Law enforcement departments remember fallen officers at Blue Mass

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NEWARK, NJ — Three area police officers, both current and retired, were honored at the Archbishop’s Blue Mass for Law Enforcement at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark on Nov. 4, recognizing members of law enforcement agencies from around the state who have died recently. Officer Charles “Rob” Roberts from the Glen Ridge Police Department, Officer Benedetto “Benny” Christiano from the Bloomfield Police Department, and Detective Sgt. John “Jack” McGarry from the East Orange Police Department and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office were included on the remembrance list at the Mass, which was attended by police departments from all over New Jersey.

“What this assembly communicates is that a community, the love of a community, goes beyond the boundaries of this great house of worship to embrace four brothers who fell in the line of duty, as well as other officers who have died during the last two years when a global pandemic prevented us from gathering,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark said at the Mass, referring to four police officers who were killed in the line of duty and honored at the service: Detective Joseph Seals from Jersey City, Officer Michael Teel from the Port Authority police, Officer Brian Sicknick from the U.S. Capitol police and Officer Sean Peek from Bridgeton. “They left an indelible witness to the greatest love of all, which is not learning to love oneself, but rather the willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Tobin praised the performance of the Newark Police Department when he spoke, saying that during the 2020 calendar year, NPD police officers did not fire a single shot. The city did not settle any police brutality lawsuits and recovered approximately 500 illegal guns from city streets.

“What can other urban areas in the country learn from us?” Tobin said. “Let us allow our gifts to work together for the good of all. If our actions demonstrate in a single voice that promotes respect, security and peace, others will follow. And in promoting respect, security and peace, by working together, we pay our finest tribute to those who have demonstrated the greatest love of all.”

In addition to Roberts, Christiano and McGarry, as well as the four officers who were killed in the line of duty, 31 other officers were honored from agencies across the state. Among them were, from Essex County, Officer Al-Mustafa Pearson, who worked at the Essex County Correctional Facility; and the Newark Police Department’s Officer Michael Conners, Sgt. Michael Clegg, Detective Irving Callender III, Detective Marcus Thomas, Officer Hector Moya, Detective Brian McAdams Sr., analyst Daniel Francis and police aide Richard T. McKnight.

Christiano was a longtime member of the Bloomfield Police Department, serving for 26 years until his retirement in December 2020. He died in March from COVID-19, which he battled for weeks, according to a Facebook post by the BPD at the time of his death. He served for a time as the treasurer of the Bloomfield Policemen’s Benevolent Association.

“It was an honor for our department to have Police Officer Benny Christiano recognized at this year’s Blue Mass. His passing was a shock to all of us and a hard time for the members of this department,” Bloomfield Public Safety Director Sam DeMaio wrote in an email on Nov. 5. “Having him honored at the Blue Mass by our brothers and sisters in blue from agencies throughout the state was a fitting tribute to Benny and his family. I love the law enforcement profession, and we truly consider all of our brothers and sisters in blue our extended family.”

McGarry was an officer in the East Orange Police Department until his retirement as a detective sergeant in 2000. He then went on to work in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office in the Homeland Security unit from 2000 to 2016. According to McGarry’s obituary, he was a bagpipe player and member of Essex County Emerald Society and the Essex County Emerald Society Pipe Band. In 2006 he was the grand marshal of the West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade. McGarry lived in Bloomfield.

Roberts, who resided in Glen Ridge, died from COVID-19 in May 2020. Five members of the GRPD attended the Mass, along with six members of Roberts’ family.

“The ceremony was beautiful,” Glen Ridge Police Lt. Tim Faranda said in a phone interview on Nov. 8. “It was a nice way to continue to remember him.”

Faranda said Roberts had attended the Blue Mass in the past while wearing a GRPD uniform. The Glen Ridge PBA was a sponsor of the event, and Glen Ridge Police Officer Joseph Uliano was on the planning committee this year.

“This was an important one for us, because (Roberts) went a few times,” Faranda said, adding that no department ever wants to be honoring one of their own at a memorial Mass. “He was an important person to us here, and it’s equally important to every department on that list to see everyone’s name and remember what they stood for.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic