Eleven officers were there to accept their promotion, as Mayor Michael Nutter fought back tears as he talked about the one who could not.
"That's what we celebrate today. Not that police officer McDonald died, but the great life that he lead," Mayor Nutter said.
Even before his death, the 30-year-old was going to be promoted to sergeant.
"I can say this. Pat McDonald deserves that seat that's right there to my right," said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, pointing to an empty chair adorned with a single rose, an officer's cap and white gloves.
"We're here today, in this unprecedented ceremony, to promote an officer posthumously, which I understand has never happened in the history of the Philadelphia Police Department," said Mayor Nutter.
Commissioner Charles Ramsey presented McDonald's certificate of promotion to his parents, Pat and Larry.
After the emotional ceremony, his father spoke publicly for first time since his son's death.
"The mayor and the police commissioner and the highway patrol unit have literally lifted us on their shoulders and carried us through this very difficult time," Larry McDonald said.
Sergeant McDonald may not have been here in body, but ask anyone who attended and they'll tell you his presence could be felt.
"Now he has the wings of an angel and he will look out and protect each and every one of us to the best of his ability like he did for the citizens of this city for eight strong years. And I will never forget him," said Commissioner Ramsey.
"Pat McDonald will be missed forever," said Mayor Nutter. "But he will never be forgotten by the people of this city."