By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Dennis Whalen won’t be forgotten.
St. Therese Little Flower Parish won’t let that happen. And neither will the Kansas City Police Department.
At the end of a Jan. 1 Mass on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on the 88th anniversary of Whalen’s death in the line of duty, and on the third year of the revival of a parish tradition begun in its earliest days to celebrate the first Mass of every year for the repose of the soul of Dennis Whalen and all slain police officers, Patrolman Dennis Coates called Whalen’s great grand-nieces Mary Beth Daigneaux and Margaret Ann Frick forward for a surprise announcement.
Through donations raised by police officers, a bench honoring the memory and service of Dennis Whalen, a 34-year police veteran at the time of his death on Jan. 1, 1924, will be placed along the department’s “Trail of Heroes,” honoring all officers who have fallen in the line of duty, said Patrolman Coates, one of four officers in uniform to attend the Mass.
The “Trail of Heroes” is located near the department’s North Patrol headquarters, 6801 N.E. Shoal Creek Parkway.
“It’s a wonderful thing for them to do,” said Frick, as she and Daigneaux dried their tears.
Whalen’s sacrifice might have been consigned to a page in some long-forgotten history, had it not been for a priest who discovered a stored-away chalice and two sisters who undertook the research to find out what it was all about.
Father Ernie Davis, administrator of St. Therese Little Flower Parish, discovered the heavily tarnished chalice in a box stored on a shelf. On the bottom was the intriguing inscription, “In loving memory of Dennis Whalen by his wife Anna Whalen.”
Father Davis turned the chalice over to Kathy Thompson-Rausch and Patty Glynn for both restoration and exploration.
And the story they discovered was remarkable.
Had he been a less experienced officer, Dennis Whalen might have returned home safely to celebrate New Year’s Eve 1923 with his rather large and extended family, which included brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews he helped bring over from his native Ireland.
But working undercover in a pawn shop near 18th and the Paseo in search of thieves trying to sell stolen goods, Whalen spotted two men he had pursued for a decade. He recognized them as members of a gang that had shot and killed Officers Homer Riggle and Andrew Lynch, and Whalen had already helped capture other members of the same gang.
At the same time, the two gang members recognized Whalen, and before the officer could draw his service revolver, they shot him, the first bullet severing his spine. Dennis Whalen died the next day, New Year’s Day, at St. Joseph Hospital, his beloved Anna at his side.
Anna turned to the church and the couple’s dear friend, a young Father Maurice Coates (no relation to Patrolman Dennis Coates) for spiritual support.
And she took one more step in memory of her husband.
According to family members interviewed by Glynn and Thompson-Rausch, Anna Whalen gathered up all the jewelry that Dennis had given her, as well as rosary medallions depicting the Sorrowful, Joyful and Glorious Mysteries, and had them melted down and fashioned into the chalice and accompanying paten.
She gave the chalice to Father Coates, who was named the founding pastor of St. Therese Little Flower Parish in 1925. And every year, Father Coates, who would later be elevated to the rank of Monsignor, celebrated the Jan. 1 Mass for Dennis Whalen and all slain officers, who now number 120.
The Kansas City Police Department hasn’t lost an officer in the line of duty since 2001. Let’s pray that it stays that way, said Deacon Darwin Dupree, himself a 25-year police veteran, in his homily at the Jan. 1 Mass.
“Life is so precious,” Deacon Dupree said.
“God sent his only begotten son into this world to shed his blood for us that we may have life eternal with him,” he said.
And that example is followed by all those who place their lives in service to others, he said.
“Today, we talk about service for others,” Deacon Dupree said.
“We look at how God blessed us with life, and blessed us with those who protect life,” he said.
“Here, in service to others, we see how good the world can be, and how good God expects the world to be,” he said.
And though God requires much from those he calls into service for others, God also gives much to the very same people, Deacon Dupree said.
“When God has something for us to do, he will outfit us for that job,” he said. “And what God does for us, what he requires from us, is done out of love, unconditional love.”
Knowing that God’s love will never fail is not only a source of strength for ourselves, but for the people God calls us to serve, Deacon Dupree said.
“God blesses us not just for ourselves, but to be a blessing to others,” he said. “That’s how God works in us.”
God is also at work in the Kansas City Police Department, said parish pastoral associate B.J. Atkinson, who coordinates the parish’s outreach to the poor.
“In this neighborhood, police officers are often seen as the enemy, because they often have to come with their guns drawn,” she said.
“But every year for the past several years, officers from the Metro Division have come here to help deliver Christmas groceries for three days,” Atkinson said.
“Our police officers are officers with love, with heart, and with compassion,” she said. o