Christmas Mass with the Police

(Re-post from last year)

Christmas morning in Chicago never really dawned. The dark orangey skies reflecting the sodium vapor lights remained a dark gray when the timers finally killed the street lamps. The thick clouds allowed the temperature to sneak above freezing for the first time in two weeks and the heavy snow cover actually started steaming a bit adding to the overall dullness of the day. By 10 AM the dawn finally gave up and the day settled into the dreariness of a dark, cloudy winter day.

The marked twelfth District squad and the unmarked detective car pulled to the curb in front of the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls on West Jackson Boulevard in Chicago. The century old building appeared to loom ominously in the background. There was no call that brought them here this morning, rather Christmas Mass to be held in the small second floor chapel, officiated by the Police Chaplain.

The four men gingerly exited their vehicles and cursed silently as they attempted to navigate the high piles of soot black snow that lined the streets. The homicide detectives and uniform patrolmen nodded to one another in a silent, grim greeting of sorts. The detective in the black trench coat cursed aloud when he slipped and fell against the salt laden squad, leaving a white swath of salt on the side of his coat.  The detective in the rumpled Colombo trench coat laughed and in a distinctive, slow, hoarse voice said, “See, you gotta have a tan coat for da’ winter.”

“Yeah, aren’t you the Beau Brummel of the police world,” his partner replied.

They climbed the stairs to the room where the ambiance was a bit warmer. The place of worship seated forty without breaking out folding chairs. It was a simple chapel, with small stained glass windows at the front and rear. There were no Christmas decorations but the edge of the altar bore a blue and white checkered band matching that of the police hats. The ceiling held a battery of black box Fresnel stage lights, barn doors and scrims, belying the fact that one of the chapel’s primary uses was for videotaping the Mass for shut-ins. However, on the second and fourth Sunday of each month and each Christmas and Easter the Chicago Police Chaplain held the “Police Mass.”

The priest, in street clothes, moved easily among the gathering group, exchanging greetings and an occasional emotional hug. Retirees, spouses, and off-duty police with pistols at their waist mingled and exchanged Christmas greetings. This morning there were a bit more on-duty officers than normal; the district officers in full street uniform, tactical officers in jeans with their black safety vests festooned with star, name tag, radio and extra magazines of ammunition and of course the two detectives who sat at the very rear of the chapel. For many of the on-duty officers it would be their only chance to attend a religious service for Christmas.

The priest disappeared into a make-shift sanctuary at the front of the chapel and emerged moments later in his robes. He stood in front of the altar.

“Good morning,” he said quietly.

The congregation was busy chattering amongst one another.

“Good morning,” said the priest a bit louder than before. No reaction.

“Role call!” shouted the priest, in his best Watch Commander voice. The group laughed and took their seats. As they did so, the Chaplain beamed. These were his people… this was his flock. He had married them, baptized their children, ridden the streets with them, and prayed with them in emergency rooms across the city as one of them lay wounded or dying. His chest almost visibly puffed with pride as he surveyed the room.

“Let’s take a moment to quiet our souls before we proceed.”

The two uniform officers keyed their radio briefly.

“Twelve-twelve, hold us down for lunch at the Mercy Home.”

“Ten four twelve-twelve, you’re down for lunch.” That would give them some thirty minutes without a radio assignment. The tactical officers and the detectives were on a bit looser leash, generally not subject to assignments from the dispatcher but they kept their radios on and on low volume.

“Before we dare go on, let us call to mind our sins and ask forgiveness,” said the priest.

The chapel was totally quiet until the radios broke the silence.

“Twelve-sixteen, cars in twelve and cars on city-wide, we have a man with a gun at 2323 West Lexington, no further information.” That was about a mile and a half from the tiny chapel.

From the very back of the chapel came the unmistakably growly drawl of the detective.

“Guess what he got for Christmas?”

The Mass continued and almost as if on cue, at the next momentary silence the radios in the room burst to life again.

