Officer Joe Cella, known as the "Deacon With a Badge," died suddenly this week while he was inside union headquarters.
“He had a heart attack and died right in front of me,” said John McNesby, Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President. “He was just talking to me in mid-sentence and bang that was it.”
Cella, a Detective Sergeant with the city's Major Crimes Division, was also the Chaplain for the Fraternal Order of Police.
“We were in here Tuesday going over ideas for next term. He was sitting in a chair in front of me and put his head back and that was it,” said McNesby. “We worked on him for 35 minutes, from here all the way to the hospital.”
The 56-year-old husband and father to three, was the only Catholic deacon in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who also worked as a police officer.
McNesby remembered Cella as a great guy and always available to the families of fallen officers. He was on duty 24/7.
"To say Joe was a deacon's deacon is an understatement. He epitomized service," said Jim Owens, Associate to the Vicar for the Clergy of Permanent Deacons in the Archdiocese. "Joe was everywhere. His service to the church, to the Archdiocese and family was just enormous."
Joe Cella followed his father onto the force. During his career, Joseph M. Cella, Sr., was tapped by Senator Arlen Specter, who was at the time Philadelphia's District Attorney, to form a Narcotics Unit. Cella, Sr. also died suddenly at the age of 59, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
"A strange sense of loss was felt at the FOP Board of Directors meeting without the spiritual guidance and calming influence of Chaplain Cella," said McNesby.
“He had been an officer for 35 years. He had one more year until retirement. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to enjoy it."
According to the FOP, Cella served as a deacon during funerals and memorial services for his fellow police officers, including slain Philadelphia Police Officer Gary Skerski in 2006 and Officer Chuck Cassidy back in 2007. In an interview for The Deacon's Bench blog, Cella talked about both men.
"The Skerski and the Cassidy families, let me tell you something, they are posters for good, wholesome, American families. One being the good strong Polish-Catholic family. The other being the good, strong Irish-Catholic family. Both individuals were faithful to their children, faithful to their wives, involved in their parish and their parish community."
It was that type of thoughtfulness and compassion NcNesby said, that led him to hand-pick Cella for the vocation of Chaplain.
"Joe was a great friend to many of our brothers and sisters in PA and will be sadly missed," McNesby posted on the FOP website.
A public viewing will be held for Cella at the Givnish Funeral Home on 10975 Academy Road from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 28. Another viewing will be held on July 29 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on 18th and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. The viewing will be followed by a funeral service and mass at 11 a.m. that will be served by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
Cella will then be buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham and Easton Roads.
A funeral luncheon will take place in the FOP Heroes Ballroom.