Deacon Mike Stewart honored with Liberty Bell Award for work as police chaplain

Deacon Mike Stewart of the Monroe 2 Family of Parishes serves as the chaplain for the City of Monroe Police Department and the Monroe County Sheriff's Department. In May, he was awarded the Monroe County Liberty Bell Award by the Monroe legal community for his contributions to the community through his many ministries. (Photos by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

Deacon works with Monroe police and sheriff's deputies, serving as a listening ear and presence of faith for law enforcement

MONROE — Deacon Mike Stewart has been delivering the invocation at the Monroe County Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award ceremony for the past several years.

It’s an opportunity for Deacon Stewart to fulfill his role as chaplain for the City of Monroe Police Department and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, being present as a local individual is honored by the legal community.

But this year he was going to be down in Florida with his wife, so he arranged to have Fr. Mike Anagbogu, an associate pastor in the Monroe 2 Family of Parishes, give the invocation and benediction.

Deacon Stewart had it all squared away with Monroe County Circuit Court Judge William P. Nichols, so he found it strange when Judge Nichols gave him a call.

“Once I was in Florida, I received a call from the chief judge again, this time with the president of the Monroe County Bar Association on the line with him, and I thought he was calling to confirm the arrangement I made for the invocation and benediction,” Deacon Stewart told Detroit Catholic.

Deacon Stewart usually gives the invocation at the Monroe Country Courthouse during the Liberty Bell Award ceremony, but this year he was the award's recipient.
Deacon Stewart usually gives the invocation at the Monroe Country Courthouse during the Liberty Bell Award ceremony, but this year he was the award's recipient.

Turns out Deacon Stewart had an even bigger role than giving the invocation at this year’s Liberty Bell Award ceremony on May 1 at the Monroe County Courthouse — he was the award recipient.

“They called me to notify me that I was chosen as the recipient of this award; I was stunned,” Deacon Stewart said. “I know my first response was, 'Why?' Because I feel what I do, I do it because I love to do it. I love serving this community. I know it is a very public role that I serve, but to me, it’s what I do, and it’s not worthy of being honored.”

Deacon Stewart has been the chaplain for Monroe’s police and sheriff departments for a couple of years. He was asked to start years prior, but Deacon Stewart felt his schedule was busy enough already — he's also a hospital chaplain along with pastoral duties at Monroe’s St. Mary, St. Michael the Archangel and St. John the Baptist parishes, along with St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Newport and the mission at St. Anne in Detroit Beach.

Deacon Stewart also teaches classes at Sacred Heart Major Seminary for the permanent diaconate and is the assistant director of vocations for permanent diaconate in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Deacon Stewart chats with a City of Monroe police officer July 8. Deacon Stewart says most of police chaplaincy ministry is being present to officers and deputies, checking in with them as they go through the rigors of law enforcement.
Deacon Stewart chats with a City of Monroe police officer July 8. Deacon Stewart says most of police chaplaincy ministry is being present to officers and deputies, checking in with them as they go through the rigors of law enforcement.

But Deacon Stewart makes his way to downtown Monroe whenever possible, stopping by for roll call, going on ride-alongs with police and sheriff’s deputies, and “just being there,” whenever he’s needed.

“A lot of it is being present to the police officers themselves,” Deacon Stewart said. “We ride along with police officers on occasion, just listening to them share their struggles and fears; it’s profound. Consider how in the last couple of weeks we had two police officers killed in the line of duty (in southeast Michigan) doing nothing more than routine things: traffic stops and things of that nature.”

The nature of police chaplaincy means being on call 24/7, accompanying officers through a spectrum of shifts that range from the routine to the dramatic; being a witness to Christ through some of the most tense times in people’s lives.

“I’ve been on a couple of attempted suicide calls, and those are really intense,” Deacon Stewart said. “But most of the time it just involves being present for the police officers in those situations. For example, just last week I went to roll call and was just present to the officers after one of those deputies was tragically killed in another county (a Hillsdale County sheriff's deputy was killed June 27 during a traffic stop). Just being present to them in the event anybody wanted or needed to talk.”

Deacon Stewart has his own badge and polo shirt he wears when doing chaplaincy work, often going on ride-alongs in squad cars or chatting with police officers during roll call.
Deacon Stewart has his own badge and polo shirt he wears when doing chaplaincy work, often going on ride-alongs in squad cars or chatting with police officers during roll call.

Deacon Stewart initially aspired to be a police officer, earning a degree in criminal justice from Madonna University and serving an internship with the Redford Township Police Department.

But life took him in a different direction, and he accepted an offer from AAA Insurance, where he worked for 42 years in insurance investigation.

After being ordained in 2009, Deacon Stewart stepped out of insurance into the classroom, teaching theology at St. Mary Catholic Central High School in Monroe for five years before moving on to Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

Judge Nichols mentioned Deacon Stewart’s constant presence in the Monroe community, from the classroom to hospital calls and now spiritually accompanying local law enforcement, as the reason he received this year’s Liberty Bell Award.

“(Judge Nichols said), ‘You are everywhere in this community,’” Deacon Stewart said, recounting Judge Nichols’ comments. “’It seems like every funeral I go to, you are the presider, and I see you in the courthouse, in your chaplain shirt for the police department, I’ve seen you in police cars, and I see you volunteering in the community; I know you have had my kids in school. You are everywhere, and maybe you are underestimating the impact you have had on this community.’”

Deacon Stewart said he was slightly embarrassed at first to receive the award, not wanting to draw too much attention on himself for doing “what I’m supposed to be doing.”

But upon further reflection, he thinks of the honor as a way to promote the importance of police chaplaincy and the men and women who work in law enforcement.

Deacon Stewart stands in front of the Monroe County Courthouse. Deacon Stewart can often be seen in the courthouse, at community events, law enforcement public outreach efforts and volunteering in the community, one of the many reasons why he was chosen as this year's Monroe County Liberty Bell Award recipient.
Deacon Stewart stands in front of the Monroe County Courthouse. Deacon Stewart can often be seen in the courthouse, at community events, law enforcement public outreach efforts and volunteering in the community, one of the many reasons why he was chosen as this year's Monroe County Liberty Bell Award recipient.

“If this brings a good light on these men and women of the police department, then I’m all about it,” Deacon Stewart said. “Our role as chaplains is to be there for them, more than anything else, so to receive this acknowledgment from the judiciary and the legal community on the importance of this ministry is great.

“When you think about things like Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities, the Church has long had a history of people being there during difficult times,” Deacon Stewart continued. “This is a way of shining a positive light on the police department and the Church as well.”

When asked how his time as a police chaplain has impacted his ministry as a deacon, Deacon Stewart said the around-the-clock nature of police chaplaincy, coupled with ministering at five different worship sites and making the drive up Interstate 75 to teach at the seminary has made him appreciate how much he relies on God’s grace when it comes to time management and being ready for anything — a difficult challenge for a man who is a self-described planner.

“It’s taught me that no matter how much we want to work at scheduling the rhythm of our lives, only God knows that rhythm," Deacon Stewart said. "This ministry, being with these men and women, has opened me up to wherever God is calling me to be today.”



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