WYCKOFF HEIGHTS — It was their chance to say goodbye.
Parishioners flocked to St. Brigid Church on Saturday for a Mass for the repose of the soul of Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay, their beloved late pastor, on the first anniversary of his death from complications of COVID-19.
Father Jorge, as his parishioners called him, was the first Catholic priest in the U.S. to die of COVID-19. He died on March 27, 2020, at the age of 49.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was the principal celebrant at the bilingual 11 a.m. Mass, one of four Masses taking place that day at St. Brigid to remember Father Jorge.
“It is hard to believe it has been one year since the passing of Father Jorge. And the time of this pandemic, as it continues, does not seem to be coming to an end anytime soon,” the bishop said in his homily.
Bishop DiMarzio described Father Jorge as “a good and saintly priest” who fulfilled his duty as pastor of St. Brigid.
Father Carlos Velasquez, the pastor, called the anniversary “a sad day in the life of our parish.” The pandemic caused “deep pain” in the community, he said. In addition to Father Jorge, the parish lost approximately 100 other people to COVID-19.
Pictures of the beloved late pastor stood on either side of the altar. On one side, a large framed photo of Father Jorge had been lovingly placed between two large vases of flowers. Another picture stood on the other side of the altar beneath a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a nod of respect to Father Jorge’s Mexican heritage.
Father Jorge was also the director of the Mexican Apostolate of the Diocese of Brooklyn. He was the driving force behind the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s annual diocesan celebrations, a major holiday for Mexican Catholics.
For parishioners, Saturday’s Mass was an opportunity to pay tribute to a man who led them in their spiritual journeys and brought them closer to God.
“He helped my family a lot. We were going through tough times, and he really helped us,” said Geoffrey Tigsi. “And I know he helped me. He encouraged me to get more involved in the parish.”
Because of Father Jorge’s encouragement, Geoffrey joined a youth group at St. Brigid.
His family had a difficult time coping with the pastor’s death. “My dad took it really hard. We all were shocked. It was so sudden. We didn’t have a chance to say goodbye,” he said.
Cecilia Reyes, a lector at St. Brigid, said Father Jorge was like a father figure to her.
“He encouraged me to be a lector. I didn’t know if I should. I was young, and other people thought I was too young. But he kept telling me I’d be good at it,” she said. She became a lector at age 20.
She read a Scripture reading at the Mass — a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans in which he tells the faithful, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31.)
Cecilia is also a Catechist and enjoys teaching the faith to children. “It’s all because of Father Jorge. He pushed you. But he pushed you because he wanted the best for you,” she said.
In his homily, Bishop DiMarzio noted that in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus reminds his disciples that “In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places.”
“Today, we are assured that Father Jorge, who has preceded us, has undergone already his period of purification and enjoys his place in the Father’s house,” the bishop said.
“We pray for him, and we ask him to pray for us that we too may enter the Father’s house when our time comes,” he added.
After Communion, a group of parishioners, each holding a white rose, approached the altar. One by one, each person brought the rose to the side of the altar, where a woman received each rose and gently placed it in front of the picture of Father Jorge.