Father John Jazwiecki's last words were to his best friend, a fellow priest.
"I appreciate so much all that you're doing for me," he said, before leaving for his room at a St. Petersburg retirement apartment Oct. 9.
Hours later, Father Richard Colbert emerged from his own room and discovered Jazwiecki, 82, had died. They had known each other for more than half a century.
"He was always like my older brother," said Colbert, 73. "He looked out for me my whole life."
Jazwiecki and Colbert shared an ordination date, Feb. 2, 1964. They worked side by side at parishes throughout the United States, most recently at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Tampa.
A few months ago, Jazwiecki started having trouble breathing. Colbert encouraged him to see a doctor. Even though Jazwiecki was a longtime smoker, the words lung cancer were a shock. Colbert made his friend meals and drove him to appointments. He bought a night-light to help Jazwiecki, who had trouble sleeping, navigate the dark.
"Losing him is tough," Colbert said. "He was an inspiring man."
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Jazwiecki served a year in the Army, and then began studying for the priesthood in the order of the Society of Mary. His first assignment was to teach at St. Peter Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio.
Colbert taught there with him.
"When we first started, he was very organized and disciplined, which I think came from the military," Colbert said. "He stayed organized but over the years, he became much more of a people person."
Jazwiecki served the order in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Cleveland and Atlanta. He visited Tampa after Colbert took a position at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Jazwiecki liked the area so much, he decided to call it home. Both men were semiretired and lived part time at the Tampa parish and part time in a St. Petersburg retirement home.
Jazwiecki spoke most Sundays at Our Lady. He knew the names of everyone in the congregation. They called him "Father Jazz."
"He was always working on his sermons," said his friend Helen Francisco. "He memorized every one of them."
When friends cleaned out Jazwiecki's room, they found file cabinet drawers filled with Christmas balls and ornaments.
"Jazz was the master of Christmas decorations," Colbert said. "He always had a different theme going, and he planned them years in advance."
The priest also enjoyed lifting weights, playing tennis and taking walks on the beach.
"People always thought I was the old man, and I'm 10 years younger than he is," Colbert said.
Memories comfort Colbert, who eagerly shares stories about the good old days with his friend. He is adjusting to life without a sidekick and believes they will see each other again in heaven.
He keeps reflecting on Jazwiecki's final words.
"Those words are really meaningful to me now, because he was saying thank you for being a friend to him," Colbert said. "He wanted me to know."
A funeral Mass is at 10 a.m. today at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 1711 E 11th Ave.