By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Mary Jo Fisk can still close her eyes and smell the freshly ground coffee from the old Folger’s plant in downtown Kansas City.
“Every time we’d go downtown and pass Bank Street where that coffee smell was, my mother would always say, ‘That’s where your great-grandfather was shot,’” Fisk said.
More than 1,000 people packed Sacred Heart Church to overflowing for the funeral of Sgt. Frank McNamara. It was his death in the line of duty more than a century ago that inspired Kansas City to dedicate a permanent memorial to police officers slain in the line of duty.
And in another memorial before another packed Kansas City church more than a century later, Fisk and three more descendants of the slain officer — great-grandaughter Kathleen Aylward, great-grandson John Scanlon, and great-great-grandson Jason Williams, himself a firefighter and paramedic in Lawrence, Kan. — received for their ancestor another permanent reminder.
Kansas City Police Maj. Diane Mozzicato announced during the annual Jan. 1 Mass at St. Therese Little Flower Parish for police and first responders who lost their lives in the line of duty that the parish had donated a bench to honor McNamara along its Trail of Heroes at 6801 N.E. Shoal Creek Parkway.
“It is a beautiful and peaceful place where visitors may pay tribute to those who have spent, and sometimes sacrificed, their lives in order to serve and protect,” Mozzicato said.
On June 28, 1902, McNamara was on foot patrol near 7th and Bank Streets when he confronted Abe Emerson, who was threatening to kill a woman while holding her son hostage. When he saw McNamara, Emerson released the boy, then turned away as if to flee.
Emerson instead pulled a handgun and opened fire, striking McNamara. Though wounded, McNamara returned fire, hitting Emerson three times. Both office and suspect died at the scene.
“Sgt. McNamara was only 43 years old when he died,” Mozzicato said. “He left behind his wife, and three young children.”
Anna Josephine McNamara, Fisk’s grandmother, was only four years old when her father was killed. His widow, Catherine, never remarried, and raised her and her two brothers on a secretary’s salary.
Father Ernie Davis in 2010 revived the parish tradition of celebrating the first Mass of the year in honor of fallen police officers. As then-pastor of St. Therese Little Flower Parish, he had discovered an old chalice in storage with medallions of the mysteries of the rosary imbedded.
Father Davis turned it over to sisters Patty Glynn and Kathy Thompson-Rausch to refurbish, and they uncovered the inscription on the bottom: “In loving memory of Dennis Whalen by his wife Anna Whalen.”
Further research discovered that Kansas City Police Sgt. Dennis Whalen died in the line of duty on Jan. 1, 1924. His widow gathered all the jewelry she was ever given, and had it melted into the chalice, which was given to their friend, Msgr. Maurice Coates, the founding pastor of St. Therese Little Flower Parish.
Msgr. Coates celebrated the first Mass of the year in memory of Sgt. Whalen and fallen Kansas City officers.
Though he is no longer parish pastor and is now in hospital chaplaincy, Father Davis came once again to celebrate this Mass on the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
Perhaps with last summer’s events across the state in Ferguson still fresh in so many minds, the church was filled on this morning of New Year’s Day. But this was not a day for protests, Father Davis told the congregation in his homily.
This was, instead, a day to stand in solidarity with mothers who, like Mary, grieved for sons who died violent deaths.
“We have had enough violence in this country, this city, this neighborhood,” Father Davis said.
“I think of all the mothers who have had to face the deaths of sons and daughters,” he said. “We can multiply that over and over again — too many mothers like Mary having to face the deaths of their sons. And how many wives like Anna Whalen have had to face the deaths of their husbands, knowing they died doing what they had to be doing, offering themselves for the safety of the public?”
This was a day to turn to Mary, who knows that grief, Father Davis said.
Mary knows that all lives matter, Father Davis said.
He told of a group of mothers in Kansas City of children who have died young and violently who are encouraging police and the community to work together.
“They have said, ‘Enough. No more killing. Let no more die,’” Father Davis said.
“We must be able to listen, to be able to listen, to one another about how much we love our children so that no one has to die again at the end of a gun, the end of a bullet,” he said.
It is a goal that Mary would endorse.
“On this day, when we celebrate Mary, the Mother of God, she will look at us all together, each one of us a life that should be able to be lived to old age,” Father Davis said.