By Terry O’Neill
Marty Cayer’s business card describes him as Detective/Constable #2023 with the Youth Investigative Unit of the Vancouver Police Department.
Since October 2021, however, the 22-year veteran officer has embraced a second vocation that he considers even more important: that of a permanent deacon, currently serving at Christ the Redeemer Parish in West Vancouver.
What’s more, Deacon Cayer, 47, says his unique dual positions as police officer and Catholic deacon have now presented him with a new vocational opportunity, that of a police chaplain.
“Being a police member who’s served here almost 23 years and had some critical incidents in my life, as a policeman, I just thought the call – they couldn’t have blended better,” he said. “And the Holy Spirit has put me exactly where he wants me.”
Deacon Cayer said in an interview with The B.C. Catholic that, unlike priests, whose primary role is to offer sacrifice, a deacon’s role is to be of service. “And one place he can be of service, especially in our daily lives, is in the workplace by being witnesses in the workplace and serving in a special way,” he said.
Deacon Cayer said it is fortunate that the opportunity to live out his religious vocation within the police department “is suddenly coming to fruition.”
Chaplains have long served the Vancouver Police Department, but Deacon Cayer said he does not know when it last had a Catholic chaplain, let alone one who is also a member of the department.
The department considers the chaplaincy to be an important part not only of its ceremonial activities but also of its health-and-wellness programs. Its current chaplain, Jim Turner, is retained on contract and is nearing retirement, so the department is currently examining how the role might expand.
“What we’re hoping to do is to provide additional spiritual resources, chaplaincy resources,” said fellow officer Dave Moe, a sergeant with the department’s Employee Wellness Unit. The expansion might involve contracting a range of five or so chaplains from different spiritual groups, Moe said, or perhaps having one central chaplain “who can reach out to other churches and beliefs and utilize those people for our members.”
The department’s Employee Wellness Unit currently has three teams providing critical-incident stress-management support, peer support, and physical-health and performance support.
“We know that everybody deals with a critical incident, or accumulated stress or trauma, things that are going on at home, hardships – we all deal with them a different way,” Moe said in an interview. “What we are trying to do is provide additional resources to people – other than maybe a psychologist, a counsellor or a peer supporter – to give another resource to people, and that’s a spiritual one.”
Deacon Cayer has already begun providing some spiritual support and ceremonial services for the department’s 1,300-plus sworn officers and their families. On Dec. 15, for example, he stepped in to replace current VPD Chaplain Turner, who was not available, to perform a memorial service for a retired VPD member.
“I led this service from start to finish, including offering some words of reflection, offering some prayers directly from the ‘Order of Christian Funerals’ and blessing the casket with holy water,” he said.
A week earlier, he intoned a concluding prayer at a formal memorial service marking the anniversary of the death of Const. Gordon Sinclair, who was shot and killed on duty in Vancouver on Dec. 7, 1955. He said he makes sure to end such prayers with an ecumenical invocation that declares a respect for “all faiths, and all faith traditions.”
Deacon Cayer also assisted Chaplain Turner with memorial duties during Remembrance Day.
Such memorial ceremonies and services are not just for show, said Ray Gardner, the VPD’s Departmental Sergeant Major, but are an important part of police culture.
“You can just imagine there’s a huge tie-in with the chaplaincy program,” Gardner said in an interview. “We work very closely together with those sorts of events” playing an important role for police culture. “The job that we do, it’s quite extraordinary, and the mission that we’ve been given – public safety and the challenges that it presents every single day – at times we ask our members to put themselves in very dangerous situations, and they do so willingly.”
An essential part of police culture is remembering those members “who gave their lives – whose lives were taken in the service of public safety,” said Gardner. “We’re a big blue family. And knowing that it’s being done right, I think helps morale and esprit de corps.”
Gardner likened the “thin blue line” of police work to a woven fabric connecting past sacrifice with current service, and tradition is one of the important threads of that fabric. That’s what makes formal ceremonies and services so vital, he said.
The chaplaincy is also an integral part, and one that he predicts will grow. “I can see that it’s a seed right now that we’re going to put some water on and it’s going to blossom into a program.”
Gardner said that Chaplain Turner already provides valuable services for members and families during events such as funerals, “but I think we just want to take that up to another level.”
Deacon Cayer is open to whatever chaplaincy opportunities become available to him, now or even after he retires from the department in about five years. Whether serving as chaplain or expanding his work as a deacon elsewhere, his hope is to serve the Church in whatever role the archbishop assigns him.
For now, he is pleased with the “uplifting and encouraging” reception he received within the VPD when news of his ordination as a deacon became known.
“By and large, I was surprised to see how much support came out of the woodwork where people were wanting to talk to me about being Catholic, and even speaking to me about certain issues,” he said. “So I am positively encouraged at where this trajectory is heading.”
Meantime, he is kept fully occupied by his work investigating youth crime and his duties at Christ the Redeemer, which may expand now that his pastor, Msgr. Gregory Smith, recently became the archdiocese’s Vicar General.
Deacon Cayer noted with evident pleasure that he began his service to the Church as an altar server at St. Patrick’s Parish in Vancouver, serving with a then-newly ordained Father Gregory Smith, who re-entered his life several decades later to lead him into the Permanent Diaconate program.
“He’s keeping me very busy,” Deacon Cayer said. “I can tell you this: I’ve never been busier in my life, but I’ve never been happier either.”
He is grateful for the support of his wife of 21 years, Lora, who not only teaches English as a second language but helps him compose his homilies and assists at services. They also facilitate their parish’s marriage- and baptism-preparation courses. For Deacon Cayer, they’re a team whose bond has grown only stronger in the face of life’s challenges, including that of their inability to have children.
