300 Gather to Honor 'The Padre'

By Alfred E. Lewis
Washington Post
June 8, 1985

More than 300 people gathered at St. Jerome's Church in Hyattsville recently to celebrate a special mass for Msgr. R. Joseph Dooley in recognition of his silver anniversary as a priest.

At a reception afterward in the parish hall, Dooley was honored with numerous plaudits and plaques. One police officer, who had survived two gunshot wounds said, "On behalf of all those police officers and firefighters who could not be here tonight, because they didn't recover from their injuries, I say thanks, Msgr. Dooley, for being there for us and for our families."

For more than two decades Dooley has helped police officers and firefighters with problems ranging from alcoholism to marital difficulties and has been available frequently to offer reassurance. Many calls have taken him to hospitals to administer last rites to a police officer or a firefighter killed in the line of duty.

As he recalls, it all started one cold blustery day in February 1962. Dooley, known as "the padre," received a call from a fireman wanting to know why he wasn't at the scene of a two-alarm fire that had raged for several hours in Northwest Washington.

Dooley, who had been a priest for two years, said he had not heard about the fire or he would have been there. He immediately went out and purchased a police monitor and has been responding to police and fire calls ever since.

Dooley had earlier begun to show up at scenes of serious injury or loss, seeking out opportunities to help people, to comfort a victim or family member. But the call from the fireman that day made him realize that police officers and firefighters had come to expect his presence.

A year later, in 1963, Dooley was appointed chaplain of the Catholic Police and Firemen's Society, a post he still holds.

But there are a few things that have changed. Dooley has been made a monsignor, an honorary title accorded to signify special achievement. He has been given a beeper and is notified along with high-level police and fire officials when significant events occur.

Known on the police radio as Cruiser 51 and in the fire department by the call number Car 22, he responds night and day where spiritual guidance is needed.

Dooley's involvement with men and women who risk their lives as part of their jobs and his sensitivity helps to nourish a special bond between him and the police and fire community. Some consult him about personal problems because he knows their world better than their own priests.

And sometimes his counseling extends to families of the victims, to help them through their grief.

"It is the most painful thing in life that I have to do but I know they need me," he said. "And so now it is part of my life to continue this work." In recognition of his work, Archbishop James A. Hickey has assigned Dooley to continue his special ministry among police and firefighters.

Dooley, a native Washingtonian, was graduated from St. John's College High School in 1951. He attended St. Charles College, Catonsville, Md., and St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 28, 1960, at St. Matthew's Cathedral. He was named a Prelate of Honor by Pope John Paul II on Aug. 11, 1984. Last year he was named pastor of Nativity Church in the District.

In October of 1973 he was one of the founders and the first president of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, which today has a membership of more than 500 chaplains from around the world.

On Jan. 28, 1985, the Catholic Police and Firemen's Society held a reception to congratulate Dooley on his elevation to monsignor. That night many of those whom he has helped over the years were there to congratulate him on his achievement. Less than 24 hours later, Msgr. Dooley was called back into action when Metropolitian Police Sgt. Joseph M. Cournoyer was shot to death while trying to make an arrest.


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