A beloved Philadelphia police chaplain is still on the beat, even after his untimely death weeks earlier.
As gunfire erupted during Philadelphia’s Fourth of July fireworks on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, two law enforcement officers – one from Philadelphia, the other from Montgomery County — were both struck, with each sustaining graze wounds.
For the 36-year-old Philadelphia police officer, a member of the department’s highway patrol division, the narrow escape from serious injury or death was “miraculous,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw at a subsequent news conference.
One of the bullets had pierced the officer’s hat – and stopped.
Taped inside the hat was a funeral Mass card for Oblate Father Steven Wetzel, founder of the Michael the Archangel Ministry at the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 5.
The 64-year-old Father Wetzel, a Philadelphia native, had been laid to rest at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul May 6, following a sudden and brief illness. Hundreds, among them Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) president John McNesby, were in attendance at the Mass.
Named for the patron of police officers, the Michael the Archangel Ministry — which Father Wetzel always described as “multidenominational, rather than nondenominational” — provided pastoral care, crisis ministry and spiritual enrichment opportunities for some 14,000 active and retired Philadelphia Police Department members and their families.
Father Wetzel regularly accompanied officers on their overnight or “last out” shifts, supporting them amid numerous crisis situations.
And according to Michael the Archangel co-founder Sgt. Michael Cerruti, Father Wetzel is “still looking out” for his flock, including the officer injured July 4.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Father Steve saved that officer’s life,” said Sgt. Cerruti, who said he is one of “countless officers” who keep Father Wetzel’s funeral card with them “at all times.”
Many, like the highway patrol officer, have taped the card to the inside of their hats – a location with tremendous significance, said Sgt. Cerruti.
“That part of the hat is usually left for pictures of family,” he said. “The tradition is to keep the person who means the most to you, closest to you. Every time you see a police officer in a non-emergency situation, the officer always has the hat on, connected to the closest people.”
Father Wetzel connected deeply with those he served, said Sgt. Cerruti.
And while the ministry is now in transition following Father Wetzel’s death, “that bond is stronger than ever,” he said.
Fellow ministry board member Daniel Solecki, chief operating officer of Givnish Family Funeral Homes, agreed, describing last night’s incident as a case of “odd or God.”
“We are going to print and laminate 10,000 of those Father Wetzel cards,” he said. “And we want to make sure they’re available to every member of the Philadelphia Police Department.”
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