Diocesan News

Bishop’s Law Enforcement Roots Branch Out Again at NYPD Retreat

Bishop Robert Brennan met up with his brother, Thomas, who is an NYPD officer, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral shortly before the start of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. (Photo: Bill Miller)

By Michael Rizzo

JAMAICA — As some 50 current and retired NYPD officers gathered at the Passionists’ Thomas Berry Place Retreat House in Jamaica, Queens, on March 23, among them was Bishop Robert Brennan.

That’s not a big surprise. Bishop Brennan, after all, has the NYPD in his blood.

Bishop Brennan’s father, Robert, is a retired officer and his brother, Thomas, is currently stationed in Queens. Bishop Brennan has another brother who worked for the FBI.

In an interview before he was the main celebrant at a Mass for the retreatants, Bishop Brennan called the event a gathering of officers committed to their faith who were there to delve more deeply into that faith.

As he reminisced about growing up in a policeman’s family, he recalled it positively.

“The police department was very good to my family,” Bishop Brennan said. “There was a part of [my father] being a police officer that was exciting and certainly very admirable and something we respected a lot.”

But he acknowledged, in specifically mentioning his mother Patricia, that there was the constant worry and fear that came with having a family member on a job where their life could be at risk any day. He also recognized the sacrifices families make and the impact of working different shifts.

“My father worked 4 to 12 most of the time,” he said, describing the afternoon-into-evening work shift. “But when he had some time off it would be quality time off. Families make sacrifices, but it helps pull the family together.”

That experience also affected his call to the priesthood.

“There is the commitment to serve and protect the community,” he said, thinking about his vocation and comparing it to the work of the police.

In reflecting on his father’s work and his own experiences with other police families, the theme of service was constant.

“For many of the police officers and their families, it’s a culture of doing right and of service,” Bishop Brennan said. “Police are, by and large, good, honorable, generous women and men who place themselves in service for the right reasons and work hard at doing that. In the end, we all want to see the good of the community, for peaceful communities.”

Msgr. Robert Romano, the NYPD’s assistant chief chaplain, pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bensonhurst, and one of the spiritual guides at the retreat, was sitting with the Bishop and commented that priests and police are alike.

“We wear uniforms and we see the best of the best and worst of the worst,” Msgr. Romano said.

Bishop Brennan agreed and said those two extremes were something his father spoke about during his tours of duty in New York City’s turbulent 1970s.

The retreat was the second NYPD-related event that Bishop Brennan attended in as many weeks in the Diocese of Brooklyn. On March 13, he celebrated Mass for the Brooklyn Queens Holy Name Society’s annual breakfast.

The NYPD retreat dates back more than 70 years and has always been held at the Passionists’ facility in Jamaica. Formerly known as the Bishop Molloy Retreat House, it’s undergoing a renovation and has been renamed Thomas Berry Place after Thomas Berry, C.P., a Passionist scholar who promoted greater awareness about environmentalism and sustainability.

The retreat took place over three days. Every year it’s managed by Catholic members of the force. It attracts officers from dioceses in and around New York City. NYPD chaplains, including Msgr. Romano and Msgr. David Cassato, pastor at St. Athanasius, Bensonhurst, who were also co-celebrants at the Mass with Bishop Brennan, led the spiritual discussions.

The focus of this year’s event was faith, hope, and love.

Retired NYPD Chief Mike Scagnelli, who grew up in Holy Cross parish in Brooklyn, has been the main organizer of the event for more than a decade.

“The retreat helps us focus on our faith and what Jesus said, to love your neighbor as yourself,” Scagnelli remarked. “Policing is seeing the public as neighbors and treating the public with love. If you have that, policing gets easier.”

Bishop Brennan saw a similar theme in the teachings of Vatican II that called on Christians to shine the light of the Gospel to transform the world.

“In police work, it’s by knowing Jesus Christ, knowing the Gospel, knowing the truth of the Gospel and then using that as your compass in the way you conduct yourself in your family and in your profession,” he said.

After Mass, the retreatants and Bishop Brennan gathered for dinner. When Msgr. Romano asked Bishop Brennan to give the blessing, he once again returned to the theme of service.

“We ask the Lord to bless us, protect us and protect those you serve,” he said.