Catholic Herald Staff
In small towns, emergency workers wear many hats.
Dan Clark is the chief deputy at the Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department. He’s also volunteer director of the Washburn Area Ambulance Service.
He wears a third uniform at his parish, St. Louis, Washburn. He’s one of the Knights of Columbus, Chequamegon Bay Council, and an organizer of the parish’s sixth annual Blue Mass.
The ecumenical event is a way for the community to show gratitude to firefighters, law enforcement officers and first responders from Ashland, Bayfield, Iron, Douglas and Sawyer counties, Clark said. All are welcome, and there’s no catch.
“This isn’t a Catholic recruiting campaign,” he said.
The June 3 Mass began at 5:30 p.m. at St. Louis. Led by the Knights, emergency personnel and their families processed up Washington Avenue from the school to the church, where they met Bishop Peter Christensen and Fr. Kevin Gordon, pastor of the parish.
More than 100 people – workers and their families, parishioners and Knights – attended the Mass, which concluded with a blessing of the vehicles, reception and dinner.
Blue Masses began on the East Coast in the 1930s. Initially they were solely for police officers; the title alludes to “the thin blue line” that denotes law enforcement as the separation between good and bad, between civilization and anarchy.
Other emergency service workers were invited to the Masses after 9/11, Clark explained. Washburn’s Blue Mass can attract anywhere from 30 to 100 emergency personnel, depending on who is on shift.
“It’s hard for them to break away to attend something like this,” he said.
Also, in Clark’s experience, officers sometimes “prefer to be in the shadows” and are unaccustomed to accolades. Likewise, first responders may become part of a family’s legend, but they rarely meet with gratitude at the scene of an emergency.
“This is a way for the community to say thanks,” he added.
As someone who is active in his church, volunteering in his community and employed in law enforcement, “I see the connection between all of them,” said Clark.
Service is the common factor, and in small towns, there are very few career firefighters or ambulance workers, he noted. An assembly of emergency personnel represents countless hours volunteered in difficult or dangerous situations.
The Blue Mass can also be beneficial for workers who don’t participate in a church, he said. They may learn there’s something to gain from being involved.
Clark also hopes communities will be supportive of their officers. Asked to speak to a women’s group on “the Beatitudes of law enforcement,” Clark asked the women whether they said a blessing for an officer after being pulled over.
Every head in the room went down.
Clark admits he doesn’t like being pulled over either. But, if the bad guys don’t like police, and officers’ families don’t like the long shifts, holiday hours and dangerous duties, who will support them?
“If the good, church-going ladies aren’t backing us up, who’s there for us?” he asked.
His question had the desired effect.
“It started a dialogue,” he said.