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Msgr John Sammon, 1916-2006
Fire, police chaplain, St. Mary's, Fullerton

I remember Father Sammon saying Mass at St. Mary’s in Fullerton, around the time when we’d left for college. He must have been assigned to the parish for a while.


Sunday, November 26, 2006
Priest was a hero's hero
Msgr. John Sammon, chaplain to fire and police departments for the past 30 years, dies at 90.
The Orange County Register

Msgr. John F. Sammon, who worked in the Diocese of Orange as vicar to the bishops and chaplain to fire and police departments for the past 30 years, died Friday. He was 90 years old.

"John Sammon has been a catalyst for growth and change," said Bishop Tod D. Brown, bishop of Orange. "He has been a tireless advocate for interreligious outreach and has earned the admiration of area police officers and firefighters while serving as their chaplain."

Sammon, known for his wit, his support of police officers and firefighters, as well as his love of ice cream, was seen as a "hands-on motivator and encouraging spirit of people," according to Ryan Lilyengren of the diocese's media relations department.

The monsignor also had, said his grandnephew Mike Tooley, no plans to retire.

Born in Massachusetts, Sammon attended Boston College, College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore before his ordination in 1942. His first California assignment was at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Compton.

Before coming to Orange County in 1960 as pastor of St. Cecilia's Catholic Church in Tustin, he was chaplain to the Los Angeles and Santa Monica police and fire departments.

When the Diocese of Orange was established in 1976, Sammon was appointed the first vicar for pastoral and community affairs, which included serving as chaplain to local fire and police departments.

He'd always had a special spot in his heart for those public servants. "They are always there to support others," he said once, "but no one is there to support them."

Sammon was.

He kept a police and fire scanner in his car and would show up at a 2 a.m. fire, without even having been asked.

"Firefighters would tell me how... they'd go out to a fire and, out of the blue, there was Msgr. Sammon," said Tooley, a member of the Orange County Fire Authority. "They felt at ease when they saw him at the fire scene."

As Sammon became the firefighters' hero, (they even gave him his own turnouts – firefighter pants, jacket and boots), they, along with police officers, earned his undying affection and respect.

"Everyone, whether they are Catholic or not, loves the man," Costa Mesa Fire Chief Jim Ellis said in a Register article last year. "He gently puts us back in line when we start slipping."

One day, Sammon saw a woman at the Santa Ana Civic Center showing her grandson a memorial statue for police officers. When the boy asked about one for firefighters, she said there wasn't one.

Thirteen years later, after Sammon's efforts, a monument for firefighters was erected at the Civic Center.

But the peripatetic monsignor didn't work only with law enforcement. He was also chaplain to the Knights of Columbus, the Rams football team and other organizations. He also chaired or sat on the boards of numerous charity organizations.

Sammon worked from an office in Orange that was a jumble of papers, more than 1,000 books, hundreds of stuffed animals, including many of Snoopy, along with dusty statuettes of the Virgin Mary. He often started his sermons with a Peanuts comic strip – and a witticism.

His humor was almost as much a trademark as his gentle spirituality. (And his great love of ice cream. He rued the day when firefighters became health-conscious and started eating far less of it.)

Although Sammon worked pretty much seven days a week, Sunday nights were spent at dinner with one of his nieces or nephews in Seal Beach. At the end of the meal, he'd sneak upstairs with grandnephew Tooley to watch "Bonanza" on TV.

On Christmas Day, he would arrive, usually late, in his beat-up old Buick filled with presents and his three large dogs, Boats, Gunner and Bridget.

Although he missed helping at fire scenes when he could no longer drive, Sammon was, last year, still saying the prayer at fire graduations, memorials and meetings.

"I do what I can," he told the Register last year. "And I do feel satisfied."

He is survived by many nieces and nephews.

Funeral arrangements are pending.