'Make Me an Instrument'

Each year the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy receives tens of thousands of pilgrims who are drawn to the Sacraments, the natural beauty, and the fellowship of Catholics who seek God's mercy or who wish to give thanks for graces received.

Meet Mark D'Onofrio of West Haven, Connecticut:

He walks slowly now, aided by crutches and often in pain. You could say he prayed for this.

In his career as a police officer in Orange, Connecticut, Mark D'Onofrio's regular prayers included a request to God that went something along the lines of:

God, my Father, if anything is to happen to my brothers and sisters on the police force, please instead let it fall upon me, because I know that, through my faith in You, I will carry on.

During the course of his 20-year law enforcement career, he suffered several injuries. A car once rear-ended the police cruiser he was driving. A few years later, he was T-boned by another car whose driver ran a red light. A few years after that, a car slammed into the front end of his cruiser while he was stopped for a red light. Mark suffered a spinal injury that never fully healed. All the while, he also got banged up making arrests, slipping on ice, you name it.

In 1995, Mark underwent a posterior spinal surgery. He went back to work full-time, but in 2005, he underwent an anterior spinal surgery that ended his career.

Mark, indeed, had the faith to deal with it all, a faith that has since seamlessly appropriated - for spiritual purposes - the police motto "to serve and protect." As a Eucharistic minister, he now serves and protects isolated and forgotten souls, particularly the sick, homebound, and those in hospice who had no one bringing them Holy Communion until Mark came along.

Mark says he has always felt a kinship for God who sent His only Son to serve rather than be served.

"I grew up having empathy for others," he says. "I could feel the suffering of others - their despair, their trauma. And all the while, I was always aware of God's presence and that we can turn to Him and seek His help."

As a young man, Mark's deeds of mercy began with an environmental and humanitarian focus. He helped clean debris from waterways with the group River Keeper. He used his old Chevy Blazer to pull appliances and other debris from local rivers. He used his chainsaw to clear old submerged boats from river channels and fell dead and dangerous trees around walking paths.

He loved nature. He wanted to understand God's creation, so he earned a bachelor's degree in geology, with a concentration in geomorphology - the study of the earth's processes. He minored in environmental science and ecology. He loved whales and the ocean. In graduate school, he studied oceanography, marine biology, and seamanship.

But he also became just as enamored with God's human creations. He volunteered helping the marginalized, including children and adults who were physically and mentally challenged.

With a servant's heart, he eventually felt called to police work. In addition to his gun, he kept two pieces of protection with him at all times. The first, the "Peace Prayer of St. Francis." You know the one:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love. ... Etc.

The second was Reinhold Niebuhr's famous "Serenity Prayer."

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference. ... Etc.

His biggest enjoyment as a cop, he says, were the run-of-the-mill calls: helping elderly people locked out of their homes or cars, for instance. In the meantime, his body failed to recuperate following several spinal surgeries. He was forced to retire.

He soon became acquainted with the life and spirituality of St. Faustina. On a parish bus pilgrimage to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy several years ago, he met his future wife, Patty. They are now frequent Shrine visitors.

"What I've learned from St. Faustina, who suffered terribly with afflictions - torturous physical pain - was how to gain strength through a deep prayer life," Mark says.

In his work as a Eucharistic minister, he brings the Divine Mercy message and devotion to those coming to the end of their lives.

Recognizing he won't always be capable of tending to the needs of the sick and homebound, Mark has written a bilingual guide for future Eucharistic ministers in his parish. It may prove a tough act to follow. His ministry goes beyond administering Holy Communion. He prays with them. He distributes LED candles to enhance their prayer lives. He hands out calendars that mark Catholic feast days.

He reminds people of Christ's words to St. Faustina with regard to prayer and meditation on His Passion each afternoon at the three o'clock hour (see Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1320).

"Jesus yearns for people to ask for His mercy," Mark says. "I tell the people: 'Ask for His mercy. He wants to give it.'"


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