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For the past 12 years, since he took leadership of Sedona’s St. John Vianney Catholic Church, Father Joseph Charles Ortiz spends one specific holiday away from his congregation — his birthday.
By Nate Hansen
Larson Newspapers

For the past 12 years, since he took leadership of Sedona’s St. John Vianney Catholic Church, Father Joseph Charles Ortiz spends one specific holiday away from his congregation — his birthday.

As one of the community’s highly-respected priests who direct the masses in religious celebration throughout the year, the last thing Ortiz wanted to do was confuse guidance with guilt.

However, what he and his congregation want won’t always mesh.

Enter Robert Zaworski.

Zaworski, like many other members of SJVCC, grew tired of Ortiz’s modesty and felt it necessary to honor “the man, the priest, the prize-winning author.”

It was apparent their priest’s annual absences — this year on the beaches of San Diego — centered around a special day he didn’t care to advertise. But after a dozen years of service, they felt he was due.

Zaworski, who spent six years in Las Vegas as an event planner before moving to Sedona, used his party preparation skills to surprise Ortiz on Sunday, June 24.

He asked Marcia Seevers, SJVCC’s director of initiation, baptism and Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults to assist him.

In turn, Seevers agreed, but she suggested Teri Bays, liturgy and music director, should also help.

“They [Seevers and Bays] had no idea they were also going to be included,” Zaworski said.

After the 8 a.m. Mass, everyone was invited for after-service coffee and cake.

Unbeknownst to Ortiz, the dessert was a red and white frosted chocolate birthday cake adorning the number “52.”

“Hey, I’m 46,” Ortiz said, smirking at the “52” highlighted in red.

Before echoes of the morning mass’s recessional could subside, the hymn of “Happy Birthday” elevated the sanctuary.

Afterward, a bit shy and certainly shocked Ortiz posed for pictures and signed copies of his book, The Sedona Gardens of St. John Vianney.

But it wasn’t only Ortiz who was honored, which made the cake — and age — easier to swallow.

Beside Ortiz’s cake, on another table, was Seevers’ blue and white frosted yellow cake

donning the number “60.”

They shared the same birthday — June 19.

And beside Seevers’ table was another displaying a third chocolate and yellow marbled cake for Bays’ birthday that very day.

As the trifecta was taken back, Zaworski smiled an accomplished grin.

In a proclamation set beside Ortiz’s cake, Zaworski wrote a passage dedicating the day to a man who dedicated his life to God.

“On the day of Our Lord, June 19, in the year 1955 Anno Domini, was sent upon this Earth in the humble town of Phoenix, Ariz., an earthly child who was to become a great leader. He blessed Mary Lou Ortiz and Joseph Ortiz with a son whom they named Joseph Charles,” Bays read.

“In Sedona, Ariz., he [Ortiz] brought forth a new Roman Catholic community called

St. John Vianney to life,” she continued.

Ortiz listened patiently, waiting for his retort.

“I’m passing down an edict to downplay the birthdays from here on out,” he joked.

Ortiz admitted he didn’t want to advertise the fact he wasn’t 46 years of age, but when asked if next year’s birthday cake could be frosted with “46,” Ortiz replied, “That’s fine.”

Wittingly, he changed the topic.

Before the 10:30 mass began, for which more birthday wishes were inevitable, Ortiz made sure Zaworski and accomplices would follow the church decree if he made it official.

The conspiring company listened, refusing to answer “yes” or “no.”

Ortiz smiled, then added a final sermon of few words.

“Next year, I’m 46,” he concluded.

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