Chaplain tends Chicago cops after their brushes with death
By JENNIFER JOHNSON firstname.lastname@example.org August 20, 2011 12:14AM
The Rev. Dan Brandt
Updated: November 3, 2011 11:20AM
As a full-time chaplain of the Chicago Police Department, the Rev. Daniel Brandt says a big part of his job is just being there in times of need.
“It’s not so much what we say. It’s being present, being available,” Brandt said. “A lot of times [the officers] just want to talk. They just went through a grueling experience. They’ve had a taste of their own mortality.”
Brandt had been pastor of Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, 653 W. 37th, while serving as a part-time chaplain. A little more than two months ago, he was made a full-time chaplain.
As chaplain he is always on call to respond to any kind of situation in which a police officer or family member requires spiritual support or comfort. With a police department that is largely Roman Catholic — Brandt estimates at least three out of four police officers identity themselves as Catholic — he has his work cut out for him.
“The most important part of our ministry is crisis management,” Brandt said.
For example, if an officer is wounded in the line of duty the chaplain will be present for the officer and his or her family. The visit may involve prayer or words of comfort, but it doesn’t always need to.
In July, three police officers were shot within a 15-day period, Brandt said.
“We’re a source of pastoral care for officers who are either part of a bad situation — mainly a shooting where they had to take somebody’s life or any time deadly force is used,” the priest said. “It really wears on the guys and gals.”
For several years Brandt juggled the responsibilities of pastor and part-time chaplain. In a full-time capacity he is also in charge of administrative functions. In addition to Brandt there are five other chaplains with the department, one of whom is a rabbi.
Growing up in Park Ridge, Brandt attended the now shuttered Our Lady of Ransom Catholic School in Niles and Maine South High School.
Brandt admits he wasn’t entirely an angel in his youth. He cites running from the Park Ridge police as one of the vivid memories of his childhood. “We were little pranksters,” he acknowledged.
But thoughts of the priesthood entered Brandt’s mind as a young child.
“In probably the third grade I saw great examples in the priests at Our Lady of Ransom,” he said. “They seemed happy, fulfilled, really productive, well-loved, respected and hard-working. They had an impact on me. At that young age I thought it was a cool life.”
After high school Brandt went to college, studied business and landed a job with an accounting firm in Lombard. Still, the priesthood remained rooted in the back of his mind. In 1994, at the age of 25, he applied to St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein and was accepted. He told himself he’d give it one year. If he liked the experience, he would continue for a second year.
Five years later Brandt was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“In most jobs co-workers’ safety doesn’t rest in your hands,” he said. “Police officers are a different breed. They do literally have each other’s back.”