Twentynine Palms -- JOSHUA TREE, Calif. — For more than 30 years, Father Michael McCullough has pursued his vision of creating a place of rest and healing for law enforcement officers and military personnel, and those who support them, creating a place where they can momentarily disconnect from their busy lives.
The Desert Refuge for Peace Officers and Military Personnel was started in 1999 by McCullough, a Catholic priest and Los Angeles Police Department chaplain.
The original five-acre parcel, which features a small house and rock-lined walking trail, was purchased by McCullough’s aunt and uncle in 1950. McCullough, his brother and sister inherited the property in 1980 and sold it to McCullough’s Desert Refuge nonprofit in 1999. Last year, the nonprofit purchased five adjacent acres that will eventually house a chapel and other features for Desert Refuge guests.
“The purpose of the Desert Refuge is to teach solutions to burnout, hopefully in a proactive way,” McCullough said during a tour of the property in March. “We hope to deter suicide and cynicism before they become a fact.”
McCullough believes that law enforcement is among the most dangerous professions emotionally because each day, officers’ environment gives them a daily “drop of corrosion” on the soul.
“Police officers see in one year what most people will ever see in a lifetime,” he said. “Most officers really love their work; they like working with people and trying to help people.”
When peace officers, service members or their families visit the refuge, it gives them the opportunity to disengage from their work environment, unwind and recollect themselves. From connecting with God, to just having a listening ear and a helping hand, McCullough helps them get through rough patches in their lives.
“There’s an extraordinary percentage of law enforcement and military who take their own lives,” he said. “We’d like for them to retire at the end of their career with peacefulness in their soul, not a torn-up human being that has difficulty functioning.”
According to McCollough, the bottom line of the Desert Refuge is to help those sworn to serve and protect to stay healthy, stay balanced, deal with drama as it comes, and to counteract the daily drop of corrosion.
“When you leave here, you’ve removed yourself from all those stresses, you come back with some inner peace,” said Catherine Robi, retired detective, Los Angeles Police Department. “When you have that inner peace, you can do everything better, you can communicate with people better, do your job better and you can relate to your family better. It’s a win-win situation.”
On April 14, the organization will hold its first-ever Tug-of-War competition with teams from the Combat Center, LAPD, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department competing. The free event scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the refuge, 3961 Avenida del Sol in Joshua Tree, also will feature a barbecue meal, love music, activities and inter-faith prayer service. For more information, email Ray Gallego at firstname.lastname@example.org or Garrett Zimmon at email@example.com.
For more information on the Desert Refuge for Peace Officers and Military Personnel, its programs and how you can help counteract the daily “drop of corrosion” on the soul, visit drpo.org.