Blue Mass draws police, families and clergy to Norwich in memory of fallen officers

By Martha Shanahan, The Day
September 25, 2016

Norwich — “We thank the Lord for the blessing of being called to service.” That’s how State Police chaplain the Rev. David P. Choquette
opened Sunday’s Blue Mass at Cathedral of St. Patrick, the home of the annual service for law enforcement officers for more than two decades.

Choquette stood before an audience of state and local enforcement officers and their families at the start of the annual Mass, sharing the altar with The Most Rev. Michael Cote, Bishop of Norwich.

Since 1991, the Mass has been held in honor of Russell Bagshaw, a 28-year-old state trooper who was shot and killed that year while responding to a burglary at a North Windham gun shop.

Bagshaw died on the same day that a committee of priests from the Norwich diocese gathered to plan a Mass for law enforcement officers, prompting them to dedicate the Blue Mass to Bagshaw’s memory and that of all officers killed in the line of duty.

Clifford E. Thermer, a retired state police officer, former commandant of the State Police Academy and the ordained deacon at St. Brigid Church in West Hartford, gave a homily that praised officers as a “thin blue line” protecting Americans from crime.

For each officer who has died while working, he said, there are people who remember them.

“It has not faded to the families who love and miss them,” he said.

Thermer framed police as protectors against sin during “a volatile time in our nation’s history.”

“Every day we bear witness to man’s inhumanity to man,” he said. “We see disorder in people’s homes … and in their lives.”

He painted a bleak picture of a country where lines of right and wrong are blurred, trust of public servants is waning and secularism is "stifling the wisdom of the church.”

But Thermer urged officers to remain compassionate in the face of a difficult job.

“We often see people at their worst … but we have into those moments to be Christ’s hands, his voice,” he said. “Do not deny your great capacity for mercy and compassion in carrying out your duties."


Current and retired officers and their families gathered outside the church after the service Sunday as the Connecticut Department of Correction pipe and drum corps played a song and two police dogs who sat through the service stood with their handlers.

Montville police Lt. Leonard Bunnell said he attends the service almost every year in honor of Joseph N. Sachatello III, a Montville officer who died in a car crash at 33 in while responding to a 2003 call for assistance from another officer.

“For us, it feels like it was just yesterday,” Bunnell said.