St. Patrick Parish in Onalaska celebrated its third annual Blue Mass this year on Sept. 12. The Blue Mass is a special celebration where communities come together to worship God and show appreciation for the sacrifices of their first responders. It includes prayers and a blessing for those who safeguard our communities every day. This year, 26 first responders from 11 departments and organizations throughout the region participated. All first responders and their families were welcome, regardless of faith.
Father Thomas Dade celebrated the first Blue Mass as part of his duties with the Catholic Police and Fireman’s Society in 1934. On Sept. 29, approximately 1,100 police officers and firemen in their dress uniforms marched into St. Patrick Church in Washington, D.C. Since then, the Blue Mass has expanded to include all first responders (police, fire, emergency medical services and 911 dispatchers) and is a tradition throughout our nation.
St. Patrick Parish desired to show their admiration and express their gratitude to the first responders in the area. After learning the Blue Mass was not offered locally, the parish, assisted by the La Crosse Area Law Enforcement chaplaincy, held the first Blue Mass on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, 85 years to the day from Father Dade’s first Blue Mass. Since then, the St. Patrick Blue Mass is always celebrated on the Sunday closest to Sept. 11, in recognition of the events of that day in 2001.
The Blue Mass began with a procession to the sound of bagpipes. The procession was led by an honor guard carrying our nation’s colors, followed by participating first responders. After the national anthem and the retiring of the colors, the Mass began. First responders were lectors and offered the General Intercessions. At the end of Mass, all first responders stood to receive a blessing, followed by a somber musical tribute. The Knights of Columbus provided a breakfast reception to all, offering fellowship and a rare opportunity to talk to some responders.
Every year, the Blue Mass has increased in size as word spreads of this unique opportunity. St. Patrick Parish has been blessed to have the Wisconsin State Patrol Honor Guard lead the procession all three years. Those who participated in the Blue Mass have universally expressed their appreciation. One of the many participants this year, Veronica Brauer, a volunteer emergency medical services professional with the Campbell Fire Department, said, “This was my first time participating in the Blue Mass and I found it to be a very moving tribute to my fellow first responders. Every aspect, from the procession, the music, the homily … all of it just really recognized the importance of serving from the heart.”
Families also play an important role in community first responder success and St. Patrick Parish recognizes them in the prayers and the blessing of the first responders. All first responder families have reserved seating at the front, near their loved ones. Another first-time attendee, Jennifer Fetherston, the wife of a Wisconsin State Patrol trooper, said, “Although my husband has participated in all three Blue Masses, this was my first. I thought it was beautiful. It was chilling when the bagpiper began playing. The blessing at the end of the Blue Mass was so meaningful. I highly recommend the Blue Mass to other first responders and their families and I just want to say, thank you.”
“As we celebrate the Blue Mass, we are thankful for our first responders,” said Monsignor Kachel. “You are not people of the head; you are people of the heart. You give selflessly so we may live in a safe and upstanding community.”
St. Patrick Parish will celebrate their 4th annual Blue Mass next year on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 10:30 a.m. All are welcome. We encourage participating first responders to wear their dress uniforms.
If you have questions about the Blue Mass, or if you are interested in information on next year’s event, please contact Steven Nott, the St. Patrick Parish liturgy planner at 608.783.5535 Ext. #, or at [email protected] You can watch a recording of the 2021 St. Patrick Blue Mass on Vimeo at the following link: vimeo.com/603278351.
Story by Steven Nott
Photography by Dennis Tressic
Published in the November 2021 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine