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A great man is gone: Steven McDonald, paralyzed New York police officer, dies at 59

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Rest in peace: 

Steven McDonald, a New York City police officer who was shot by a 15-year-old in Central Park in July 1986 and paralyzed from the neck down, but who forgave his assailant, hoped for the youth’s redemption and remained in the public eye for his spirit in the face of adversity, died on Tuesday in Manhasset, N.Y. He was 59.

His death, at North Shore University Hospital, was confirmed by a police spokesman, Lt. John Grimpel.

Mr. McDonald was hospitalized on Friday after having a heart attack. He lived in the village of Malverne in Nassau County with his wife, Patricia Ann Norris-McDonald, the mayor of the village and his caregiver.

A plainclothes police officer when he was shot, Mr. McDonald had remained on the Police Department’s payroll afterward as a first-grade detective, at times appearing at roll calls and offering support for wounded officers.

His son, Conor, who was born six months after the shooting, is a sergeant with the New York Police Department and represents the fourth generation of the family to serve in the department.

Officer McDonald was 29 with two years on the police force when he and his partner were on patrol on July 12, 1986. About 4:15 p.m., they stopped three boys who had been reported to be loitering near the boathouse at the northern end of Central Park.

Officer McDonald began speaking with one of the boys, Shavod Jones. Seconds later, Mr. Jones pulled out a handgun and shot him three times.

All three boys were arrested.

The shooting drew wide publicity because of the grievousness of Officer McDonald’s injuries, the young age of the gunman and the callousness of the act. President Ronald Reagan phoned the officer when he was recovering at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan to wish him well.

At his son’s baptism in a chapel at Bellevue in early 1987, Officer McDonaldwrote of Mr. Jones in a statement that was read by his wife. “I forgive him,” he said, “and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life.”

Read on. 

My friend Robert Lynch wrote this tribute to him yesterday:

Remaining with the NYPD and eventually being promoted to the rank of Detective, McDonald has become a beloved icon, especially among his fellow Irish Catholic New Yorkers, because of his tireless preaching of the Christian message of peace and forgiveness, which he even extended to the assailant who so grievously wounded him.

Steven announced his forgiveness of his attacker at at Conor’s Baptism.  As he explains:  “I wanted to free myself of all the negative, destructive emotions that this act of violence awoke in me – the anger, the bitterness, the hatred. I needed to free myself of those so I could be free to love my wife and our child and those around us.”

When asked why he forgave, Steven answers:  “I often tell people that the only thing worse than a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart. Such an attitude would have extended my tragic injury into my soul, hurting my wife, son, and others even more. It is bad enough that the physical effects are permanent, but at least I can choose to prevent spiritual injury.”

Another of our local heroes, the beloved Fr. Mychal Judge, the first recorded fatality at the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center, became Steven’s spiritual adviser and a fast friend of the McDonald family.  Steven and Mychal led three peace missions to Ireland to bolster the peace process in its early days and Steven continues to preach peace and reconciliation there and elsewhere.

Read it all. He has some great pictures, too.

I had the privilege of meeting this great man at several of the regular pro-life marches at my parish, coordinated with the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. Steven McDonald was brought to our church for Mass, and then wheeled along with us as we prayed the rosary; inevitably, he was given a microphone to lead a decade outside a local abortion mill. It was difficult for him to get around, and hard on his wife or accompanying caregiver, but all involved saw this as a great and necessary witness in defense of life. He gladly made whatever sacrifice he could to add his faltering voice to the prayers.

I pray for him this day, and his family, and hope he will be praying for all of us in this city he loved so much.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  

Deacon Greg Kandra
Headlines and Homilies
Deacon Greg Kandra is a Roman Catholic deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. For nearly three decades, he was a writer and producer for CBS News, where he contributed to a variety of programs and was honored with every major award in broadcasting. Deacon Greg now serves as Multimedia Editor for Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA.) He and his wife live in Forest Hills, New York.
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