Stephen McDonald

A Testimony to God's Grace and Mercy


Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind
~Matthew 22:37


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Stephen McDonald’s Funeral Mass was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral earlier this month, on January 13th. Some of us remember him, and some of us may never have heard of the man. Regardless of which group we are in, the following article from is a wonderful testimony to God’s grace and Mercy.

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WHY I FORGAVE by Stephen McDonald

Detective Steven McDonald of the New York City Police Department who died January 10, 2017, was shot in the line of duty and paralyzed from the neck down. Confined to a wheelchair and breathing machine, he forgave his teenage assailant. His story is told in Johann Christoph Arnold’s book “Why Forgive?.” The program, “Breaking the Cycle”, brought McDonald and Arnold together to speak at New York-area school assemblies about nonviolent conflict resolution. They also made three trips to Northern Ireland to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation, together with Father Mychal Judge, who was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

 I am a New York City Police Officer. On July 12, 1986, I was on patrol in Central Park and stopped to question three teenagers. While I was questioning them, the oldest, a fifteen-year-old, took out a gun and shot me in the head and neck.

Thanks to the quick action of my fellow police officers, I was rushed to a hospital. A few days later, once it became clear I was going to survive, a surgeon came into my room and told my wife, Patti Ann, and me that I would be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of my life. He told my wife I would need to be institutionalized. I was married just eight months, and my wife, twenty-three years old, was three months pregnant. Patti Ann was crying uncontrollably at the cards she had been dealt, and I cried too. I was locked in my body, unable to move or to reach out to her.

Our faith suddenly became very important to us: the Catholic mass, prayers, our need for God. It was God’s love that put me back together. And it came from many different corners. Christians of every orientation, Jews, Muslims, and people of no faith at all were rooting for me.

A week after I was shot, the media asked to speak to my wife. Though still in shock, Patti Ann bravely told everybody that she would trust God to do what was best for her family. That set the tone not only for my recovery but also for the rest of our lives. When things like this happen, people sometimes distance themselves from God. Patti Ann taught me that you don’t do that. You trust God. She trusted, and here I am.

I spent the next eighteen months in the hospital. While I was there my wife gave birth to our son, Conor. At his baptism I told everyone I forgave the young teen who shot me. I wanted to free myself of all the negative, destructive emotions that this act of violence awoke in me – the anger, the bitterness, the hatred. I needed to free myself of those so I could be free to love my wife and our child and those around us.

I often tell people that the only thing worse than a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart. Such an attitude would have extended my tragic injury into my soul, hurting my wife, son, and others even more. It is bad enough that the physical effects are permanent, but at least I can choose to prevent spiritual injury.

A year or two later, Shavod Jones, the young man who shot me, called my home from prison and apologized to my wife, my son, and me. I told him that I hoped he and I could work together sometime in the future. I hoped that we would travel around the country together to share our different understandings of that act of violence that changed both our lives, and the understanding it gave us about what is most important in life. In 1995, Shavod was released from prison. Three days later, he died in a motorcycle accident. But Shavod Jones is with me wherever my story is told. We have helped many people, the two of us.

Before I was shot I had not been very committed to my faith. The shooting changed that. I feel close to heaven today in a way I never knew before, and it makes me very happy. I know it may be hard to understand, but I would rather be like this and feel the way I do, than go on living like I was before.

Of course, I have my ups and downs. Some days, when I am not feeling well, I get angry. I get depressed. There have been times when I even felt like killing myself. But I have come to realize that anger is a wasted emotion. So I forgive that young man all over again, and every time I tell my story, I think of Shavod, and I forgive him.

"I often tell people that the only thing worse than a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart. Such an attitude would have extended my tragic injury into my soul"

People often ask if I forgave Shavod right away, or if it took time. It has evolved over the years. I think about it almost every day. I was angry at him, but I was also puzzled, because I found I couldn’t hate him. More often than not I felt sorry for him. I wanted him to find peace and purpose in his life. I wanted him to turn his life to helping and not hurting people. That’s why I forgave him. It was also a way of moving on, a way of putting the terrible incident behind me.

We still struggled every day. My wife wanted to know why a teenager had to do this to me. Growing up, my son saw other fathers and sons playing and wanted to know why he couldn’t have that experience with his dad. We still struggle. I have learned that prayer is something we do in our time and the answers come in God’s time. And prayers are not always answered the way we think they should be.

Months and years have come and gone and I’ve never regretted forgiving Shavod. Back then we never imagined it would carry any importance in other people’s lives. We did it for ourselves. But ever since people have wanted to hear about this act of forgiveness. It helped us, but more importantly it has helped others as well. Popes, presidents, heads of state, and ordinary people have invited us into their offices or homes to tell our story. We don’t always have the right words, but I believe it is our act of forgiveness that speaks to them.

I’ve been able to reach out to children in particular, because it was a child of my city that did this terrible thing to me. I have spoken at hundreds of schools about nonviolence, and I know from responses I get that many of the children have embraced my message and internalized it. Instead of responding to violence with more violence they have decided to choose forgiveness and love.

So God has turned something terrible into something beautiful. I think God wants to use both our abilities and our disabilities. He needs our arms and legs and minds and hearts and all that we have, to let others know that he is alive and well and loves us and wants us to love each other.we are giving it or asking for it. And people make up countries. So that means countries need forgiveness, can offer forgiveness. Forgiveness is really about our own healing. We may experience slight offenses, or they may be profound. But in the end it is our choice, and it is the survival of our own souls that is at stake.

NYFD chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge, Detective Steven McDonald, and author Johann Christoph Arnold of Breaking the Cycle take their message of forgiveness and nonviolent conflict resolution to Northern Ireland.



Heart, Soul and Mind

Monsignor Royal's weekly column as featured in our bulletin.


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