By Joe Ruff
Catholic News Service
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Father Paul Shovelain, pastor of St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, Minnesota, received the alert about a 7 p.m. curfew on his cellphone April 12 after civil unrest in wake of the police-involved death of a Black man during a traffic stop in nearby Brooklyn Center.
He returned to the church, grabbed an umbrella, braved wind and rain and climbed on the roof, focusing his gaze about eight miles away, at the homes and businesses, churches and schools of Brooklyn Center, and he prayed a rosary.
In one sense, he was not alone. Father Shovelain invited people who follow him and his parish on Facebook to join him.
Mounting his cellphone on a tripod on the flat roof, Father Shovelain prayed for the repose of the soul of Daunte Wright, 20, who was shot and killed April 11 while struggling with officers who were trying to arrest him on an outstanding warrant.
About 60 people participated live in the rosary, and the Facebook post now has over 1,300 views.
The officer involved, Kimberly Potter, a 26-year veteran of Brooklyn Center Police, submitted her resignation April 13. Body camera footage of the incident indicated Potter intended to use a Taser to subdue Wright, but mistakenly reached for her handgun and fired.
On April 14, authorities said Potter had been arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Wright’s death set off three nights of protests and vandalism in Brooklyn Center and patrols by police, State Patrol and Minnesota National Guard, as well as dozens of arrests, amid already high tension in the Twin Cities because of the ongoing trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd, an African American.
Father Shovelain prayed for peace in the Twin Cities, the nation and world, for Wright’s family, for Potter and her family, and for all law enforcement officers and first responders.
The next night, Father Shovelain asked Redemptorist Father John Schmidt, pastor of St. Alphonsus in Brooklyn Center, if he might say a rosary in the parking lot. Father Schmidt invited him into the church, where about 20 people joined the two priests and still more participated in the livestream on Facebook. Lit alongside the altar: the Easter candle.
Father Shovelain, who is a chaplain with New Brighton police and fire departments, planned one more night for a rosary for justice and peace in the wake of Wright’s death. It was April 14 with his parish’s youth group.
Father Shovelain said he prays for the repose of the soul of Wright, grieves with his family and friends. He also understands something about the pain Potter and her family are in, and all law enforcement.
“Officer Potter certainly is suffering in all of this,” Father Shovelain told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“How can we respect each and every human life?” Father Shovelain said. “We also need to respect authority, which goes to the government and COVID-19 precautions, as well as law enforcement.”
Father Schmidt said the prayers were welcome. “It was nice to do it in this context, and there was a sense of urgency to it. It was nice to get together to pray.”
The rosary at St. Alphonsus was particularly powerful given the presence of the Easter candle, Father Shovelain said, demonstrating that the light of Christ continues to shine, even in the darkness.
“It was a bright light at a difficult moment, combining our prayers with St. Al’s, bringing the light of Jesus Christ, which brings healing, love and restoration,” he said.
Ruff is news editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.