A police officer's calling and sacrifice: What about that sanctuary across from King Soopers?

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If you have lived in the Denver area, you know that King Soopers grocery stores are a familiar part of the urban and suburban landscape.

As the details emerged from the hellish shootings in Boulder that claimed 10 lives, it was clear that the fallen first responder — 51-year-old Officer Eric Talley — was an unusual man whose career in law enforcement had unusual roots. He came to the job, people said over and over, with a sense of “calling.” That is, of course, a word with strong faith overtones.

There were many pieces of information to assemble, in portraits of Talley. He was the father of seven children — ages 7 to 20 — who were being homeschooled by his wife. He bought a 15-passenger van to make family travel easier. Another officer told the Denver Post that Talley was a “devout Catholic.” This is a case where that all-too-common adjective fits the evidence.

Some news-media reports mentioned Talley’s faith, others did not. It was hard to miss this quotation, picked up by Washington Post:

His father, Homer Talley, told Denver TV station KMGH in a statement that his son was working to become a drone operator, a job he thought would be safer.

“He loved his kids and his family more than anything,” his father wrote. “ …He didn’t want to put his family through something like this and he believed in Jesus Christ.”

However, I was struck by another detail in a statement from Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of the Archdiocese of Denver. As it turns out, there was a reason that Talley was familiar with this particular King Soopers location.

We do know that Officer Eric Talley was Catholic, and has been described as a man of character and strong faith, a loving father to seven children, a husband who cared deeply for his family, and a soldier for Christ. …

We also know that Officer Talley regularly stopped by St. Martin de Porres in Boulder and participated in its events, even though he wasn’t a parishioner there.  For those unfamiliar with the area where the shooting occurred, St. Martin de Porres is just across the street from King Soopers. St. Martin de Porres, the patron of the parish, was someone who experienced tragedy and hardship in his life, and so, we ask for his intercession in these difficult circumstances, that God would bring good out of this great evil.

Let’s stop and think about this for a moment.

It’s possible that this parish was located inside the boundaries of Officer Talley’s “beat,” so to speak — the part of town that he patrolled day after day. If this man was a daily Mass Catholic, then it’s possible that this was a sanctuary that he visited all the time at the start of the work day, the end of the day or even during his lunch hours.

The shooting took place mid-afternoon. This is not a logical time for a parish to have a weekday Mass.

Still, I am saying that, if I was still a Denver-area reporter, I would be asking questions about the role that this parish played in Officer Talley’s life and faith. I would think there was a very good chance that the officer knew people who worked in that King Soopers.

What I am saying is that this man’s faith is clearly part of this story on multiple levels. For example, why did those close to him use “calling” language to describe his work in law enforcement? In one quote, Talley’s father described his desire to “be a servant.” Consider this passage in that long Post story:

More than a decade before the shooting, Eric Talley had a stable job in information technology that provided for his kids and his wife, who educated their children in their Colorado home. But in 2010, after one of his closest friends died in a DUI crash, he quit, left behind his master’s degree and enrolled in the police academy at age 40, according to his friends and family.

“It was remarkable to me that somebody would go to law enforcement from IT,” Jeremy Herko, a lieutenant with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, told The Washington Post. “He lost pay. He lost time away from his family. He joined the police academy without a guaranteed job.”

In other words, he made sacrifices to become a police officer. Then that job led him to make the ultimate sacrifice — running into gunfire in an attempt to save innocent people.

His sister Kirstin Brooks added another layer to the drama, sharing images (this is from that same Post story) picked up in several news reports:

Brooks said she had a sense of what had gone through her brother’s mind Monday.

“I honestly know my brother, when he heard there was a shooting in a supermarket, I know his first thought was, ‘There are kids in there,’ ” Brooks said. “He loved his kids. His family shopped at King Soopers.”

“I know Eric would have wanted to save every single one of those lives. I know why he flew in there first, because he was thinking, there are families in that store.”

We may learn more in the days ahead. I imagine that this family’s priest may, at some point, speak out. Then again, maybe the funeral Mass will be held at the church across from the grocery store where Officer Talley died. If the archdiocese is planning to honor him, in some way, I would think there is a possibility that the archbishop will address some of these issues again.

It’s clear that faith and family are at the heart of this local, regional and national story.

UPDATE: Just caught this announcement in a National Catholic Register report.

A funeral for Talley will be celebrated on Monday, March 29 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver. It will be a solemn high Mass offered in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, according to an announcement, which added that capacity may be restricted due to COVID-19 regulations.

FIRST IMAGE: Officer Eric Talley with Father Joseph Tran at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Parish in Boulder, in a photo used with the Archdiocese of Denver statement about the shootings.

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