Priest-Chaplains Stand with Law Enforcement 

 

By Henry. M Holden    

The Long Valley Fire Company part of the Washington Valley Township Emergency Services Team. Father Mike is third from the right.- (Credit: Long Vally Fire Company)

A priest chaplain is a volunteer non-paid position that provides members, their families, and the community with spiritual counseling, religious referral, and general character guidance through the various religious denominations within our society.

Father Michael Drury (Fr. Mike) when growing up thought he wanted to be a cop.  But the Lord had another vocation for him. He was ordained a Catholic Priest on May 4, 1974, and retired after 50 years from active diocesan priesthood on June 19, 2019 

The Washington Township Emergency Services recently celebrated 30 years of service for Chaplain Father Mike Drury and his 80th birthday!

“Father Mike is a pivotal part of the Washington Township Emergency Services, and we appreciate all he does for us,” said one of the Washington Valley firefighters. 

Father Drury first started serving as an assistant chaplain in 1971 for the Maryland State Penitentiary and later became an assistant jail chaplain for Passaic County Jail in 1975. He has served as a State Police Chaplain since 2007. Today, Fr. Mike estimates he has served well over 1,000 chaplain calls. 

For the last 40 years, he also has served as a police chaplain for Mendham Borough and Mendham Township Police Departments. He also serves as a police Chaplain for New Jersey Transit Police and became a chaplain for the United States Secret Service.

He became associated with the Secret Service several years ago through Jim Henry, special agent in charge of the Philadelphia office, and a parishioner of St. Luke Parish, in Long Valley where Father Mike formerly served as pastor for 25 years. Father Mike participated in a federal training program for chaplains.

Father Mike is a member of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, International Conference of Police Chaplains, and the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. 

He is also a certified as a pastoral counselor, crisis intervention counselor, critical incident debriefer, and in Basic and Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management.

For police chaplains, it’s about building relationships with law enforcement, and the officers they serve in good times, such as baptizing their children, to the tough times, and the horrors they have experienced or witnessed.

These days it is not uncommon for police officers to get caught up in violent situations, such as shootings, and see gruesome murders in the line of duty, unspeakable brutality, and horrific acts.

“There are some dark things that officers see or experience that they don’t want to bring back home,” said Fr. Mike. “They need someone to share them with, and someone who will put their arms around them when they are crying. 

“We chaplains make an impact,” said Father Mike. “We help these officers make sense of the insanity — the evil — and help them still believe that beauty still exists in the world. We try to bring officers hope and healing,” he said.

On December 24, 1984, Christmas Eve, two boys ages 11 and 12 were fishing in an area off Mount Pleasant Road, called Dismal Harmony Park Woodland Lake, in Mendham Township, when they made a gruesome discovery. They had found several trash bags, not easy to see from the road. Out of curiosity, they opened one and discovered the body of an infant girl wrapped in a towel.  

The cause of death, according to the medical examiner was from exposure to the elements and hypothermia. The medical examiner determined the death was ruled a homicide, as the baby still had the umbilical cord attached and was alive at birth, but died less than 24 hours later. 

For the next five years the Mendham Township Police Department (MTPD) chased down leads, but all went nowhere. They canvased surrounding counties, and checked nearby hospital records, and visited high schools to see if there was a teen who may have been hiding a pregnancy. And then the case went cold and was forgotten. 

And then someone on the MTPD realized that the baby was still in the freezer, which prompted action. 

Because of advanced DNA testing almost 40 years later a match was made to a relative on Mary’s DNA. Typically, only felons or those suspected of felonies would be in the database. The DNA was pointing to someone on the father’s side. 

Through rigorous detective work, a woman was identified and charged in her newborn girl’s death. The biological mother, who police did not name because she was 17, and a juvenile at the time when she gave birth to the child.

The biological father died before being identified, and police say there is no evidence he was aware of either the woman’s pregnancy or the baby’s birth and death.

The MTPD assumed custody of the Baby and called in Chaplain Father Mike.