“Attention cars in twelve and on city-wide, we now have shots fired on Lexington.”

“They must be opening the rest of the presents.” Same voice… from the rear of the chapel.

The tactical officers got up quietly and exited the side door, the rapid pace of their boots echoed on the stairway.

“Attention cars in twelve and on city-wide, one more time, we now have a man shot at that Lexington address, that’s 2323 West Lexington.”

The uniformed officers exited the south chapel door, the detectives exited the opposite side door.

“Twelve-twelve, cancel that lunch, we’ll take in Lexington”

From the opposite hallway, “Yeah dispatch, this is homicide 7403, tell our office we’re heading for that Lexington scene.”

The priest paused for a long moment. Less than five minutes into the service, the radios, along with their officers, had left the building, the sirens now fading into the distance.

The Chaplain resumed, “Let’s take a moment and pray for our people on the street this Christmas morning…”


33 Comments on “Christmas Mass with the Police”

  1. Phil says:

    Great read Jim! St. Peter’s was much quieter in the balcony!

    The exodus reminds me of the St. Jude march in the month of May. I’ve always wondered if the citizens of Chicago, and visitors to our fine city watching the parade, actually thought that the capacity of that beautiful Church could hold all the officers that entered?

    • jimpadar says:

      That was perhaps my first experience with official department smoke and mirrors. In following years, I actually stayed for the Mass on occasion. It was a good experience and afterwards you tended to get invited to better breakfasts!

  2. Ann says:

    I wonder if you’ve considered submitting your stories to our local Lake Claremont Press? Wonderful story. Merry Christmas, Jim.

  3. terry gainer says:

    Your story reminds me of a Christmas eve early in my Area 4 career. Midnight Mass, a stabbing death at Precious Blood Church, on Congress just west of Western. A big old gothic style church peering over the Eisenhower Expressway ,which survived and thrived during a period of chaotic change during its one hundred year west side history, was now the scene of a center aisle turf battle between the choir boys and the alter servers.

    It was snowing as a TV reporter began his breathless report front the north entrance steps , saying, :”…who was “Wacky Coleman…”

    Silent night.

    • jimpadar says:

      Working the holidays was always a bit of a trick for me. In Area Four Homicide we were very likely to deal with mayhem; man’s inhumanity to man in the most brutal fashion. Then home to the family, discard the police persona, open presents, and feast on a Christmas meal. On occasion I would have a flashback to the previous 8 hours, but in general, I think I handled it well and I don’t believe that my loved ones were ever the wiser.

      The guys and gals on the street this week-end will no doubt experience the same. God bless them all and give them the wisdom and strength to put their tour behind them and “…discard the police persona, open presents, and feast on a Christmas meal.”

  4. Silvia says:

    You brought a tear to my eyes, as I remembered the chapel at Mercy Home. Father Nangle allowing us all to come to the table without the hindrance of Catholic rules, just our conscience. Father was aware of the job many of us had to answer to even when we stopped for a few minutes to refuel.

  5. Tom Nangle says:

    That was one of those moments that could only have happened in a CPD crowd. And it was pure Jim Griffin (Area 4). I still grin when I think of starting Mass on Christmas morning and we all kept hearing the muffled radios going from “shots fired…” to “Now it’s a man shot at that location” and Griffin muttering, “They must be openin’ the presents.” I think God must’ve busted out laughing when He heard that.

    Jim, keep on writing. You’re feeding a lot of Real Police souls that are hungry. Merry Christmas to you and all the Real Police, most especially those on the street during the holy day and night.

  6. Chris Karney says:

    You did it again, wonderful piece Jim.

  7. Mary Rita Shull says:

    Jim, your stories need to be published.

    Thank you.

