GREEN BAY — Members of the public safety profession, particularly police officers, have been under the microscope in recent years due to violence directed at minorities. For the more than 12,000 full-time law enforcement officers in Wisconsin, these incidents — combined with the daily challenge of facing unknown situations — can take a toll on morale.
Deputy Kyle Holewinski of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office in Oshkosh, who also serves as a chaplain to inmates, believes police officers are often stigmatized, sometimes unwittingly, by citizens. “The other day I was walking through a local store in uniform when I came across a mom whose child, approximately 6 or 7, was having a temper tantrum,” he told The Compass in an email. “But when the mom saw me, she immediately said to the child, ‘See that man, if you don’t behave he’ll take you to jail.’
“Police don’t need this type of stigma,” said Holewinski.
Fr. Richard Getchel, pastor of St. Francis Xavier and St. Mary parishes in De Pere, has served as chaplain for the Green Bay Police Department since 1984. He has witnessed the hardships and tragedies police experience.
When dense fog caused a 52-car pile-up on the Tower View Bridge (now the Leo Frigo Bridge) in 1990, causing three deaths and 30 injuries, Fr. Getchel was dispatched to console not only the accident victims, but to “take special care and concern for the well-being of the police offers who were dealing with the whole situation.”
He has attended police funerals, weddings and retirement gatherings, and is honored “to meet and talk with them in the surroundings they are comfortable with — or at times not so comfortable with.”
“When I see them, I thank them for the service they provide to our community,” added Fr. Getchel.
Members of the Diocese of Green Bay will have an opportunity to thank and pray for members of the public safety profession on Sept. 18, 3 p.m., when Bishop David Ricken will celebrate a “Blue Mass” at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.
“A Blue Mass is a Thanksgiving Mass in gratitude for the generous service of public safety personnel who serve their community each day,” according to a press release by the Diocese of Green Bay. “All emergency, law enforcement and protective services personnel are invited and encouraged to attend, including retired members.”
The Blue Mass is organized by the diocese in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus, Fr. Marquette Council and St. Jude Assembly, and in partnership with the Fraternal Order of Police, Green Bay. The public is invited to attend.
Holewinski, who is a recent graduate of the diocese’s Emmaus Lay Ministry program, said he relies on his faith during “personal down days.”
“To know that God is with me wherever I go and that my Lord is a Lord of second chances,” gives him motivation during difficult times. He said having the diocese recognize and support law enforcement personnel through prayer is edifying to them.
“What people need to remember is that the negative is a constant and daily occurrence and the positive is far and few between,” he said. “This type of constant negativity can take a toll for the worse on an officer. The police profession has one of the highest rates of divorce, alcoholism, depression and suicide and this is why we need prayers and the church. Not just for us, but for the entire world.”