At a Catholic Charities dinner several years ago, everyone was dressed up, except for Jan Bezila.
She was wearing sackcloth and ashes, a Biblical symbol of mourning and repentance, and held a sign calling for the end to sanctions in Iraq, remembered Ruth Putnam-Marchetti, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Livingston and Wayne counties and Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
“She was constantly a reminder of people who suffered through war and violence, and a wonderful prophetic voice,” she said.
Mrs. Bezila, a Brighton resident, a parishioner of Rochester’s Corpus Christi Parish and the upstate coordinator for Pax Christi, died of cancer July 24, 2007. She was 70.
Born in Calcutta, India, to a Swiss father, Mrs. Bezila and her family moved several times before settling in Johnstown, Fulton County. She and her husband, Tony Bezila, moved to the Rochester area in 1973. He said that as her children grew, Mrs. Bezila became more involved in activism. She often pressed the diocese to make peace a priority and in 2000 received the Vita Award for her support of life.
Carol Crossed of Rochester, a board member of Feminists Choosing Life of New York, said Mrs. Bezila was promoting justice and peace back in 1977 when they both met as parish social-ministry coordinators. Like Putnam-Marchetti, Crossed described Mrs. Bezila as a prophet.
“She didn’t point out all of the wonderful things that are happening in the world, or the good people in the world,” Crossed said. “She always asked the question why. Why isn’t this better?”
And Mrs. Bezila was willing to go to jail to ask that question. She was arrested on numerous occasions for civil disobedience as she protested war, abortion, nuclear weapons and world hunger. She was proudest of being arrested with a dozen other people on Ash Wednesday in 2003 for protesting sanctions against Iraq just prior to the U.S.’s second war with the country, her husband said.
Friend Vivian Right Meyer, a parishioner of St. Bridget Church in Rochester, said Mrs. Bezila inspired her to stand up for her beliefs, even if it meant getting arrested.
“I would express my fears of that, and she was fearful also, but she still did it,” Right Meyer said.
In the early 1990s, Mrs. Bezila reinvigorated a local Pax Christi chapter and soon inaugurated the Mass at the Gates, a monthly Mass held outdoors at the Rochester Armory, her husband said. Afterwards, the Bezilas hosted speakers and a post-Mass dinner at their home. Tony Bezila said plans are being made to continue the Mass in the future.
In addition to her husband of 43 years, Mrs. Bezila is survived by her sons, Stephen and Kieran; her sister, Elizabeth (Frank) Peters; and many nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her son, Michael.
A funeral Mass was held July 28 at Corpus Christi Church. Interment was in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Memorials may be made to Catholic Relief Services, 209 W. Fayette St., Baltimore, MD 21202, or to the House of Mercy, 725 Hudson Ave., Rochester, NY 14621.