    Mary Rita

  8. pat suchocki says:

    Jim, a great story, It also made me think back, my family worked many of holidays, but we understood. Thankful on their return home safe, made them a huge plate of Christmas goodies. I’m the daughter, the widow,and the mother of two officers. I used to work in the 1st. district,(many years ago) and now for FOP. Who better than Father Nangle to understand, such a great guy, may he be blessed with a wonderful retirement. I wish all, a blessed Christmas.and safe one.

    • jimpadar says:

      Sounds like you come from a police family indeed! Best wishes and a safe holiday to you and yours. I spoke with Father Nangle this morning, he called to tell me he remembered that Mass in the story… we had a good laugh about it.

  9. Ed Hammer says:

    You writing continues to impress me. A good author puts images in the mind of the reader. It is like watching a movie on your head. I see the Chicago winter. I know these cops and hear the sarcasm.. I can even smell the old chapel. I am looking forward to your next one. .

  10. Mickey Veich says:

    Jim: From a born in Chicago native ( 106th and Ave. M), I remember the winters, the officers who worked the holidays and my family from the old country who so respected the police they took care of ‘the boys’ with warm coffee, chocolate and snacks during the holidays.

    It’s the same here in AZ without the snow to worry about, just the bad guys.

    Keep up the great stories about our Chicago boys.

    • jimpadar says:

      Thanks Mickey, I’ll keep them coming as long as there is an interest and I’m able come up with additional stories. I wonder how many I can coax out of 29 years on the job? I appreciate your comments!

  11. Elaine Wicker says:

    As a fellow graduate of Austin High I am proud to say what a wonderful story you have written. My husband and I are now involved with our Police Department as volunteers in Hurst Texas and say extra prayers for all Police Officers and remember them especially on Christmas. While we are sitting cozy and warm in front of our fireplace they are risking their lives for us nt only on Christmas but each and every day. Can’t wait to see more writing from you. My cousin in Illinois forwarded your writing to me and I am so glad he did.

    • jimpadar says:

      Great to hear from you Elaine! Police work is pretty much the same across our country. The same… only different. Makes for a lot of stories.

      Alas, Austin HS is no more, at least not as we knew it—nothing stays the same.

      Someone once said, “Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.”

  12. Pat Cronin says:

    Merry Christmas Jim. Another good read.

  13. Bob McCracken says:

    I had the distinct priviledge of working with the “dribbler’ ,Jimmy Griffin, after we both went to Area 1 Hom/Sex to serve penance in 1975. My time with Jim was only months, but I never forgot those few months. His glibness, and droll wit were priceless, and deserve to be immortalized in some novelists police procedural novel.
    I spent 37 years as a participent in the “greatest show on earth”.
    I do not miss the circus,but I do miss the clowns.
    Bob McCracken

    • jimpadar says:

      Yep, That’s the dribbler. Had lunch with him and a group of ol’ A4 homicide guys in October. Griffin was there… he hasn’t changed a bit.

      It’s good to hear from you Bob. Thanks for reading the blog, and thanks for your comments.

      What was they used to say, “Sometimes you go to the circus, and sometimes the circus comes to you.”

      Great times!

  14. Phillip Yahnke says:

    Dear Jim,

    I found the link to your website on SCC and visit once a week or so. Truly enjoy your lucid prose and deft character sketches. I too write in my off-duty hours, my current project being a work of fiction set in Madison WI, my hometown and the city I’ve been privileged to police for 23 years and counting. Many of the characters are based in part on cops, both male and female, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside.
    In my years on our department I’ve seen two good friends come unstrung in the wake of fatal on-duty shootings and who had to leave policing. One is currently embroiled in an ugly divorce and is in rehab after being arrested for OWI by our sheriff’s office. Seven years ago I was also involved in a use of deadly force that resulted in the suspect dying at the scene. Writing about the incident and police work in general has been my therapy and may explain why I am still (a) happily married with four amazing kids and (b) still fighting the good fight eight hours at a time despite my, ahem, advanced age (I’m 57). Well, that and I play with model trains.
    Reading your work and the comments on SCC I am somewhat in awe of the guys and gals that wear stars and Stiltoe Tartan hats and who patrol neighborhoods I would have second and third thoughts about entering even with a Glock on my right hip and an AR15 at my side.
    Please keep writing, Jim. You are an inspiration to so many of us.