Regardless of where he serves he believes there’s an urgent need for the work he does. “Obviously, we are in a very precarious time in human history, with a lot of social and moral challenges that we are facing,” he said.
“And while we hear a strong push for physical-health and mental-health initiatives, the one part of the triangle that we’re not hearing about as much as we once did is the spiritual-health dimension, which is part of the complete package that we need, as in body and soul, recognizing not just our physical dimensions but the spiritual side of our souls.”
Police chaplains: ‘Servants and spiritual caregivers’
Deacon Marty Cayer’s dual vocation as a police officer and permanent deacon epitomizes what one veteran Canadian officer sees as the ideal candidate for a police chaplaincy.
“There is arguably no better person to recognize and understand the challenges our members face than the police chaplain who is a fellow member that has walked the journey and is armed with a spiritual conviction and a sincere desire to help,” George Labossier, an inspector with the Winnipeg Police Service, said in a 2021 statement published on the website of the Canadian Police Chaplains Association.
“I have witnessed the impact a police chaplain can make and value the immense contributions they represent to our members.”
While Labossier made his endorsement of police chaplaincy without specific reference to any single chaplain or chaplaincy candidate, Bruce Ewanyshyn, president of the Canadian Police Chaplains Association, said in an e-mailed statement to The B.C. Catholic that he personally was excited to hear of Deacon Cayer’s evolving mission.
As president of the national police-chaplains association, Ewanyshyn said police chaplaincy has immense value.
“An effective chaplain isn’t necessarily one who is offering constant services in the public eye, but one who is humbly dedicated to serving officers and their families one-on-one while committed to their faith in loving their neighbours as themselves,” said Ewanyshyn, who has served as Chaplain of the Brandon Police Service in Manitoba for eight of his 33 years with the force.
The experience has led him to understand the value of having someone to confide in and receive encouragement from “through words of hope and actions of support.”
“A police chaplain is a spiritual caregiver – a person who brings a foundation of faith to every situation so they can offer hope and comfort and peace,” said Ewanyshyn, a member of the Brandon police wellness team that brings persons from varied disciplines to provide officers “the best health care possible.”
Police chaplains are “servants who bring light and hope to desperate situations by first establishing bonds of trust through investing in relationships with the officers they serve,” he said.
“As spiritual caregivers, we recognize the value of prayer,” lifting up to God the needs of men and women, the police service, and peacekeepers across Canada.
Although police departments have long valued chaplains for the ceremonial services they can provide, chaplaincy today is increasingly centred on member care.
“Serving those who serve with excellence is what CPCA chaplains and all police chaplains should focus on,” Ewanyshyn said. “It’s not about what faith background you come from; it’s about what is in your heart and being true to what gives you strength to serve.”
Killing have ‘shaken our profession to the core’
The killing of five Canadian police officers last year not only shocked the nation, but also rattled police services by adding to the emotional trauma and moral distress with which many first responders already grapple.
“This is unprecedented in Canada,” Mark Baxter, president of the Police Association of Ontario, told reporters in the wake of the latest killing, that of Ontario Provincial Police Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala, who was shot in the line of duty on Dec. 27.
“I’ve been in policing for 18 years, but certainly during my time I’ve never seen anything like this. It really has shaken our profession to the core.”
Ontario Provincial Police Association spokesperson Scott Mills added, “It doesn’t matter what service that you work for. It just strikes you right in the heart, like it’s one of your own family members that died.”
Police chaplains are ideally situated to answer any calls for emotional and spiritual assistance as members cope with these challenges.
Msgr. Gregory Smith, director of the Archdiocese of Vancouver Permanent Diaconate Office, said in an email interview that in recent years even such icons of strength as police officers and other first responders have realized they need personal support and care in their demanding roles.
“Denying the effects of meeting human tragedy and tension on a daily basis is a formula for emotional strain,” said Msgr. Smith, who is also the newly appointed archdiocesan Vicar General. In addition he is pastor of Christ the Redeemer Parish in West Vancouver, where Vancouver Police Department officer Marty Cayer currently serves as a deacon.
Among the tools for addressing the consequences of occupational stress in certain intense professions are those provided by religious faith and prayer, which is why the military in most countries have a dedicated chaplaincy corps for their members, Msgr. Smith said.
“Those in law enforcement are also on ‘active duty’ and face similar trials and challenges,” Msgr. Smith said. “It’s not surprising, then, that fellow Vancouver police officers welcome the presence of a Catholic deacon who works alongside them.”
Regardless of whether they are believers or not, police officers can benefit from a colleague who finds strength in faith and prayer. That example “can offer credible lessons in bouncing back from the more serious situations police encounter from time to time – or can simply share a daily approach that builds resilience and leads to greater peace.”
There can be a positive correlation between faith and resilience, he said. “Resilience is something everyone needs, even of particular importance for those in high-stress roles.”
Author Robert Wicks, a Catholic psychologist who spoke to Vancouver Catholic educators in November, tackled the subject in his book Bounce: Living the Resilient Life, Msgr. Smith said. “He writes that it’s not only about managing stress, but transforming opportunities ‘to live a more meaningful, self-aware, and compassionate life’ in the face of the chaos of modern society.”
For Msgr. Smith, chaplains – whether military, police, or fire department – work “in the intersection of the spiritual and emotional lives of those they serve and encourage.”
And while Deacon Cayer heads toward a formal chaplaincy role, his full-time police duties are “already showing some of the ways a dedicated minister can make life better for those charged with preserving order, protecting citizens, and helping the vulnerable – at a time of increasing social problems.”