The baby girl was adopted by the MTPD, and Fr. Mike baptized and named her “Mary,” a homage to the Blessed Mother, at the time of Christmas.

In 1987, with the assistance of Chaplain Mike she was buried at St. Joseph Catholic Church Cemetery off Route 24, in Mendham Borough. 

In 2014, Chief Steven Crawford called for a re-examination of Baby Mary’s case for the upcoming 30th anniversary. Additional tissue samples from Baby Mary were given to the state for further testing.

After a DNA match from someone on the father’s side the mother was located now living in North Carolina.

 On April 24, 2023, a juvenile delinquency complaint was filed against the biological mother of Baby Mary. In April 2024 the baby’s mother was identified and arrested on a Juvenile charge. The now 57-year-old mother was sentenced to 364 days in the Morris County jail along with two years’ probation. 

Baby Mary is currently resting alongside another unknown baby, Baby “Hope,” is a cold case of an abandoned infant tossed from a car and found dead near Route 78 on Dec. 18, 1991. She was discovered seven years after Baby Mary was found, police said.

The babies lie next to each other with head stones donated by members of the MTPD, and caring people. 

Father Mike has a couple friends in their late ‘’80s who before moving to Florida donated their two cemetery plots which happen to be, right behind the girl’s graves. Father Mike said, “When I die, I want be buried right behind these two innocent babies who had nobody to care for them.” 

“As each year passes, we try to honor their memory on Christmas Eve at noon, so they ae not forgotten.”

The epitaph on Baby Mary’s headstone reiterates the child’s place with those who have embraced her case as well as in heaven. The scripture reads, “I will never forget you; I have carved you in the palm of my hand.” Isaiah 49:15 

Chief Ross Johnson also marks the occasion by reading the poem “Roses in December” at the grave site.

The poem’s first verse says, “God gave us memory that we may have roses in December and snowflakes in July, that we may find laughter amid the tears and sunshine even on the darkest days.”

In other times, chaplains and other clergy reach out to police officers who are hospitalized because of injuries, or are dying, and to the families of officers, who are sick, dying or are deceased. 

Father Michael Drury serves as the N.J. State Police and the Mendham Borough and Mendham Township police departments. He said he also understands the need to cultivate close personal relationships with officers. 

He serves Troop B of the State Police, which covers a territory from Totowa, up north to Sussex County and out west from Route 78 to the Pennsylvania border.

Father Drury said he first became active in police chaplaincy with the Mendham Borough and Township departments in the early 1980s. He has been a full-time police Chaplain since he retired from active ministry as a diocesan priest.

When a Chaplains work with the Secret Service, they stay with one of the agents at an event for the entire time in case a situation arises. Father Drury had attended many political rallies and a speech of President Trump where he got to meet him.

“President Trump saw my priestly collar, came over and thanked me for my service,” he said.

With local or state police, Father Drury is sometimes called in to headquarters for a debriefing if an officer was involved in a shooting or witnessed a horrible auto accident, a violent crime, death of a child or a suicide. 

“Chaplains need to gain the trust of officers, so they have the confidence to call them when something terrible happens. It’s an ecumenical position; we serve all people,” said Father Drury reading says,. Responsibilities also include accompanying officers in making death notifications, said Father Mike, who noted, “We help people get through difficult moments in their lives so they can get to the next. I am proud to be a chaplain.”

 Even though Baby Mary and Baby Hope lived extremely short lives that did not allow them the opportunity to live and develop their own sense of purpose, and to matter to someone. They are making a difference to all who have come to know them thanks to Chaplain Father Michael Drury and the Mendham Township Police Department for the annual Christmas Eve service to honor and remember these two innocent children of God.

Fr. Mike believes Baby Mary and Baby Hope serve a purpose. “They are not throw-away babies, but they serve to illustrate that human life is so fragile.”

Mendham Police Chief Ross Johnson says, “We are finally able to bring closure to this case and for the community that supported her. If not for the hard work and dedication of our officers who have worked this case over the years, Baby Mary’s case would not have been solved.”

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