"Big Four" Highlights


Above Heroism

For 30 years, Steven McDonald witnessed to a life worth living

By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

He lived a full life centered on faith, family, duty and forgiveness. From the moment he fell under the senseless gunfire of a wayward teen in 1986, he was in God’s hands, and lived on God’s time. Confined to a wheelchair, a quadriplegic due to severe spinal trauma, he was yet a man of great grace.

New York Police Officer Steven McDonald, the grandson, the son and the father of city cops, was called from the extraordinary service of his profession to a unique mission in the life of the city and the Catholic Church he loved.

He was a witness to reconciliation and peace in the spirit of St. John Paul II, forgiving his attacker and corresponding with him in prison, and lived in resistance to the culture of death, lending his voice and efforts to the pro-life movement, and giving a face to the dignity of all human life, in whatever state of disability. Moving with a breath-activated motor on his wheelchair, speaking softly and taking on each task with humility, Detective McDonald completed his mission well.

Detective Steven McDonald was featured in the recent K of C film "The Face of Mercy."

He was laid to rest on January 13 in the presence of his wife and police sergeant son, and honored by a long, blue line of colleagues, from the police commissioner to officers on the beat. A Funeral Mass was offered in a packed St. Patrick’s Cathedral by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who attended McDonald in his final hours after the latter suffered a heart attack.

Active in the force till his death, McDonald was a detective assigned to community relations. He spoke to inner-city schools, youth groups and young imprisoned offenders, attended funerals of slain cops and comforted widows, counseled fellow officers suffering from hardships or stress, and even traveled to his hereditary homeland of Ireland to seek peace in that once-troubled land.

I was blessed to have known McDonald as a fellow New Yorker and to have spent time with him and his family while preparing stories on his various activities when I was a reporter for Catholic New York, the newspaper of the archdiocese. From the day of the near-fatal attack, there was a spiritual giant at his side – Cardinal John O’Connor. The archbishop of New York anointed him, prayed with him, counseled him and his wife, Patti Ann, and stood by them as they struggled to reconcile their hopes for an active married life together with McDonald’s reduced physical condition. There was no greater advocate than Cardinal O’Connor for the dignity of the unborn, the disabled, the elderly and people from all walks of life, and he found kindred Catholic souls in Steven and Patti Ann.

I remember most the upbeat tone of McDonald’s voice, as he spoke with short breaths to deliver a message of hope and healing, or simply to ask about someone’s family or job. He only spoke about himself when asked, and always then with a smile. I recall also his eyes, the wonderful, lively eyes that were left to convey the whole of his tested yet peaceful soul. They were listening eyes, understanding, accepting, compassionate, loving and smiling, as his Irish heritage says they should be.

I remember also the devoted, stalwart, life-giving love of his beautiful wife, whose faith and courage were the foundation of his life. She was pregnant with Conor when McDonald was shot, and she presented their newborn to him months later while he was still in the hospital. An accomplished woman in her own right, for the past decade she has served as mayor of their town, Malverne, Long Island.

Steven McDonald was one of the beautiful souls of our time, one that was broken by hardship, burnished by love and raised by God for the world to see that life need not be perfect to be well worth living.

May he rest in peace in the arms of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Columbia magazine published an interview with McDonald in its November 2016 issue, promoting a Knights of Columbus film on mercy that featured his inspiring story.