Photo By Sean Stipp – Tribune Review

This article is dedicated to the memory and honor of McKeesport Officer Sean Sluganski.

February 6, 2023 is a day that the City of McKeesport will never forget.  Officer Sean Sluganski was killed in the line of duty by a man experiencing a mental health crisis.  Officer Chuck Thomas was also injured in the incident and is recovering.  You can go and find all kinds of news coverage about it for context if you need to, but I would like to spend a few minutes exploring the Catholic response to tragedies like this.

Within hours of the shooting and the reports of the officer’s passing, at this point unidentified, many faith communities in McKeesport opened their doors for anyone who was affected by this to come and to pray.  My parish offered a special and impromptu Holy Hour at 7PM that evening.  Our pastor canceled our pastoral council meeting and asked us to attend.  I was grateful for the opportunity and took my oldest son with me.  We prayed a rosary together and listened to just two verses from the Gospel of John: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:12-13

This passage was exactly what that day was all about, selfless and sacrificial love.  So, while this story is a sad one to tell, there must be something positive that comes from this.  This is where we come in.

Tragedies are often met with great despair and hopelessness at first.  People feel lost and despondent, they almost feel that God has in some way wronged them by letting something tragic happen.  These feelings are normal, but they are not permanent.  For the Catholic/Christian, we know this is not the end.  Loss is a part of life, pain is a part of life, trial is a part of life, but never forget that Jesus Christ is all of life.  The response to be charitable in prayer is how my parish community responded.  Many of the people who came did not know these officers but spent time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in hope that uniting these officers, their families, and our city to the Source and Summit of the Christian Life is the absolute best thing we can do to respond.  This kind of charity is exactly what Jesus calls us to do.  

Charity is love; love is an action.  Praying helps us personally and helps our community through tragedies.  Putting that love into physical action is the next logical step.  We should take the strength we gain from prayer and find ways to physically help the people involved in this tragedy.  In the past few weeks, our community has rallied behind these families through a variety of fundraisers and prayer services to aid in their healing and comfort in these difficult times.  The corporal works of mercy remind us that another physical act of charity is to bury the dead.  I was humbled to be able to provide traffic control for Officer Sluganski’s funeral procession. Hundreds of police units from near and far came to honor Sean’s life.  Breathtaking as that was to witness, I am profoundly moved by the witness those officers showed that day.  Many of them knew Sean personally, but many did not.  The brotherhood that exists in public service is hard to explain, but you know it when you see it.  This is precisely how the universality of our Church works: everyone is welcome, and that welcome looks and feels different for every person, but you know it when you experience it.  

Finally, we need to come back to prayer again: intercessory prayer.  Saint Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of police.  He is the protector of heaven who defeated Lucifer.  Churches all across the world have been reciting the prayer to Saint Michael at the end of Mass for a few years now asking for his intercession to protect the Church from evil.  Saint Michael’s story is one that is powerful, and the Church takes careful consideration into Her patronages.  This has always impressed upon me the incredible importance law enforcement officers have in our society.  If the angel responsible for finally casting evil from heaven is the one we ask to intercede for these men and women, they must have a similar and great responsibility.  Anytime we see a police officer, we could easily say a simple prayer for their protection through the intercession of Saint Michael.  One of the simplest ways we pray in the car as a family is when we see an ambulance or fire truck, we always say a Hail Mary for the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and ask for the intercession of Saint Florian.  My kids often remind me, and they’re the ones that start it. We will most certainly add Saint Michael in when we see a police unit responding.

People call 911 on days when they know whatever it is they are facing, they can no longer deal with it alone.  Cue in these people who respond no matter what to help complete strangers.  In my work as a firefighter, I had the pleasure of working with Officers Sluganski and Thomas.  As with most emergency personnel, our interactions were very much in passing while we dealt with whatever emergency to which we were called.  I pray, and I ask you to do the same, for a speedy recovery for Officer Thomas, and that Officer Sluganski is welcomed into the arms of Jesus for eternity.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may the perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul and the souls of all of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.