Brooklyn Priest Reflects After a Year of Loss, Including of his Mentor, Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, COVID, Crux, Faith, Pandemic, Queens, NY, Saint Brigid

By Emily Drooby

2020 was a year filled with unfathomable loss for Father Joseph Dután. It started in March with a call from his mentor, Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay.

“He calls me and says, ‘Joseph, I don’t feel well,’ and at that moment, I knew something was not right,” Father Dután explained.

As the illness progressed, Father Ortiz-Garay was taken to the hospital.

“Every time we would call him he would say, ‘I’m doing well, but I’m losing more and more oxygen,’” Father Dután said. “Come Wednesday night, he tells me, ‘Joseph, the mask is no longer helping me, I think I’m going to need something stronger.’”

He told Father Dután, that if he should pass, at least he could celebrate Easter with the Lord.

The next morning, he was intubated and sent one last text to Father Dután.

“Pray for me and tell the parishioners to pray for me,” he said. “And don’t worry, I trust you.” Father Ortiz-Garay passed away shortly after.

“At that moment, not knowing what to do, how to react,” Father Dután said, “the first thing I did was run into the church, get down on my knees and pray and ask the Lord, what’s going on?”

Hours later, he lost a childhood friend. A week later, his dad entered the hospital and by May, his father passed away. Father Dután spoke about the moment he heard his dad was gone.

“For me,” he said, “that was like, the world just stopped for a moment.”

In the following months, he lost another mentor, Father Adnel Burgos, along with 90 active parishioners of St. Brigid Church.

It has been a year since those events. Everyday Father Dután deals with the grief, but he has also learned the importance of leaning on his family and his flock.

“God is good and people are great,” he said. “People will always be there for you and you always have to be there for your people. Open up your heart to them as they open up their heart to you – to walk with them, to cry with them, to laugh with them.”

The church community is also starting to heal. They were assigned a new pastor, Father Carlos Velásquez.

The community even started to grow and added more Masses. All this occurred in the middle of a pandemic – in what seemed like an impossible feat in an impossible year.

Even with all that happened, it was still a year that Father Jorge would be proud of.