As thousands of police and civilians stood waiting on Fifth Avenue, and more than 100 SUVs, police cars, ambulances and motorcycles lined the street on a Friday morning in the heart of bustling midtown Manhattan, only one thing was missing. Noise.
All was quiet, and almost surreal, as the bells of St. Patrick’s Cathedral began tolling slowly, signaling the beginning of a final goodbye.
The elaborate funeral procession and Mass, standard procedure in the New York City Police Department for a line-of-duty death, honored a Malvernite, Detective Steven McDonald.
McDonald, 59, was shot 30 years ago while on duty in Central Park by a 15-year-old, leaving him paralyzed for more years than he was able-bodied. Defying all medical predictions, McDonald lived for three decades after the shooting, and became a national messenger of hope after he forgave the teenager. The shooting prompted him to spend the rest of his life speaking to organizations in the U.S. and abroad about the power of God and forgiveness. Throughout those years, McDonald needed the help of a respirator to breathe.
On Jan. 6, he suffered a heart attack at his Malverne home. Villagers held prayer vigils for him at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Jan. 8 and in Malverne’s Reese Park on Jan. 9 that were attended by hundreds. On Jan. 10, McDonald died at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.
His funeral procession began in Rockville Centre, where he grew up, as the orange morning sunlight slanted over St. Agnes Cathedral, and was led by Bishop William Murphy, the outgoing spiritual leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre and a friend of McDonald’s. Dozens of mourners lined the streets outside St. Agnes.
The Mass was attended by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Police Commissioner James O’Neill, David Letterman, former New York Ranger Adam Graves, Nassau County Supervisor Ed Mangano, Acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino and many other elected officials and dignitaries. President-elect Donald Trump tweeted, “A beautiful funeral today for a real New York City hero, Det. Steven McDonald. Our law enforcement community has my complete and total support.”
McDonald’s widow, Malverne Mayor Patti Ann Norris-McDonald, was accompanied by her son, NYPD Sgt. Conor McDonald, her mother, Sheila Norris, and other family members. The family stood beside the entrance to the cathedral, near the hearse, as pallbearers removed McDonald’s casket, which was draped in the green-and-white-striped NYPD flag.
During the Mass, de Blasio and Monsignor Séamus O’Boyle made statements of sorrow and endearment that prompted smiles and even laughs from the attendees.
But it was Conor McDonald’s speech that most deeply moved the congregants, and no doubt those who were watching the ceremony live on TV as well. “There were lots of tears shed, but more hugs shared,” Conor said. “He was the greatest man that I could ask to be my father. He did more than most able-bodied fathers could ever do with their sons. My dad wanted to make sure his time with us was not wasted. That is why he was so passionate in spreading God’s message of love, compassion and forgiveness. My father forgave the young man that shot him every single day. He made it his mission to make all of us realize that love must win.”
Conor acknowledged his mother’s years of love and loyalty to her husband, which prompted a minute-long standing ovation.
At the conclusion of the Mass, pallbearers carried McDonald’s casket out of the cathedral as its bell tolled again. Once more, all was silent on Fifth Avenue. The flag that had covered the casket was folded and presented to his widow, with her son and mother by her side. Before the hearse drove away, a team of 10 helicopters flew overhead to lead the motorcade to McDonald’s final resting place at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.