Eulogy for Steven McDonald

Eulogy for Steven McDonald

Reprinted from American Police Beat, January 16, 2017

Last week one of the most inspiring police officers who ever lived – the NYPD’s Steven McDOnald – was buried after suffering a heart attack. Commissioner James O’Neill delivered a moving eulogy for this extraordinary man. We thought you would enjoy reading it.

by James O’Neill
Commissioner, NYPD

Your Eminence, Cardinal Dolan; members of the clergy; Mayor de Blasio; elected officials; Patti Ann; Sergeant Conor McDonald; and to every family member and friend of this incredible man gathered here this morning:

On behalf of the men and women of the New York City Police Department, I extend my most profound condolences.

The example Steven set for humanity – the ideals of perseverance, reconciliation, and purity of hope – will long outlive him.

I first met Steven when I was commanding officer of the Central Park Precinct, in 1999. He came to the precinct to address roll call. And he told rookies and veterans alike, to always think about officer safety. And to always treat everyone they encountered on patrol with the same level of respect and kindness they’d afford their own, closest friends.

That’s what had such an impact on me: Steven was saying that putting your life on the line for strangers is not an easy vocation, but he knew the men and women of the NYPD could – and would – make a difference in people’s lives.

In fact, Steven’s was a life that underscores why most people decide to become police officers: Cops want to make a difference. Cops want to do good. Cops want to lead lives of significance.

And Steven did that every, single day of his life.

Steven was one of the most remarkable men I have ever met, and one of the most fearless cops to ever don a police uniform.

Steven continues to be an icon. He believed the tragedy that befell him was something that happened to him for a reason: To inspire him, to inspire others. And so that he could become a messenger.

He often told people that the only thing that could be worse than being shot, would have been to nurture revenge in his heart. Had he allowed that to happen, he said, his injury would have extended to his soul, and further hurt those he loved.

Always in control of his destiny, Steven chose to prevent that spiritual injury.

Although he was able to breathe only with the help of a respirator, Steven’s voice was always strong, like his message: His message for improving relations between cops and community. And his message of peace and forgiveness.

Arguably, his life was shaped as much by those three bullets fired by that 15-year-old boy, as by the three words he famously expressed afterward: “I forgive him.”

Many of us might have given up after sustaining such a terrible injury. He was only 29 years old when he was shot – forever changing his life, and the lives of Patti Ann and their unborn baby boy Conor.

About seven months later, Conor was baptized in the chapel at Bellevue Hospital, where Steven began his recovery.

Now, Sergeant Conor McDonald, himself, is 29 years old, and every bit his father’s son. And every bit the New York Rangers fan.

Steven would be the first to tell you: There are no fans like Ranger fans. And there are no cops like NYPD cops.

To the McDonalds, being lifelong members of the “Blueshirt Faithful” extends far beyond the ice at Madison Square Garden. It is synonymous with being members of an amazing society of police officers – a bond that only those of us fortunate to serve New York City and its people can truly understand.

Conor is a 4th-generation cop. His great-grandfather was a dedicated detective once honored by Mayor LaGuardia for foiling a Bronx robbery ring. And one time, he was shot while breaking up another heist, in 1936.

Conor’s grandfather, David, became a cop in 1951 and took young Steven on rides in his patrol car. David, who is here today, retired as a sergeant in 1976.

And Steven’s younger brother, Thomas, is also here. He was an NYPD Emergency Service Unit cop for a time.

The family history likely planted the seeds for Steven’s future and – after serving for four years as a medical corpsman in the Navy – he joined the NYPD in 1984.

Times were very different back then.

Although a bullet paralyzed Steven, it could never immobilize his commitment to serve others. Almost immediately, he embarked on a 30-year legacy of steadfast bravery that inspired with his humanity, his compassion, and his ongoing devoted service to the NYPD.

Steven kept a pace that would tire even the most able-bodied, speaking several times a month at schools and police precincts, and attending more promotion ceremonies and line-of-duty police funerals than anyone else I know.

In the three decades following the shooting, Steven became an international ambassador for the NYPD and for his faith, and a larger-than-life symbol of forgiveness. His global mission of goodwill and rebirth took him to the Middle East, Bosnia, and Northern Ireland – where he promoted reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics.

He spoke with President Reagan, met with Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela, and, in 2015, saw Pope Francis in Central Park, not far from where his shooting took place.

He spoke and listened to countless police officers, and helped this wounded city heal in the aftermath of 9/11.

He helped redefine what a hero is in the NYPD. And he did something good … every day.

Detective Steven McDonald was a stronger person than anyone sitting in this grand cathedral – or anyone within the sound of my voice right now.

What we can learn from Steven’s life is this: The cycle of violence that plagues so many lives today can be overcome only by breaking down the walls that separate people. The best tools for doing this – Steven taught us – are love, respect, and forgiveness.

The shield Steven proudly wore on his chest symbolizes something sacred to every man and woman who has ever been a member of the NYPD. And every day that Steven was on this Earth, he embodied its rich tradition of courage and compassion.

If nothing else, Steven wanted people to know that police officers take their jobs seriously. Because policing is a profession. And Steven wanted people to know that if duty calls for it, police officers will give you everything.

As we honor this great man today, let’s also ask that Steven’s fellow cops continue to be blessed and protected. For they are the ones who will forever carry on his important work.