Jennifer Garza, a journalist with boundless curiosity about life and deep faith in God who found her calling as a features and religion reporter for The Bee, died Monday of cancer. She was 50.
Mrs. Garza joined The Bee in 1991 as a features writer with a sharp eye for news, an immense knowledge of pop culture and a genuine interest in people and their lives.
She wrote about lifestyle issues that connected with readers and persuaded editors to start The Bee's popular book club as a way to reach diverse groups in the community.
A devout Catholic who attended Mass daily, she blended her personal and professional interests as The Bee's religion reporter for more than a decade.
She covered spiritual leaders and followers, wrote about religious traditions and explored new trends, including the growth of mega-churches in the Sacramento region.
"When writing about religion, she was able to get beyond the theoretical level and write about it as real life," Catholic Bishop Emeritus William K. Weigand said. "Her stories came across as human and authentic and meaningful in the lives of people she was writing about and the lives of readers."
Mrs. Garza's stories were among the mostly widely read and discussed on The Bee's website. Although she often reported on controversial subjects including same-sex marriage and sexual abuse by clergy she was widely respected as a fair, knowledgeable and sensitive reporter.
"She always went the extra mile to understand and report the truth about religious issues," said founder Metwalli Amer of the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims. "She wrote about people and their faith with objectivity, accuracy and a personal touch that really interested people."
Mrs. Garza wrote with compassion about people and their spirituality. In 2005, she wrote a series of stories about Weigand and Dan Haverty, a Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District assistant chief who donated most of his liver to save the bishop from a terminal disease.
The series, published at Christmas and called "The Gift," won the national Wilbur Award in 2006 from the Religion Communicators Council and first place in the Health and Fitness category at the 2007 Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards.
In 2008, Mrs. Garza won the Wilbur Award again for "Lifetime Calling," a series of stories that focused on the Rev. Uriel Ojeda's first six months as a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento. The series also won the Excellence in Journalism award from the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Ojeda, who went on to serve as a parish priest, is now awaiting trial on charges of child molestation in Woodland and Redding.
Jennifer Bojorquez was born in 1962 in San Jose to a home-remodeling contractor and a stay-at-home mom.
The second of five daughters, she started writing stories in first grade and grew up with a lifelong commitment to family and faith.
She graduated from Branham High School in San Jose and enrolled at San Jose State University. She worked as an intern and met news photographer Mike Garza at a local TV station.
They married in 1983 and moved to Sacramento, where she earned a journalism degree from California State University, Sacramento. She had twin sons with her husband, who is a Channel 10 (KXTV) news photographer.
Mrs. Garza was a woman of tremendous faith in God and loyalty to family and friends. Unlike many in her tough profession, she never lost her sense of compassion for others and optimism about life.
She blushed at salty language and responded to newsroom jokes with gleeful laughter that pierced the buzz of ringing phones and conversations.
A voracious reader, she kept up with current events in major newspapers and spent hours at home "with everything from People magazine to Shakespeare," her husband said. She was a sports fan who grew up watching boxing with her father and enjoyed tennis on TV. She knew the top box-office movies each week and enjoyed popular TV shows, especially the Fox thriller series "24."
"Every week after an episode aired, she'd stop by my desk to talk over the new cliffhangers: 'How do you think Jack's going to get out of that?' " Bee copy editor Kathy Morrison said. "Funny coming from the religion writer, but she had so many facets."
Born: Feb. 1, 1962
Died: Dec. 10, 2012
Survived by: Husband, Mike Garza of Sacramento; sons, David and Aaron Garza, both of Sacramento; parents, Edward and Dolores Bojorquez of San Jose; sisters, Cynthia Bojorquez, Yvette Rodriguez, Yvonne Adamson and Melinda Bojorquez, all of San Jose
Services: Funeral Mass, 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Anthony Catholic Church, 660 Florin Road, Sacramento