Nearly three decades ago, I marched in the Second Annual Glen Cove St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which took place on the bitterly cold Sunday afternoon of March 4, 1990, but the hearts of the marchers and spectators were warmed that day by the chance to honor a true American Irish hero, Police Officer Steven McDonald.
A resident of Malverne, Long Island, McDonald was permanently paralyzed as the result of a vicious shooting while questioning three thieves in Central Park. His injuries left him confined to a wheelchair and constantly attached to a respirator in order to sustain his life. At the time of the shooting, Steven’s wife, Patti was expecting their son, Conor, who is now a Detective with the NYPD.
The Honorary Grand Marshal that year was Irish republican activist and political prisoner Joe Doherty, who was in the middle of a nine yearlong battle to avoid deportation. Joe was strongly supported by Detective McDonald and many members and friends of the Irish American community. This writer has heard all manner of speeches and presentations on Irish issues on both sides of the Atlantic, but the most powerful and heartfelt I recall was a wonderful address given by Steven McDonald at a rally in support of Joe held at Foley Square in Manhattan. Steven is a fixture to this day at many Irish American events and commemorations.
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 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.
Steven has been tireless in repeating his message of hope, especially at the hundreds of schools he has visited and to young police officers he meets with and encourages on a regular basis.
A few days before Christmas he held a televised meeting with officers at an NYPD station house and repeated his message of peace, reconciliation, and suicide prevention. He mentioned that when he was hot thirty years early, doctors had not expected him to live more than a few years.
Conor stood by his side and echoed him, stating that hate would otherwise “have eaten him alive” and that he would have been long dead had that happened. Steven finished by stating, “We will give you everything. I hope I have demonstrated that.”
Before the same Christmas season had ended, Steven was felled by a massive coronary. He died soon thereafter, on January 10, 2017.