Detective Steven McDonald died this week at the age of 59. The article below, was shared by the author, Penny Wong-Matzelle, PMP:
In 2014, Detective Steven McDonald selflessly gave of his time to share his unique insight and wisdom with students at Saints Cyril and Methodius School, Deer Park. How blessed we feel to have spent this precious time with such an inspirational soul. Our thoughts and prayers are with Detective McDonald’s family and friends; we cannot thank them enough for sharing the gift of his presence with us. May he rest in heavenly peace.
If a pin had dropped, the sound would have resonated clear as a bell, as 100 fifth through eighth graders sat in the auditorium at Saints Cyril and Methodius School in Deer Park anxiously awaiting the arrival of NYPD Detective Steven McDonald. Detective McDonald was shot and paralyzed from the neck down in the line of duty by a teenager in July of 1986. The whir of his motorized wheelchair is heard in the quiet room. Yet Detective McDonald managed to bring an air of hope to what could be a solemn topic. As the Student Council president introduces him, Detective McDonald smiles as he gives quiet directions to his colleague, and as he takes center stage, breathing into a tube to move his wheelchair forward. He starts with one correction to her intro – “Thank you for the introduction. One correction, though, I’m not retired.” Detective McDonald is still an active member of the NYPD and will soon be celebrating 30 years in service.
He starts out by ensuring that each student attending hears about the beauty and the gift that is New York City’s Central Park. At nearly 800 acres large and boasting playgrounds, zoos, water, and boats, a castle and so much more, Detective McDonald wants the students of Saints Cyril and Methodius to understand that he’s not there to scare them away from visiting NYC, and he gives kudos to the early city planners and their decision to reserve this place of sanctity and wonder in the midst of the growing metropolis. See, the thing is, Detective McDonald holds no rancor for either the city he loves so dearly or for the teenage boy who delivered the three life-changing gunshots nearly 30 years ago.
On the contrary, Detective McDonald’s annual Lenten mission is to visit with schools to share with students the gifts of faith and forgiveness with which he feels very deeply that he and his wife have been blessed. He tells the students of that fateful day in 1986, a day which started out like any other, on patrol with his partner. He says how it seemed his whole life was falling into order at the time – newly married, with a baby on the way, and even his Mets having a record-breaking season and heading for World Series greatness.
Detective McDonald speaks in a gentle, quiet tone, with his tracheotomy tube rendering his voice little more than a whisper. But what he has to say is worth leaning in for a listen. He tells them of a spree of bicycle thefts at the time and how he and his partner approached three teenage boys in the park who fit the description of suspects in some of these thefts. The boys took off running in opposite directions and McDonald and his partner split up to chase them down. Once McDonald caught up with them and identified himself as a cop, he bent down to investigate what looked like a gun tucked into one of the boy’s socks. That’s when another boy, 15-year old Shavod Jones, pulled his own gun on McDonald and delivered three shots to his head and throat.
He describes how in the moments following the shots, he remembers his partner holding him and rocking back and forth. “My partner’s heart was breaking that day I was shot,” he tells the students. “Right then and there, I knew I was dying.” He went on to say that he remembered thinking, “Please, God, I don’t want to die.”
Girls and boys alike in the student body subtly wipe quiet tears from their faces, and as Detective McDonald pauses in his story-telling, only the sound of the respirator on his wheelchair fills the auditorium. He artfully gives the students pause for a bit of a laugh, telling them how an FDNY Chaplain was on the ready at the hospital upon his arrival and that he was in no position to say he was holding out for the NYPD Chaplain.
He speaks then of his beautiful wife, Patti Ann, and how she’s always said that there’s no such thing as coincidences, only God-incidences. And he tells the students a bit more about the location in Central Park where he was shot. He speaks of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and how she founded the Sisters of Charity and built a motherhouse and an academy on the Central Park grounds nearly exactly where he had been shot. He’d always felt he was spared there, on that hallowed ground, for a reason – another in a series of God-incidences that he and Patti Ann had experienced throughout their lives.
The days that followed were a blur, but he remembers asking for a priest. He pauses to ask a favor of his young audience, that if they ever find themselves in a hospital, that they ask for a priest. “Will you do that for me?” They agree. He’s thankful and says “Good, because once that priest came to my bedside, it changed everything for me.”
Over time and after many surgeries and the birth of their baby boy, McDonald and his wife came to a place in their shared healing process when the most important thing to them was to find forgiveness in their hearts. Detective McDonald told the students that if he hadn’t been able to forgive the young boy who shot him, he would never have survived. He’d shared with them his strong sense that holding things like anger, revenge or hatred in your heart can be as damaging as a bullet, only spiritually rather than physically. Relating to the youth in the room, he has them giggling a bit in thinking about how angry their brothers or sisters sometimes make them, about the kid in the playground who was being a bully and how it’s hard to practice forgiveness for even the little things that they experience in their lives. He brings the message home in asking them to think about exercising this important muscle, their hearts, in practicing forgiveness in their everyday lives. He promises them that everybody is going to make mistakes and that it’s important for them to remember this on their good days and on their not so good days.
McDonald mentions wars in foreign places and our soldiers on other shores and how that says to him that there’s not enough peace in the world. Then he ends his time with the students of Saints Cyril and Methodius by asking them to join him in a prayer of peace, praying a decade of the Rosary together. He also reads them a prayer that speaks of the uniqueness of each and every one of them, telling them how his mission in life has been clear – to share his message of faith and forgiveness with anyone who will listen. Then he sends them off to give some thought to the reason God has put each of them on this Earth, asking them to practice forgiveness, help others to heal their hearts so that they can practice forgiveness, and share the gifts that God has given them, so that they, too, can find their special reason for being here.
Steven McDonald’s story is featured in the book “Why Forgive?” by Johann Cristoff Arnold. SSCM is a Catholic Elementary School located in Deer Park, NY (www.sscmweb.org).