Police officer, historian, author, sailor, athlete — Michael Denigan (16) is many things, but idle is not one of them.

“I like to keep busy,” he laughed when recounting his many activities.

Denigan has always had a passion for history and for public service. While maintaining his career as a police officer, Denigan published his first military history book in 2023 and is under contract for two more volumes. He’s a regular volunteer sailor on the Star of India and at the San Diego Maritime Museum, which is where he met his fiancée, Sarah. When he’s not working, researching, writing, or sailing, Denigan can be found surfing, long distance running, weightlifting, or sportfishing.

Denigan’s many activities are fueled by his interests as well as his love of learning and serving others. An ROTC student at PLNU, Denigan served as an officer in the National Guard while attending college. He majored in criminal justice and initially planned to work in history or pursue a military career. In addition, he took on a job with the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) in transit enforcement.

“I found that I loved working with people, and I loved the variety of calls we responded to,” Denigan said of the MTS job. “After a year or two, I was settled on pursuing law enforcement.”

After graduating, Denigan continued working in transit enforcement for a short time before he was recruited by an agency in the Los Angeles area. He worked in the patrol, traffic, and bike divisions and completed his National Guard service. After six years in L.A., he returned to San Diego where he now serves as a police officer for the City of San Diego, Eastern Division. His current focus is on collision investigation, traffic, and DUI enforcement.

“DUI is one of the most important arrests we can make as peace officers,” he said. “We prevent fatalities, injuries, and property damage by removing impaired drivers from the road.” 

In general, Denigan finds his work very fulfilling.

“My faith greatly impacts how I treat the people around me. Whether that’s the general public, people I take into custody, or my coworkers, I see in them a reflection of Christ’s light.”

“Obviously, one of the big rewards of civil service is the ability to help people,” he said. “San Diego is such a commuter city. Helping make our roadways safe I find extremely rewarding.”

Denigan’s faith is a major reason he chose PLNU for college. It also helps him through the challenging parts of his work.

“We do see the darkest parts of society, seeing people in absolute crisis, seeing suffering, seeing death, being in extremely dangerous, volatile situations,” he said. “Shift work can be difficult with family life, and there have been issues with PTSD among my coworkers. As a devout Roman Catholic, my strong faith and belief in Christ is a rock which I balance my life on. My faith greatly impacts how I treat the people around me. Whether that’s the general public, people I take into custody, or my coworkers, I see in them a reflection of Christ’s light.”

In addition to serving others, Denigan has a strong intellect and a penchant for history. His book, Witnesses at Isandlwana: 22 January 1879, which was co-authored with Neil Thornton and published by Fonthill Media, is about the British invasion of South Africa in 1879. The book contains the largest collection of survivor accounts ever compiled, as well as rare and unpublished photographs.

“I grew up watching Zulu [a 1964 movie about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift] and Zulu Dawn [a 1979 move about the Battle of Isandlwana,” Denigan said. “I also have a family connection to the Battle of Isandlwana. One of my ancestors was killed in action during the battle. That led me to try to understand what happened and what role my family played in it.”

Denigan began collaborating with Thornton, a well-known British author, after contacting him with a research question and discovering they were both pursuing similar projects. Denigan’s next book, which he is writing solo, will be a different look at the Battle of Isandlwana. He is also working on a third book about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift.

Denigan said the history class on research methods he took at PLNU has been helpful in working on his books.

“My academic background, skills in studying, and conducting independent research, I vastly credit to PLNU,” he said.

Denigan says the most influential people in his life have been his training officer, Samuel Knight, who helped mold him as a new police officer; his fianceé, Sarah; and his mom, Anita. 

Michael and his fianceé, Sarah

“My mom encouraged my interest in history and sailing and has been supportive of my faith journey,” he said. “I owe that woman everything.”

Denigan’s faith, humility, and passion for life – as well as his gratitude for those who support him – give him the energy he needs to pursue callings.

When Denigan isn’t working or writing, he’s often found sailing. He began volunteering with the Star of India crew in 2019 and regularly sails on all the museum’s vessels. 

“I learned to sail through the Maritime Museum,” Denigan said. “It’s one of the best outlets I have. There is something so freeing about being out past Point Loma, right in the ocean with nothing but the creak of the timbers and the wind.”

Christine is the editor of the Viewpoint magazine at PLNU.