By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – Some things should never become habit-forming. On Sept. 12, for the third time in 10 months, the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul was the setting for the viewing and funeral Mass for a Philadelphia police officer who died in the line of duty.
Cardinal Justin Rigali was the principal celebrant and homilist for the noon Mass for Officer Isabel Nazario, badge 6341, who died at age 40 on the night of Sept. 5.
On that night her patrol car was broadsided near 39th and Wallace Streets by a stolen automobile allegedly driven by Andre Butler, a 16-year-old youth speeding to avoid capture. The driver of her car, Officer Terry Tull, was injured by the crash but attended the Mass in a wheelchair.
In his homily, Cardinal Rigali recalled the words of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, ending with: “[W]hatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
“These blessed words of Jesus Christ lead us back to see the great value of generous and dedicated service in the life of Officer Nazario,” the Cardinal said. “Her daily contribution to her loved ones and to the whole community, the service performed – like that of all faithful police officers – involved risk and so much personal effort and numerous acts of kindness designate Officer Nazario as a recipient of God’s loving mercy in the kingdom of heaven.”
As was the case of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, slain May 3, and Officer Chuck Cassidy, slain last Oct. 31, the Cathedral was filled with civil dignitaries, including Mayor Michael Nutter and most members of city council along with hundreds of police officials and officers. Concelebrating with the Cardinal were Auxiliary Bishops of Philadelphia Robert P. Maginnis, Joseph P. McFadden and Daniel E. Thomas, as well as other clergy, including those with ties to Philadelphia’s Hispanic community.
Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsay, speaking before the Mass, stressed Officer Nazario’s fidelity to the core values of honor, integrity and service.
“She was a hero in every sense of the word. She did her duty, she gave her life in service and there is no higher calling than that,” Commissioner Ramsay said.
But she also combined compassion with duty, the commissioner added, telling how once while on patrol, she saw a child without shoes and stopped her car to buy him shoes. As a single mother with a daughter Jazmin, 15, “she did everything she could to raise her and made certain she went to Mass every single Sunday,” the commissioner said.
Jazmin Nazario, a student at a Philadelphia charter high school, gave the first reading from Isaiah, including the words, “He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” She was also among the family members who brought up the offertory gifts.
“She is very strong,” said Incarnate Word Father Eduardo Coll, pastor of St. Veronica, where the family most recently worshipped. “She said ‘I now have a virtue from my Mom I never thought of before. It’s a strength I never knew I had.'”
The death of Isabel Nazario was hard for the people of his parish, Father Coll said. “She understood the work of service and sacrifice.” He recalled some months ago when he asked for volunteers to help clean the church, and she was among the first to respond.
“She is not among us now but there is a meaning to giving your life,” Father Coll said.
Prior to moving to St. Veronica’s, the family lived in St. Hugh of Cluny Parish where Jazmin Nazario attended the school, kindergarten through eighth grade, according to Father Scott D. Brockson, the pastor. “She was a wonderful girl, full of faith,” he said.
The death of Officer Nazario touches not only the police department and the parishes she attended, but the entire Hispanic community, noted Msgr. Hugh J. Shields, vicar for Hispanic Catholics.
“She will be missed as a contributor to the good of our society and the good of our Church,” he said. “Our Hispanic community will certainly feel the loss as we offer back to God one of our loved ones.”
Deacon of the Word at Officer Nazario’s funeral Mass was Deacon John Betzel and Deacon of the Eucharist was Deacon Joseph Cella.
Following the Mass, Officer Nazario’s remains were returned to the John Givnish Funeral Home for further services. The next morning they were flown to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, for interment. Deacon Cella, a member of the Police Major Crimes Unit, was among the delegation chosen to accompany the family, and was scheduled to officiate at the graveside rites, utilizing a Spanish-language rite supplied by the Office for Hispanic Catholics.
“It was an honor to be asked to do this, representing the Fraternal Order of Police and the League of the Sacred Heart,” Deacon Cella said.
“There have been too many deaths too soon. It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen this level of tragic loss. This past year has been horrific in that sense.”
In addition to her daughter, Officer Nazario is survived by her mother, Patricia Rodriguez Santiago; her sister, Maritza Mohamad; her fiancé, Carlos Buitrago; and many relatives.