Archdiocese's Blue Mass to recognize emergency responders

Teak Phillips | teakphillips@archstl.org

Father Michael Boehm knows firsthand about the stress under which emergency responders work.

Before becoming archdiocesan vicar for priests in June 2014, Father Boehm served as pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Washington and moonlighted as a volunteer firefighter in the city's fire department. He did this for 5½ years.

Then, as a chaplain of the St. Louis County police department, he ministered to officers on the front lines of Ferguson, in August and November 2014 and again this past August.

So, emergency responders -- firefighters, police and EMTs -- have been near and dear to his heart for quite some time, and he'll be at the forefront in honoring them.

Father Boehm will concelebrate a Blue Mass -- the first of its kind in the archdiocese -- at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, better known as the New Cathedral. Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice will be the main celebrant.

Appropriately, the archdiocese now celebrates the Red, White and Blue of the stars and stripes, honoring public servants in multiple fields. The Red Mass (held this year on Oct. 4) honors judicial workers: judges, lawyers, prosecutors, etc. The White Mass (held this year on Oct. 11) is for doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals. Now comes the Blue Mass, honoring emergency responders and the military as well.

Father Boehm describes the Blue Mass "as opportunity to recognize their work, to acknowledge the risk they take day to day, to show them our support and to thank them."

And perhaps most importantly, "To pray for them," he said.

The Blue Mass grew out of an ad hoc committee that the archdiocese formed after the first round of violence in Ferguson, in August 2014. Father Boehm served on the 15-member committee, which met about once a month to look initially at issues related to Ferguson but later to other areas of the 11-county archdiocese.

"We were talking about different ways we could respond as an archdiocese to promote, you know, good things," Father Boehm said. "The Blue Mass came out of that."

The Blue Mass originated almost 81 years ago, with more than 1,000 police and firefighters attending the first such Mass on Sept. 29, 1934, at St. Patrick Church in Washington, D.C. The tradition has expanded to other archdioceses and dioceses in subsequent years. Though a first for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Father Boehm has had the Blue Mass "in the back of my mind" for sometime and acted on it at Our Lady of Lourdes.

"We had one for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and it was very well received," he said.

In conjunction with the archdiocese's Blue Mass, a number of parishes in the archdiocese also will celebrate their own Blue Masses for their local communities.

In a statement, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson acknowledged the danger under which emergency responders work and thanked them for their service.

"Your heroic choice to regularly stand between ordinary citizens and dangerous situations is a testament to your goodness and bravery," Archbishop Carlson wrote. "You show us the true spirit of what it means to be a follower of Christ."

He also acknowledged and thanked their families for their sacrifices. Emergency responders not only work in perilous conditions but often without days off to spend at home.

Father Boehm can speak to the long hours emergency responders put in. Throughout the Ferguson situation, Father Boehm took his turn as a chaplain for a three-hour shift each day at the police command center. In addition to his regular work as vicar for priests, he worked 60-hour weeks.

"This is just a way to show our support and gratitude," Father Boehm said.

Blue Mass

Sunday, Sept. 13, at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Lindell Boulevard and Newstead Avenue in the Central West End.

Mass will be celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice. For more information, visit www.archstl.org/bluemass

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