    • jimpadar says:

      Hi Phillip,

      Thanks so much for your very kind comments. Kudos to you for tackling a work of fiction. I don’t think I have the imaginative resources to do total fiction so all of my stuff is “based on true tales.” I like that phrase because it leaves the door open for a small amount of creativity from time to time. I’ve been urged by several people to try my hand at screenwriting, so I am going to give that a try after the first of the year. That’s a whole different ball game.

      I try to post a new story the 2nd and 4th Friday of each month and most times I succeed in keeping on schedule. If you want to be notified each time I post, you can register for an email subscription in the right hand column of the page. No spam I promise, just a couple of emails per month.

      Thanks again for leaving your comments, they are sincerely appreciated!


      • Phillip Yahnke says:

        Dear Jim,

        I appreciate the prompt response. Your earlier post on “Computers and Lionel Trains” resonated with me on two levels. Given your backround in electrical engineering, it sounds as though you got in on the ground floor when the home computing revolution began in the 80s. I’m not intimidated by computers but have never taken full advantage of what they’re capable of.
        Cops are by nature resistant to change, so there was a great deal of eye-rolling and smothered cursing when they introduced field reporting in the mid-2000s followed by a system we call TRACs, which is now in use statewide. Field reporting captures data for our civilian crime analysts and is also shared with the FBI. TRACs is what we use to document traffic crashes and issue citations. We’re now at the point where none of our “work product” is handwritten save the occasional parking ticket, tow card or municipal ordinance cite. Nearly everything gets typed on the in-car computer.
        I was, therefore, incredulous to find my classmate Scott handwriting both the crash report and cite at a two-car collision I assisted him on Tuesday. Though he’s well to the right of me politically (he leaves his old copies of National Review and Human Events in the locker room toilet stalls) I love Scott. He owns a pet monitor lizard, takes his teenage sons on African safaris and posesses an encyclopedic knowledge of firearms. That said he can be a little…reactionary at times.
        Your loving description of setting up the Lionel trains is definitely something I can relate to. My grandfather was a telegrapher on the Chicago & Northwestern for 35 years. He got my father his first job as a brakeman when he mustered out of the Army at the end of World War Two. Railroads are in my genes. I model in N scale for the most part but own an O Scale (Lionel sized) steam train that I run on HO scale track around the Christmas tree.
        Thank you for sending the link for me to subscribe to your posts. I hope to correspond more with you in the future. Happy New Year, by the way.


  15. Thomas Adams says:

    May God bless and keep safe all who work and protect us.

  16. Mary Rita Shull says:

    Jim, I’m so glad you re-posted this story. God bless! Thank you for getting my computer back up and running so well. 🙂

  17. Phil says:

    The streets are dry and the walkways are clean! Huge snow storm averted! What a wonderful day! And they say it will all end being it’s the 21st. What?…And miss a fantastic Christmas?
    God bless us all! And Merry Christmas to you and your family Jim!

  18. Have been retired for 13 years and spent 23 years on the street. Began in Area 4/010 district. Brand spanking new and one of the first women on the street. Did I know what I was doing? Heck no, but GOD was on my side. I managed to make the right decisions with guidance from my partner and other officers who considered me one of them. Through the good and bad times we were family and we stuck together. I have a daughter who followed my footsteps and became an officer. For awile we worked the same district, same watch, me an early car and she a late car. One of the main things that I learned was that we back each other up. Your first line of defense. Merry Christmas to the Blue Family!

  19. Phil says:

    Well Jim, we’ve made another Christmas thanks to the Lord above. Being that it’s His birthday, let us all give thanks. It is better to give than receive! Thanks for the stories you give to us!

    Merry Christmas friend!

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