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Faith, Blue and You - Making Authentic Connections Among Churches, Cops and their Communities
October 04, 2023
Portions of this article were originally published online in September by FAITH, the magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing.
Dangling from the spotlight lever in the patrol car, there’s a rosary. Its cross twirls back and forth as the car slows to a stop.
Tpr. Mark Swales, assigned to the Michigan State Police (MSP) Flint Post, catches a quick break from patrolling the streets and says a few prayers.
Today, it’s a prayer to St. Michael the archangel, the patron of law enforcement officers.
Swales’ low words are comforting in the close quarters of his cruiser. “St. Michael the archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil …”
Wickedness is not foreign to Swales, who spends most of his 12-hour shifts patrolling the streets of Flint “with a focus on addressing and combating violent crime in the city.
“It’s something different every day. You never know what you’re going to get into, or what type of calls you’re going to experience,” Trooper Swales says. “Hardly a shift goes by that we don't get into a car and make an arrest for someone unlawfully carrying a gun.”
Policing is a demanding and often thankless job, but Swales is supported by one huge thing: his Catholic faith.
“That's a big part of my day — my daily devotions before I come into work, or at times during the shift, depending on what we experience,” he says. “I'm in constant reliance on it.”
Photo courtesy of FAITH. Pictured are Fr. Anthony Strouse, left, and Tpr. Mark Swales, right.
PARISH PRIEST TURNED CHAPLAIN
Troopers have access to a Chaplain Corps in the agency. In the corps, troopers can find chaplains from many different faith traditions ready to provide spiritual and emotional support.
Father Anthony Strouse, pastor of St. Matthew and St. Pius X in Flint, has served as a Catholic chaplain for the MSP since 2017.
Father Strouse sticks out a bit at the Flint Post.
As a young priest, he’s able to relate to the troopers, many of whom are around his age.
Father Strouse has organized Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties for the troopers at the post, among other things. But most often, the real work is done from the passenger seat of a patrol car. When Father Strouse rides along with one of the troopers, he provides counseling and other support as needed.
“Police officers, I would say, need a chaplain because, like every human being, they’re not just a body, they’re not just a mind, but they’re also souls,” Father Strouse says. “The chaplain program in particular can help address those spiritual needs of individual troopers without pushing religion on them. We’re just here to be available resources for them to address that part of their human experience.”
Serving as a police chaplain has helped Father Strouse grow as a priest in ways he would not have otherwise, he says.
“When I was first starting to be a chaplain, I would be called out to homicide scenes. Most priests don't do that. It stretched me as a priest to be able to talk to people in this time when a loved one has been killed in a violent way,” he says. “Being able to reach out to parts of Flint that I probably would have never gone to on my own, I think, is one way that being a chaplain has impacted me as a priest.”
He says he balances his work with the MSP with parish life by spending most of his days off at the Flint Post.
“Not that I don’t need a day off,” he smiles. “But one of the things the MSP emphasizes is just physical fitness, and so I'm actually able to take care of some of my physical de-stressors by spending time with the troopers and having an opportunity to interact with them and fulfill some of those social needs too.”
The MSP Chaplain Corps was founded in 1932, and the Lansing Diocese has provided many Catholic chaplains for the agency over the decades. One particularly long-serving MSP chaplain was longtime St. Thomas Aquinas Pastor Monsignor Jerome MacEachin, colloquially known as “Father Mac.”
NATIONAL FAITH & BLUE WEEKEND
Continuing our commitment to developing authentic connections and serving real needs within communities, the MSP is participating in the National Faith & Blue Weekend, four days of community-officer engagement through the connections of faith-based organizations.
The department’s newest chaplain has partnered with the MSP Caro Post for Trunk or Treat at his Vassar Church of the Nazarene.
“Whenever we can bring people together so they can personally see there is common ground, it’s a good thing,” said Chaplain Jerry Harrington. “I also enjoy helping and encouraging people whether that be those attending our church, the troopers and MSP members I interact with and the members of our neighborhoods.”
Chaplain Harrington encourages anyone in the area to join them for the Trunk or Treat on Saturday, Oct. 7, from 3-5 p.m., at 3822 W. Saginaw Road in Vassar. Search for a Faith & Blue Weekend 2023 event in your community here.
MERCY AND JUSTICE
The line between justice and mercy is one police officers constantly tread, Father Strouse says.
“It's an ability to recognize that, as they do help promote justice and peace, that's their role of being saints in the world,” Father Strouse says. “A lot of people don't associate mercy with law enforcement. But from my experience, the number of people who are pulled over versus the number of people who get citations or tickets — well, the vast majority of people who are pulled over don’t actually get citations.”
Trooper Swales, who is a lifelong parishioner of St. Mary in Mount Morris, says he chose the profession because he “wanted to help people.”
And by acting compassionately toward people — even those he must arrest — he hopes they will see Christ in him.
“There are times that you feel that you’re not making a difference, but the important thing is to just go out and continue to do the job regardless. At the end of the day, you'll never know the impact you had. You never know what you prevented,” he says. “We don't know God's plan, but we're put here to do this job. Ultimately, you do the best you can and hope that you've made a difference.”