By Daniel Arimborgo
Detective Stephen McDonald, the retired police officer who was shot and paralyzed by a young gunman in Manhattan in 1987, talked about dealing with personal tragedy and forgiveness in an address at the Bishop Molloy Passionist Retreat House last week.
McDonald, the guest of honor at the ninth annual Ecumenical Evening of Spiritual Renewal, was this year’s recipient of the Molloy Retreat House’s Faith In Action Award.
Speaking is not easy for McDonald, who has to time his words to the delivery of air from a small respirator on his battery-powered wheelchair. When he was done, there were few dry eyes left in the retreat’s small chapel.
“People come during the week and weekends to reflect and pray,” Father James Price, director of the Passionist Retreat, said in an interview. Also present at the event was City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), who is running for mayor.
Price said the retreat was originally for lawyers when it was founded in 1964. He said Father Paul Wierichs and Vallone got the idea nine years ago to open the retreat to the public.
Addressing the audience later, Price said “people who come here experience faith in a number of ways. One of the gifts they receive is reconciliation of all types — reconciliation between countries, and reconciliation within families.”
Next to speak was Rabbi Mayer Pearlmutter, who introduced the idea of “forgetering” — a made-up word he used in a story related by the late tennis great Arthur Ashe in an ethical will he left to his daughter to show her how she should live, shortly before his death.
In the tale, when he and his wife were getting married, they spoke to a minister beforehand who told them a good marriage needs forgetering — let go of gripes and not holding grudges. “For if a couple holds onto every grudge,” he said, ‘that marriage will always be very rocky.”
McDonald started his speech by saying “m life began just five miles from here.” He described how he and Vallone were together in a church on the West Side where they saw a visionary.
“I think it’s a good thing Mr. Vallone is a candidate for mayor,” he said.
Next, he recounted how his mother had gone to the Martin Luther King rally in Washington in the early 1960s. “He inspired her and she came home and told us about it.” He then read a passage from one of King’s books dealing with ending cycles of violence.
“I think back on those words of Dr. King. It would be nice if we could stop the violence,” McDonald said.
McDonald recounted that after he was shot, he was given the last rites. During his recovery, he said, priests who visited him and his family at the hospital taught them “what it was to forgive.”
In fact, soon after the shooting when McDonald was unable to speak, his wife told the press that he forgave the boy who shot him, he said.
When the young man died in a motorcycle accident after being released from prison, McDonald’s son Conor, without being asked or prodded, led his classmates in prayer for the guy.
Vallone, who was present with his wife Tena, presented McDonald with the Faith in Action award, a picture of a cross on a mountain top.
Reach reporter Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.