New York City, N.Y., Jan 17, 2017 / 12:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Thousands gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on Friday to commemorate and mourn the loss of Officer Steven McDonald, one of the city’s most influential police officers who died last week from a heart attack at the age of 59.

“Detective Steven McDonald was an icon of mercy and forgiveness, a prophet of the dignity of all human life, a radiant symbol of the best of what the New York Police Department represents, a loving husband and father, and a fervent and faithful Catholic,” stated Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, according to the New York Daily News.

Officer McDonald is a household name for some in the New York area, where over 30 years ago, he became known as a herald of peace and mercy in a city stricken by violence and drugs. On July 12, 1986, Officer McDonald was a newly minted NYPD officer with a bright future, having served only two years on the force, when he was shot three times by a teenager in Central Park, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. The incident turned Officer McDonald into a quadriplegic, and he would use a wheelchair and respirator tube for the rest of his life. At the time, his newly-wed wife Patti Ann was pregnant with their first child.

“Steven would never again walk or breathe on his own, would never again embrace his wife, or hold his soon-to-be-born child. It would have been enough to turn anyone bitter, resentful, angry at God and the world,” Cardinal Dolan noted. However, Officer McDonald wrote a public note of forgiveness to Shavod Jones, the young man who shot him, saying that he hoped his attacker would “find peace and purpose in his life.” He even went as far as testifying in Jones’ favor at his parole hearing.

“We all know how amazing that statement was, how important it was for the streets of this city,” stated Msgr. Seamus O’Boyle, a family cousin, at Officer McDonald’s funeral, according to the New York Times. In fact, the incident with Officer McDonald ushered in a new era that cleaned up the streets of New York. According to the New York Times, murder rates have drastically declined over the years, from 1,582 murders in 1986 to 335 in 2016.

Although Officer McDonald would never return to active service, he continued to serve publicly with the police department as a first-grade detective — proving even more valuable to the force because of his voice of mercy and forgiveness. “He became a strong advocate for peace, and spoke movingly and often on the need to show mercy to others,” Cardinal Dolan said, noting that he had even made plans with Officer McDonald to lead a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.

Officer McDonald’s legacy of mercy will live past his death, particularly through his own son, Conor, who is now a New York police sergeant. In fact, public service ran in the McDonald family a few generations, with Steven’s father and grandfather both serving on the police force. “Steven — and now his son, Conor — represented the most noble aspects of what being a police officer is all about: a heart and soul, an agent of peace and reconciliation,” Cardinal Dolan said.

The funeral on Friday was a testament to McDonald’s life, with thousands of family, friends and fellow officers in blue filling the Cathedral to salute his legacy. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was also in attendance, recalling how McDonald always believed that “we could heal the wounds of the past,” and noting that “millions were moved by his example.” “He was a living example of the things we aspire to be.”