?Clergy and crews from Life Link lll, North Memorial Health, and Ascension Spirit Medical Transport are pictured with Bishop James P. Powers and other diocesan priests. (Catholic Herald photo by Beth Palma)

Beth Palma
Special to the Catholic Herald

Under blue skies in Washburn on Wednesday, June 27, local police, sheriff deputies, firefighters, ambulance drivers, EMTs, dispatchers and air medical transportation crews, along with their families and community, gathered at St. Louis Church for the 10th annual Blue Mass.

Ambulance, squad cars, and the Washburn fire truck pulled up in front of the church, while the gathering crowd watched three medical transport helicopters land, one by one, on the football field above St. Louis Church. The crews in their flight suits joined the procession of the blue- and brown-uniformed first responders.

“America the Beautiful,” performed by Matt Bark and Kris Engfer, filled the house of worship while the Chequamegon Bay Area 4th Degree Knights of Columbus 2462 led the emergency personnel into the church.

The Knights, in full regalia, lined the main aisle to honor the entering men and women who serve area communities.

Mass was led by Bishop James P. Powers in attendance with St. Louis Pastor Fr. Kevin Gordon, Deacon Roger Cadotte, Fr. Aaron Devett of Holy Family in Woodruff, Fr. Joseph Kumar and Fr. Duc Pham of Our Lady of the Lake in Ashland, and Fr. Papi Reddy of Holy Rosary in Mellen.

Bishop Powers recognized in his homily the service and sacrifice of first responders, especially in the priceless respect for life without questioning it and the willingness to go the extra mile without considering personal cost or risk.

Special recognition was given for the men and women who died in the line of duty and ended their watch: Rico Caruso, air methods pilot; Greg Rosenthal, flight paramedic; Klint Mitchell, flight nurse; Ted Green, Namakagon firefighter EMT; Paul Smith, State Patrol, and Monica Weber, Fort Myers firefighter paramedic.

Since the first Blue Mass held in 1934 at Saint Patrick’s Church in Washington, D.C., the celebration of first responders has become a Catholic tradition. The “Blue” Mass represents the commonly used blue uniforms worn by those who serve. The celebration provides the opportunity to lift up and show gratitude.

Following Mass, Bishop Powers blessed the emergency vehicles, helicopters and crews with a sprinkling of holy water before all entered the church hall for a meal and camaraderie. Organizer of the event Dan Clark, Bayfield County Sheriff Chief Deputy, Washburn Ambulance Service director and 4th Degree Knight, gave thanks to the Knights, their families, St. Louis staff and clergy for their help in the celebration. During the dinner, Evelynn Dax, Washburn school nurse and EMT, read a thank you note from a man who was helped by numerous locals, when struck by tragedy while visiting the area.

Chief Deputy Clark recognized retiring first responders from Washburn and Iron River: Karyl Clark, Sharon Mager, Rosemary Janigo, and Micki Mullozzi, who have contributed 122 years of combined service to the area. Along with this recognition was the request for young people to come forward and serve their communities to replace retiring first responders.

Attendees Kerry Degen with Life Link Medical Transport and Tygar Leveque, EMT for South Shore Ambulance Service, both said it was an honor to be recognized in the celebration. As the three helicopters lifted skyward and emergency vehicles pulled away, it was clear their work was rewarding and never done, as expressed in the theme of this year’s Blue Mass: “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”