Chicago Police Lieutenants Association

Fr. Patrick McPolin: Chicago’s First Police Chaplain 1944-1965

Fr. Patrick McPolin: Chicago Police Chaplain 1944-1965

obitsmcpolin1Father McPolin’s Family and friends are hoping that you will help to get this message out to the retired members of the Chicago Police Department who may still remember this priest and his work with the St. Jude Police League.

Let’s give Fr. Pat one final hurrah by having 100 Masses offered on his birthday– July 30th and/or the anniversary of his death August 15, 2012.  Fr. Pat gave so much to others in his life time.

Can we count on you to be one of the 100 that will have a mass said in Fr. Pat’s honor at your church on July 30 and/or August 15?

Stand up and be counted RSVP: Fr Pat’s Last Hurrah 9358 Heiner St. Bellflower, CA 90706


Here is a Chicago Tribune story published October 24, 2004 by Michael Martinez, Tribune national correspondent.

Ex-Chicago priest recalls colorful life

At 88, a former South Sider who now resides in California talks of growing up a bootlegger’s son, mixing with mobsters and serving as police chaplain

RANCHO DOMINGUEZ, Calif. — The old Irish Catholic priest from the South Side is in his twilight years here, a former Chicago police chaplain who still carries a twinkle in his blue eyes and a wee bit of the brogue that his immigrant parents brought from the old sod.

At 88, he’s spinning yarns again of the good old days in Chicago, though he has been slowed a tad by his reliance on a wheelchair and neck brace for a vertebra broken in a recent tumble.

His is a life lived full and, he promises, there is more to come.

Silver-haired and full of jest, Rev. Patrick McPolin grew up a bootlegger’s son near the stockyards, often smuggling 3 gallons of whiskey in a copper-lined suitcase. His father, a streetcar conductor and a partner in a speakeasy, distilled the moonshine in the family basement.

Seminary student

It’s a colorful if incongruent prologue to what he eventually became, a Quigley Prep student who completed his training for the priesthood here at the Claretian order’s now-defunct seminary on the historic Dominguez Rancho Adobe. The adobe, 11 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, is a site whose history dates to the Spanish exploration. A generation ago, McPolin helped restore the grounds and transform them into a museum.

As a Chicago police chaplain for a total of 18 years during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, he calmed cops’ tempers every time a gangster gunned down one of their brethren. Of the 42 officers slain on his watch, he personally gave last rites to 20 of them and then visited their widows.

He also remembers the horrific Our Lady of the Angels school fire of 1958, when he helped families identify the remains of 92 children. He recalls how residue at the fire scene oiled his hands and stained the paper on which he kept notes.

It’s a much happier time now. After he left Chicago in 1965, he returned here, where he had taken some of the final steps toward his 1943 ordination, and became an administrator for the Claretian order.

Since then, he has become known as an amateur historian, early aviation enthusiast, and preservationist who knows how to raise funds to restore a state and national landmark.

“Mobsters and gangsters, I knew them all,” he says of his Chicago days. “I was a tough kid when I was growing up. They didn’t believe I was a priest. They said I knew too much. I’ve lived an interesting life.”

Never did his faith waver while he was a chaplain in what was then volunteer work.

`I was a priest’

“I never took a hot fin and I never played footsie with people in prostitution. I wanted to be a priest and I was a priest. Our blessed Lord mixed with sinners, and why would I change the rules when He was the example,” McPolin says.

Live among sinners he did: mobsters, pimps, gamblers, card sharps, hustlers and, sadly, corrupt cops.

He moved easily between the worlds of law and lawlessness because he knew how to keep confidences.

When he visited Taylor Street mob joints as part of his ministerial travels and heard of plans to rob a bank, he turned a deaf ear. “They never did talk openly about wiping somebody out, but you could sense something was going,” he said.

He was mum on the admissions by corrupt cops too.

Patrol officers collected payoffs for their bosses from mobsters running bookie joints or prostitution rings, he said. The mob paid a street cop as much as a $100 tip for making such a pickup, McPolin said. He advised the fallen to take a day off to avoid such work. “You need some penance,” he would tell them.

When he wasn’t working his four-channel police radio, he was fulfilling his duties as Claretian priest.

The order, founded in Spain, is noted for its work with Mexicans and other Spanish-speaking people in Chicago, Los Angeles and other U.S. cities.

