Vancouver Police Detective/Constable Marty Cayer before his current assignment with the Youth Investigative Unit. Cayer was ordained a deacon for the Archdiocese of Vancouver in 2021 and currently serves at Christ the Redeemer Parish in West Vancouver. He is combining his two vocations and is now a chaplain with the Vancouver Police Department. Photo courtesy of The B.C. Catholic

The deacon and his ‘big, blue family’

By  Terry O'Neill, Canadian Catholic News
  • January 20, 2023

VANCOUVER -- 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 he considers even more important: that of a permanent deacon, currently serving at Christ the Redeemer Parish in West Vancouver.

What’s more, 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.”

Cayer said 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.

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 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 Sgt. Dave Moe of the department’s Employee Wellness Unit. 

The 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. “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.”

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 Turner, who was not available, to perform a memorial service for a retired VPD member. 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 in 1955. He also assisted 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.

“We’re a big blue family,” said Gardner. “And knowing that it’s being done right I think helps morale and esprit de corps.”

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.

Cayer 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 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.”

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