Pocket prayer protecting police officers, fire fighters

BENTON — School Resource Officer Bobby Shell with the Benton Police Department made it a point to shake Terri Conrad’s hand as she handed over a basket of St. Michael the Archangel coins to the group of officers eagerly awaiting a chance to take one.

“We appreciate you doing this,” Shell told her.

Benton Police Department was one of 11 police and fire departments that the small group from Our Lady of Fatima Church in Benton passed out blessed coins to Sept. 13, about two weeks before St. Michael’s feast day.  

It all started with a thought that Conrad said God put in her mind a year ago: “My children in law enforcement need my protection.”

While Conrad contemplated buying St. Michael the Archangel coins — something officers could put in their pocket or cruiser — she quickly talked herself out of it. She was afraid some blessed medals might be thrown away. 

As doubts danced in her mind, a strong rebuke crushed them: “Do not concern yourself with the destinations, that is for me.”

Since then, she has passed out the coins to officers, but God pushed her again.

“All this stuff happened this year, especially with Dallas police,” in which five police officers were killed July 7 during a peaceful protest, “it came back to me. They really do need your protection Lord.”

The coins, which were blessed at the school Mass Sept. 8, were delivered by Conrad, Lori Hinojosa, Kathy Lee and pastor Father Chinnaiah Irudayaraj Yeddanapalli, known as Father Y.C., to these police and fire stations:

• Benton Police and Fire Departments

• Bryant Police and Fire Departments

• Alexander Police Department

• Haskell Police Department

• Bauxite Police Department

• Saline County Sheriff’s Office

• Little Rock Police Department

• North Little Rock Police Department

• Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office

There were also eight coins given to an Arkansas State Police trooper to give to those who patrol Benton, Conrad said.

“It’s pretty awesome to have your local Catholic church, because there aren’t many, bring us” the coins, Shell said. “Even though I’m Baptist, I’m going to carry it in the pocket of my vest.”

Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane, also Baptist, proudly showed off his own St. Michael coin he has carried with him for years.

“We’re only as effective as the people who stand with and support us,” Lane said, adding the gesture was “overwhelming.” 

At each stop, Conrad talked about the medals, telling officers, “We’re praying for you and supporting you,” while Father Y.C. explained the significance of the coins.

“I know time and again we hear so many things, but that’s why we seek the protection of the angel Michael. Michael is the defender against evil and also the protector of good people,” Father Y.C. said. “So continue to pray, it’s our token of gesture for you for all that you do for the community here.”

Conrad raised $600 through a personal Facebook post to start supplying St. Michael coins to the officers in Benton. The church took up a collection in July, raising more than $1,400 toward the coins, which depict the patron saint of police officers who protects them from harm.

“The spiritual warfare is horrible. It’s a hard time right now. We need all the heavenly assistance we can get,” said Conrad, who has a nephew and cousin in law enforcement.

Saline County Sherriff’s Office Lt. Jeffrey Silk, a member of the Knights of Columbus at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hot Springs Village, said he used to carry a St. Michael medal while serving in Afghanistan within the International Security Assistance Force.

“It just means a lot,” Silk said. “… I know that the father and the people at the church would have done this anyhow but with the things that have happened recently you know it’s in their minds ‘well maybe they need a little more protection.’ So it’s really kind.”

Conrad said the church bought about 1,300 Italian-made coins online. While not everyone will take a coin, she said no one will be left out, including those on four legs. Parishioner Sherry Faulkner donated $50 for the 20 coins set aside for police dogs in the K-9 units. 

K-9 Officer Duco, a 15-month-old Belgian Malinois, couldn’t help put press his nose to his new coin.

“It means a lot,” said Duco’s handler, Detective Kyle Ellison. “A lot of people overlook how important they are to us and the bond the handler has with the dog.”

While many of the officers and fire fighters taking the medals were not Catholic, Officer Mark Kling, the K-9 handler with Bryant police, said “You are not going to find many police officers that don’t have some type of religion.”

“I’m not Catholic, but I’ll take all the help I can get,” Kling added with a smile. 

Conrad said her sister Donna Rieck, who attends Holy Cross Church in Sheridan, also plans to pass out coins in Grant County.

“It would be so awesome to get one to every police officer in Arkansas. You know other parishes could do something, it really doesn’t take much,” Conrad said. “I just leave it up to the Holy Spirit. I think he prompted it. I did the first step and I don’t know what he wants to do with it.”

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

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