McPolin’s blood may be Irish, but he says his soul is Mexican.

“I could walk into any restaurant and say, `Quien es el dueno? Tengo sed,'” he said.

Translation: Who’s the owner? I’m thirsty.

“Not bad for an Irishman,” he added.

His Chicago assignments included Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in 1943-45 and 1950-52; St. Francis of Assissi 1945-50 and 1956-58; St. Jude Seminary in Momence, Ill., (where he was rector) 1952-56, and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church 1958-63. He was police chaplain in 1943-52 and 1956-1965.

The parishes weren’t far from the neighborhoods of his youth. He was born near Emerald Avenue and 44th Place. Baptized in St. Gabriel Church. His family then moved to 65th and Carpenter Streets. And then to 84th and Morgan Streets.

A stroke three years ago has left him disoriented at times. He lives in a Little Sisters of the Poor residence in San Pedro, near the Rancho.

But helping him negotiate the betrayals of aging is Betty Gemelli, 68, of Bellflower, Calif., a Taylor Street native who has been at the priest’s side since 1967.

Fading memories

A protective caretaker and assistant who keeps the priest from overindulging, Gemelli met McPolin when she was 7 years old and working at a print shop on Roosevelt Road.

After the priest’s stroke, Gemelli started to write down McPolin’s fading memories and this year self-published a book about McPolin’s work at Dominguez Rancho Adobe, where he first arrived in 1939 and became fascinated with early California history.

“Dominguez: The Legacy of Two Fathers” describes how McPolin devoted his later years to restoring the lush grounds and how the Dominguez family received a 1784 Spanish land grant, or rancho, of 118 square miles, now incorporated into 13 cities.

The Dominguez family built the adobe in 1826 and gave the adobe and 17 acres to the Claretians in 1924. The seminary closed in 1974.

McPolin still remembers getting the calling at age 5, affirmed the next year when his mother took him to her hometown in County Down, Ireland, where the locals asked “the wee Yank” what he wanted to make of his life.

A priest, he told them.

“Everything you learn is to be put to use helping people–because there’s another life,” he said. “That caught me: There’s another life.”

Click here to see a copy of the Chicago Police Newsletter from 1961 —– Chicago Police Newsletter – 1961, Volume 2, No. 15

Here is a copy of Fr. Pat’s Obituary published in the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 19, 2012:

Rev. Patrick James McPolin, C.M.F a Claretian Missionary Father was born in Chicago, IL on July 30, 1916 and died on Aug. 15, 2012 at the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home in San Pedro. He was the oldest son of Irish Immigrant parents. He was predeceased by his parents, Patrick and Mary McPolin, his brother, John, his step-mother, Adele, and his step-sister, Lorraine. He is survived by his sister-in-law, Bernadine McPolin and step-brother, Robert Shields and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, his fellow Claretian Priests and Brothers and his faithful and loyal assistant and caregiver, Betty Gemelli. He entered St. Jude Seminary in Chicago, as the first American to join this new order of Spanish Priests in the United States. In 1934, he finished his 5th year of junior seminary studies at Silver Peak in Walnut, California. After a year of prayer in San Marcos, Texas he took his religious vows. He came to Dominguez Seminary in Compton, California in 1936 and studied there until his ordination in May, 1943 at the Old Plaza Church in Los Angeles (Our Lady Queen of the Angels). Following his Ordination, Father Pat was transferred back to Chicago where he did parish work in various Latino parishes on the South Side of Chicago with at risk teens as well as performing the duties of Chaplain of the Chicago Police Department (St. Jude League) from 1943-1965. Sadly he was at the scene of tragic Our Lady of the Angels fire, where 93 children and nuns perished, comforting victims and administering last rites. In October, 1965, Fr. Pat was transferred to the Claretian Western Province as Provincial for the next six years. In 1974 brought him full circle and back to Dominguez where he became Rector & Superior. It was here that he took up his childhood history project of researching California’s early history, the Dominguez Family and Aviation. For the next 30 years he rebuilt the Adobe that he once studied into the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum and turned it into one of the most historical places in all of Southern California. On Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012 there will be a viewing beginning at 12 noon, followed by the Mass of Resurrection at 12:30 p.m. at the SAN GABRIEL MISSION, 428 S. Mission Dr., San Gabriel, CA 91776. After the Mass the Rite of Burial will follow in the mission cemetery.
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