By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

Names can be deceiving.

Robert S. Nix has no northern European ancestry that he is aware of. His family is solidly of Mexican heritage and he is Mexican-American, born in Austin, Texas, with roots in the border town of Laredo. His family came east when his dad enrolled at Duquesne University for a doctorate in pharmacy.

His parents, the first members of their family to be college-educated, were also staunch Catholics, and it was his mother’s private dream that one of her sons would become the first American pope.

Children have their own ideas, and Nix, who is now 46, rebelled against his devout parents as a teen by falling away from active practice of the faith.

But there was, nevertheless, a streak of idealism, and for college he returned to his birth state to study environmental science at Texas Christian University. After a brief career in that field, he came to Philadelphia, where he pursued his law degree at Temple University.

“My passions are children and justice. I became a lawyer to help my community,” Nix said.

In 1984 he married Erica Poirier. They settled in the Fox Chase section of the city and began their family of three daughters, Allyson, Abigail and Anelise.

Although Erica is not Catholic, the birth of their children induced Nix to rethink his faith life. He returned to active practice of Catholicism. “Like a lost sheep, I wanted to be what my parents wanted me to be,” he said.

He joined St. Hilary of Poitiers Parish in Rydal, where his girls attend the parish school.

“St. Hilary is a small parish where people know each other. I love to go to Mass and see other families bringing their kids,” Nix said.

He became active in civic affairs, especially within the Hispanic community and the Church. He’s a former board member of the Catholic Leadership Institute and of Catholic Social Services, where he chaired the Youth Services Committee.

In the wider community he is chair of Philadelphia’s often misunderstood Police Advisory Commission.

A lawyer whose practice has been mostly in civil litigation, he also teaches on the adjunct faculty at Manor College and Philadelphia University, and has his own consulting firm, Phoenix Strategies LLC – the name a play on words on his own name.

This past fall he ran for the State Senate for the Third Senatorial District. Running as a Republican in a heavily Democratic Philadelphia district in a year of Democratic ascendancy and against an established incumbent, his chances of winning were only slightly better than his mother’s dream of having a son elected pope.

He got 12 percent of the vote. “I have no way to go but up,” he said. The important thing for him is that he ran.

“I want to help Hispanics get involved politically,” he said. “Hispanics are a swelling population, and other past waves of immigrants got involved and achieved the American dream. Many Hispanics are suspicious of politics because they come from countries where politicians are corrupt. I want to open doors for Hispanics to run for office, to empower them, and I want to set an example for my children.”

In doing so, Nix refuses to sacrifice core beliefs for political expediency.

“I love my Catholic faith and its traditions. I won’t compromise on abortion. I do believe in the value of life, and I have to be true to my values.

“I want to use my gifts from God to help my community,” he said.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.