerges a moment later in his robes.  A truly participatory Mass is about to begin.  A brief discussion takes place about those who need special prayers and remembrance this morning.

You don’t want to be late to this Mass.   A Deputy Chief quietly enters and heads towards an empty seat.

“It’s good of you to join us, Matt.” says the priest with a twinkle in his eye.  “You’ll excuse us for starting without you.”

“Give me break Father, I’m on vacation.  I’ll throw an extra fin in the collection plate.  Will that fix it?”

The laughter dies down, and one of the holiest Masses you will ever attend begins.  The Chief of Detectives recites the readings.

The homily always precedes the Gospel, “…to set our ears to hear.” The Gospel is set in historical perspective and most times tied somehow to police work.  At the crucifixion, a centurion is the first to recognize that, “…truly this was the Son of God.”  No wonder.  Cops are usually the first to figure out what’s really going on.  Fifty-two Gospels for the year.  Fifty-two ways to demonstrate that police work is God’s work.  The classic struggle between good and evil, the weak and those who would prey upon them, and those in blue who stand between them.  Properly prepared now, you are invited to close your eyes and “…let the story come to life and find a resting place within.”

The holiness raises one notch as the Eucharist begins.  The smallness of the chapel, the camaraderie of the group, and the very special relationship that this priest has with his flock combine at this point for a truly holy experience.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Father Tom Nangle asks if there are any announcements? No, but one parishioner opines, “Monsignor Velo could have done this all in a half hour.” “Ya, that’s because Velo starts on time.”grins another. Before it can get completely out of hand the Mass is ended…

“Go in peace and serve the Lord.”

“Thanks be to God.”


3 Comments on “The Police Mass”

  1. Frank Carey says:

    Father Tom Nangle would deny it, but he is a Saint among the rank and file of the Chicago Police Department. Always time to talk to us, saying prayers for our salvation and safety, a man among men. Fr Tom is totally non-judgmental, he loves the good among us, as well as the not quite so good. To know him is to love him. Please pray for him in this time of transition. May the Good and Holy Father constantly keep a hand on Fr Tom. Very respectfully, Frank Carey, formerly of TA3 and TA1.

  2. Bob Hrodey says:

    As all the stories which have preceded it, this one is another winner, Jim.

    When you speak with him… my best to Father Tom. (Ask him if he finally got his internet set up up north. That might explain why he’s pulling the pin)

  3. Dave Joseffer says:

    Jim, I am always impressed with your easy, familiar narrative style, and your gift for glorifying the human spirit without being mawkish. Reading your stories always makes me wish that I had become a police officer when I was young.

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