Story by Reagan Scott
DAVEY (SNR) - On Sunday, Aug. 20, members of St. Mary Parish in Davey surprised organist Mary Tvrdy with a party to celebrate her 45th anniversary of playing at the church.
When Tvrdy earlier mentioned that August would mark 45 years since she had started playing at St. Mary, choir director Karen Gokie knew that she should do something to celebrate the occasion.
Starting in June, Gokie and a committee of choir members got together to begin planning.
“Our goal was to overwhelm her and really surprise her,” Gokie said.
While Tvrdy regularly plays at the 8 a.m. Mass on Sundays, the choir needed a way to get her to the 10 a.m. Mass for the surprise to work. She agreed to “cover” music for that Mass, and was none the wiser.
On the day of the surprise, the members of the choir all came up to the choir loft five minutes before Mass started. Up until that point, Tvrdy thought that she was going to play the organ at Mass, but was sent down to the front of the church to sit with her husband while the choir sang a special Mass for her.
During the offertory, the choir sang a song that Tvrdy had written years ago that a choir member had happened to save a copy of. Then, after Communion, a quartet sang one of Tvrdy’s favorite songs, “Ave Verum Corpus Natum” acapella.
“It was a lot of fun for the choir,” Gokie said.
As the anniversary of Tvrdy’s playing was close to the date of the parish picnic, the committee decided that the two should coincide.
At the event, they were able to present Tvrdy with a series of gifts including a binder with letters from pastors who had been at St. Mary during her years of playing the organ. The binder also included letters from parishioners that Gokie had collected in the weeks leading up to the surprise.
Gokie was also able to have parishioners sign a poster thanking Tvrdy for her years of hard work, and included a specially-made plaque, commemorating her 45 years of service to the church. Parishioners had submitted prayers to be included in a spiritual bouquet which they gave to Tvrdy along with a real bouquet of flowers.
Then, the choir presented Tvrdy with a framed Papal Blessing from Pope Francis that one of the choir members was able to acquire through a connection in Rome.
“I was overwhelmed,” Tvrdy said. “I was just astounded.”
As a final touch, the choir members had a gluten-free cake made that Tvrdy could enjoy at the picnic.
While she said that she isn’t easily surprised, Tvrdy admitted that the party caught her completely off-guard.
“The Holy Father says to be grateful for little surprises, but this was a big surprise. I don’t know how they kept it from me,” she admitted.
For Gokie, planning the surprise party seemed like a “no-brainer.”
She said, “Tvrdy’s been so dedicated to the parish. She plans the music and plays for all of the Masses, weddings, funerals and other special occasions. It’s wonderful to get a chance to thank somebody for all that they do.”
According to Tvrdy, when new pastor Father Patrick Barvick had asked how long she had been playing the organ, he couldn’t believe that she had started 72 years ago when she was 8 years old.
Tvrdy began playing the organ for Mass when the pastor at her parish in Omaha, Father James Morin, asked her to play, even though she had only started playing the piano three years before.
Ever since then, she’s made an impact on churchgoers every Sunday.
“Tvrdy has brought beauty to our Mass every Sunday for 45 years. She’s been a real blessing in our parish,” Gokie said.
Tvrdy too has been positively impacted by her time in Davey.
She said, “I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be in Davey. I’ve been able to enjoy the people, their growth and how well they praise the Lord.”