Father Hugh Cannon’s first run-in with the Suffolk emergency service unit was, naturally, an act of forgiveness.
An officer hit a church brick wall with his SWAT truck during a policeman’s funeral in 2013 and Cannon was there to lend an encouraging word to a rattled cop.
That act of kindness left such an impression on Peter Knudsen, the president of Police Holy Name Society of Suffolk County, that he asked the retired priest, living at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in East Islip, to be the society’s chaplain.
Soon, Cannon’s reputation made its way to the Suffolk County Police Department and he became one of seven chaplains.
“He came out and it was like dealing with just a regular guy: ‘This is no big deal, don’t worry about it,’ ” Knudsen said, recalling the story his emergency service colleague told him about how Cannon offered support to the SWAT cop. “I can’t stress enough just how good and kind he was.”
Cannon, 78, fell over the weekend and died Monday at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore after four decades of ministry. He served seven Long Island parishes and one in St. Louis, Missouri, said those who knew him.
Friends saw him as a “classic priest,” one who listened and always had a “prayer in his pocket,” delivered with a soft-spokenness that carried him through four decades of serving others.
“No matter what prayer he offered, he always brought what I call a sweetness of soul that always came out in voice and in the words of prayer that he chose,” said Rabbi Steven Moss, another Suffolk police chaplain.
Officers’ deep defenses and walls would crumble under Cannon’s aura, Knudsen said, and they’d spill their personal and work troubles to him.
Cannon was a learned priest with degrees in education and theology, but he was never one to boast, his friends said. He was born in May 1939 in New York City. Cannon went to the Montfort Missionaries school in Bay Shore, then got his Master of Divinity at the St. Louis De Monfort Seminary in Litchfield, Connecticut, according to those who knew him.
He worked at parishes in Nassau and Suffolk and reached the position of pastor at St. Pius X in Plainview in 1989, guiding the church’s direction and fulfilling administrative duties before asking to go back to being an associate pastor, Knudsen said.
“I think it speaks to a man’s character,” he said. “He felt he was getting more away from ministering his congregation. He gave up that title . . . to attend more to committees and working with youth and different parish functions.”
Cannon could be counted on to go to award ceremonies, promotions, hospitals where injured officers were being treated and funerals. Often, he’d get to events early and wait in his car, smoking a cigar, one of his favorite pastimes, and reading biblical passages, Knudsen said.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini called him “truly a blessing” because he guided and gave comfort to officers and their families.
Visiting hours at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church are set for 2-6 p.m. Thursday, followed by Mass of Transferral at 7:30 p.m. A Mass is set for 10:30 a.m. Friday, with Bishop John O. Barres of the Rockville Centre diocese presiding. Cannon will be buried St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Bay Shore.