| Police chaplain role grew from
to active for Father Richter
Rev. Helmut Richter
When police officers, firefighters and other first-responders gather at the Cathedral of Christ the Light at 10 a.m. Oct. 9 for a Blue Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, standing tall among the concelebrants will be Rev. Helmut Richter.
Seventeen years ago, when Father Richter became pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd in Pittsburg, he was invited by the then-chief of police, to become chaplain to the department.
"It was a very informal relationship, getting to know the officers while they were working, while they were out on patrol," he said. "I would make it a point to say, 'Here I am. I'm a Catholic priest. Whatever you need, whatever you want to talk about. I view the police car as a confessional. I don't work for the police department or the city.'"
His mission put them at ease, Father Richter said. "Out of that, several things came. They asked me to marry some of them. They asked me to baptize their kids. They asked me to do funeral services and celebrations," he said.
The foundation laid in these years of relationship building needed that strength.
"Unfortunately, 11 years ago, we had a line of duty death," he said.
It was new territory for the chaplain. "I was called to the chief's office," he said. "I was called to be the person to go to the family to do the death notification."
He recalled one daughter's reaction. She wanted him to go away; she knew it was bad news.
Father Richter said the Oakland Police Department, and its chaplain, Rev. Jayson Landeza, offered assistance in the planning that followed the death.
Later, Father Richter accompanied the police chief, the widow and children to a police officers memorial event in Washington, DC.
"That's where I got a real picture of the Blue Mass," he said. "The cardinal was there," he said of the Mass.
As the group traveled home, Father Richter said, he thought, "This is something we really should be doing here."
He celebrated the Blue Mass at Church of the Good Shepherd in Pittsburg; Rev. Robert Rien celebrated the Blue Mass at St. Ignatius of Antioch in nearby Antioch. Some years, the Blue Mass was also celebrated at Saint Mary's College in Moraga.
Father Richter, along with Father Landeza, met with Bishop Barber last year. The veteran police chaplains, Father Richter said, "felt very strongly" that the Blue Mass belonged not in the parishes, but in the diocese.
"It belongs here," Father Richter said, with an invitation to both Alameda and Contra Costa agencies to participate.
Although retired as pastor of Good Shepherd, Father Richter continues to serve as chaplain to the Pittsburg Police Department.
"Pittsburg has been very generous," Father Richter said, and provided honor guards and lectors for the first Blue Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the Light last year.
Father Richter's role with the Pittsburg Police Department is an active one: He arrived at a planning meeting at the chancery straight from duty. He was wearing his uniform, provided by the department's new chief.
back to top