by Gordon Nary
Gordon: What initially interested you in becoming a police chaplain?
Father Dan: I didn't really pursue police chaplaincy; it found me. I was approached by my predecessor about eight years before taking his place. He lived way east and I served at a parish way on the west side of Chicago. He called to ask if I could take care of leading a wake service for a retired police officer. It was in my neighborhood, and he had a conflict. So I took care of that, and the next day he called to ask if I would be willing to continue to help him on similar occasions. That formalized into my becoming his (very) part-time assistant chaplain while fulfilling my primary duties as a parish priest and eventually pastor.
Gordon: What are some of the more difficult challenges of a police chaplain?
Father Dan: The biggest challenges are the sheer size and scope of the work. In parish ministry, a large parish might serve 3,000 or 4,000 families. My flock is made up of 12,000 sworn officers, 3,000 civilian employees, about 8,000 local retirees and their families. Early on, I had to resign to the fact that I'll never get to know every member...something that I tried to do in my previous brick-and-mortar parish experiences.
Geographically, an urban parish might cover one or two square miles. My flock is spread over all 231 square miles of the City of Chicago. So I spend a lot of time in the car...and, unfortunately, at drive-through windows.
One other difference between traditional parish ministry and this work is the time commitment. I have never worked as many hours as I do now. And much of the work is at unconventional times: 2am, 3am, 4am... I remember as a young adult still living at home with my parents, and coming in from parties or bar-hopping with my buddies. If it were after midnight, my mother if awake (and if not, the next day) would remind me: "Nothing good happens after midnight!" In this work, I have learned that my mother was absolutely right! A bulk of the bad things that happen to our officers occurs after dark.
Gordon: We sometimes forget the stress than many police families have. Could you comments on this?
Father Dan: I have heard stories from police spouses about having meltdowns when their loved one is at work and the news or social media reports an officer has been seriously injured (or killed) in some way. This is certainly stressful for the families.
Every day when an officer leaves home to do his/her job, the family realizes he/she may not return home. Again, very stressful! And in these times of heightened scrutiny and sometimes outright hatred toward the police by some camps, the venom trickles down to family members.
Gordon: To help our readers get a great background on you, please read Thou Shalt not Kill. Do police have trouble opening up about their traumas?
Father Dan: Yes, some officers have trouble opening up. They are programmed to help others and often not so good at requesting help themselves. And when it comes to sharing/opening up at home, they often don't want to burden their spouses with the awful things they experience on the street.
Gordon: Violence and shooting is a daily event in Chicago. What are some of the factors that contribute to this and what can the city do to reduce gun violence?
Father Dan: The first problem causing crime and gang presence is the absence of traditional families. The statistics surrounding fatherless homes in Chicago are staggering. Without a strong family upbringing, young men (and women) are at a real disadvantage.
Second, we have an entitlement system that rewards people for underachieving. The government holds people down by paying housing, medical, food and cash to able-bodied people who may very well be able to earn their own living. While I am ALL for helping those who legitimately need assistance, the current practice is helpful to neither the recipient nor society.
Third, we live in a society where it is legal to kill in the womb. So there is little respect for life, which is seen by some as disposable and cheap. Hence, people are more likely to use weapons than fists (or ideally, words) when solving conflicts.
Fourth, here in Cook County, our penal system is broken. The jail may as well install a revolving door because so many violent offenders are given low bail, probation, parole, community service, etc....when they should be locked up. A huge percentage of violent offenders are already on parole or probation...so clearly the system isn't working.
Gordon: President Trump has called for armed guards with guns in Church, What is youe opinion of this recommendation?
Father Dan: . I'm not sure armed guards are a viable option due largely to the cost involved. Many parishes have police officers as members. When these officers attend Mass, the assembly is safer of course...at no cost.
Gordon: For our readers who are not from Chicago, please comment on the killing of Paul Bauer?
Father Dan: Commander Paul Bauer was a wonderful man, husband, father and police officer...not to mention an active Catholic whose faith influenced every aspect of his life. I was blessed to call him a friend and miss him terribly. Without becoming too political, it bears mentioning that Paul would still be with us today if that broken penal system I mentioned earlier hadn't failed us.
Gordon: You also moonlight as a comedian. Could you comment on your comedy gigs?
Father Dan: A sense of humor is a great tool in breaking down barriers and getting one's message across. In addition to using humor in my preaching and public speaking, I participate in regular fundraiser comedy shows, usually alongside my friend and fellow CPD Chaplain, Rabbi Moshe Wolf. The two of us going on stage together is joke in itself: "So a rabbi and a priest go into a comedy club..."
Gordon: Considering that God is infinite, does God have an infinite sense of humor?
Father Dan: When I look in the mirror, I am reminded that indeed God has a sense of humor! (And that I need to spend less time in the car and at drive-through windows!)
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview We close the interview with this video.