Father Edwin Alexander Ortiz, 35, has spent most of his life in service. He served at his parish and a cemetery in Queens, as a U.S. Marines medic in Japan and in the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C.
Through it all, whether he wanted to admit it or not, God was inviting Ortiz to another brotherhood of service: the holy priesthood.
Father Ortiz recalls first feeling the tug on his heart and mind when he was 12 years old. He remembers waiting in church for Mass to start and watching the priest get ready. He thought about what would it be like to be a priest. Then the thought went away.
He served at the altar of his home parish, St. Mary Star of the Sea – St. Gertrude, Far Rockaway, and offered his help. But the priesthood was far from his mind when he was a senior at Bishop Loughlin Memorial H.S., Fort Greene, deciding what to do next.
Then, one day, when he was cleaning up after Mass, Father Fulgencio Gutiérrez offered to express his thanks to Ortiz and another altar server with a pizza. The teens accepted the offer and got in the car with the priest, when Father Gutierrez had another idea.
The Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston, was having an open house for young men considering the priesthood, and perhaps the youths would like to go, Father Gutierrez suggested. Ortiz’s friend was considering the priesthood at the time, and so Ortiz agreed to go for his friend’s sake. That was a stressful time in his life. He wanted to choose a path he and his family would be happy with. The Lord listened to Ortiz during Holy Hour at the open house, and the two had a deep encounter. Creator and creature bonded in a deeply spiritual way.
“I had never had such an experience as that before,” Father Ortiz said of the event.
For the rest of the day Ortiz felt love.
“I fell in love with the place,” Father Ortiz said. “It felt right. It felt like it was where I was supposed to be.”
At that point in his life, Ortiz felt another call, that of the Navy. The branch offered to put him in its nuclear program. Ortiz decided that he could not accept that offer, because, for one, he thought he was too clumsy.
So he enrolled in the seminary. He figured that even if he decided against being a priest, at least he would earn a degree.
A couple of years later, when he was playing basketball with his peers, he collapsed. He was rushed to the hos-pital. The doctors diagnosed him with arrhythmia and performed surgery. He would need several more surgeries.
He decided to take a year off to recover and recuperate. The year stretched. Ortiz found a girlfriend, and they were thinking of marriage. He did odd jobs: at a supermarket and at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village.
He finally decided to enroll in a nursing program. And he loved it.
That’s when the Navy came back into the picture. It could help him pay for his education and offered an opportunity to do good. He decided to go for it, under the impression that he would be stationed close to home.
Then received his assignment: on a Marine boat in Japan.
That was too much for his relationship. They broke up and he went off to retrain as a Marine.
Father Ortiz remembers the boot camp fondly. It was intense training during the day, but then he and his fellow recruits were allowed to enjoy the beach in the afternoon.
Once he got to Japan, it was all go-go-go. The Marines offered medical help off the boat in Japan, and the work was never done.
Though he liked the camaraderie and the good he was doing, there was some-thing missing. There was no priest aboard the ship. Meaning there were no sacra-ments to sustain him and no one to offer him spiritual guidance, something he had taken for granted at home.
Then he received news that forced him to slow down and reflect: A friend of his died in Afghanistan. Ortiz stopped to think about his life, his heart condition and his decisions, and he allowed himself to hear that call which the Lord had placed in his heart.
Of course, there wasn’t much he could do about it then. He had to finish his contracted service.
When he returned stateside, Ortiz was posted in Washington. The pace of his life became a little easier, and he had access to the Church again.
In Washington, he joined the March for Life. Before the vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, he prayed to God to make His intentions clearer.
Ortiz felt the call but also felt unwor-thy. He didn’t believe he was suited to give anyone spiritual direction.
Then, sitting in a crowd of thousands of people, he felt God was speaking direct-ly to him through the lips of the cardinal during the homily.
The homily reflected on the wedding in Cana and the Holy Mother’s command-ment to do as He says.
The 29-year-old warrior began to cry. “I knew this whole time I was resisting,” he said.
Before his contract with the Navy ended, he returned to his home diocese to witness the ordination of his friends. Seeing their faces confirmed what he now knew: this was his call, too.
Upon finishing his obligation to the Navy, Ortiz re-enrolled in the seminary.
It wasn’t easy. He missed his life and friends in the capital. His wandering days were over; he knew which service God wanted him to be in. Still, it was difficult.
What rejuvenated him was his sum-mer assignments at Our Lady of Sorrows in Corona. The parish is nonstop with 12 weekend Masses. It was a speed he was more comfortable with. Except this time, he had plenty of spiritual support from the priests in the parish.
Through all his twists and turns Ortiz had a loving and supportive family. He is the youngest by far of the six children of Juan and Juana Ortiz.
His first Mass of thanksgiving will be on June 2, 2 p.m., in his home parish of St. Mary Star of the Sea- St. Gertrude.