Father Paul D’Angelo speaks about Denise Praz and Joseph Mazur’s love story during the homily at their wedding at Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church in North Naples on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.
NAPLES, Fla. — Who might have imagined that Hurricane Irma, which brought such destruction on Collier Countyand across Florida in September, could also be a matchmaker?
Yet when Denise Praz and Joseph Mazur exchanged vows Dec. 15 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in North Naples, it was a marriage that probably would not have happened had Irma not pounded the county Sept. 10.
“If it hadn’t been for Irma, I don’t know if we’d be getting married,” Mazur said the day before the wedding. “Irma created this situation for romance.”
Praz and Mazur, both 79, widowed and spry and active residents of Bentley Village, an upscale senior residential community in North Naples, knew one another only casually before Irma.
They and about 400 fellow residents of Bentley Village’s independent living sector were evacuated to Orlando to evade the hurricane. Much of Bentley Village was damaged during the storm, so the group remained in a Hilton hotel in Orlando for about a month.
“It was like being on vacation,” Mazur said.
More: Nightmarish, destructive 2017 hurricane season comes to an end
More: Solid job gains expected after hurricane swings
Bentley Village is spread over 156 acres. In Orlando, they all stayed in relatively close quarters in the hotel. Much more social mingling took place there than at Bentley.
On their first night in Orlando, Praz and Mazur were among about eight who enjoyed happy hour together in the hotel lounge. They sat side by side and got to know each other a little.
The next morning, she was alone at breakfast. He joined her.
They found they enjoyed each other’s company. Over the next few weeks, they talked, they swam together, exercised together, took walks, went to Sunday Mass.
“We had a lot of personal time and realized we had a lot in common,” Mazur said. “It developed rather quickly. We are very comfortable. It feels very natural to be together.”
Praz agreed, saying: “I’m just always happy to see him. He’s very protective of me, which I like.”
Mazur, a 17-year resident of Naples, was previously married 53 years, Praz 57. His wife died in 2015, and he moved to Bentley Village the next year. Praz, whose husband died in June, has been a resident of the Naples area since 1992 and of Bentley Village for 17 years.
Now they will both live in her apartment, which has slightly more space than his.
Mazur had no inclination to get married again after his first wife died — until he and Praz became so in sync with each other in Orlando.
Praz, on the other hand, thought about remarrying almost immediately after the death of her first husband, who had been in hospice care on morphine and oxygen and was ill for so long that they lived in different sections of Bentley Village.
“I remember praying that the Lord would send me another good man, who was faithful in his life of the Lord and who wanted to marry again,” Praz said.
They have seven children between them, all in their 50s. There was a little grousing among the offspring over the speed with which their parents planned to marry.
“My daughter said, ‘I like him very much, Mother, but you just buried Daddy,’” Praz said about her daughter, Marisa. “I said, ‘This is right. I’m going to do it.’”
Although the feelings were strong before they returned to Naples from Orlando, the couple didn’t formalize their intentions to wed until they were back at Bentley Village.
“He said, in a very direct way, ‘Denise, I want you to marry me. Will you marry me?’ ” she recalled. “I said, ‘Yes.’”
Both are devout Catholics. Although they could not resist some kissing in the weeks before they wed, they decided not to sleep together until they were married.
At the church wedding, Mazur wore a dark suit with a red rose in his lapel. Praz wore a lace and silk ivory-gray gown and carried a bouquet of flowers. About 20 of their friends were in attendance.
“God, in his great wisdom, used Hurricane Irma to bring them together,” said the Rev. Paul D’Angelo, who officiated.
Moments later, the couple looked adoringly in one another’s eyes as they exchanged vows.
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2BW5AhY