By Sean Chaffin
At this time last year, Ed Sebesta (pictured) took a seat in Maryland Live! for his first WPT event. Fairly new to poker, he’d only been playing a few years. That first attempt turned out nicely for the 75-year-old Texan from the Houston area. He finished 11th for $26,543.
Many players might dream of a six- or seven-figure score to add some bling, a new car, a house, or even some fresh cash for the bankroll. Sebesta, who retired in 2010 after selling a successful RV dealership, has another goal – donating his net winnings to the Holy Cross Order of Catholic priests. The congregation was founded in 1837 and has affiliated groups around the world.
For Sebesta, the efforts are deeply personal. His son Andrew attended Notre Dame University, founded by the order in 1842. After completing degrees in chemistry and history, Andrew felt a higher calling and entered the seminary to become a priest. However, Andrew was diagnosed with a brain tumor while studying in the seminary. He was ordained but passed away in 2012 at age 39 after only a few years in the priesthood.
This year at Live! Casino, Sebesta is hoping for an even bigger finish with even more hopefully heading to Holy Cross. Heading into Day 2, Sebesta sported a stack of 177,700.
Card Playing for a Cause
In April of 2016, Sebesta notched a score at a Heartland Poker Tour event in Kansas City. He took 12th for $9,227, a nice finish for a player new to the game. Shortly afterward, he and his wife attended a Holy Cross retreat held at Notre Dame for supporters of the order. They had always given to the congregation, but Sebesta felt he could do more.
“We had owned a business and sold it and money really wasn’t an issue,” he says. “I got to thinking that I don’t really need the money that I win, so I’m going to donate my net winnings.”
Fate can work in strange ways. After that decision, the cards just seemed to fall his way. In 2017, the first three HPT tournaments Sebesta entered ended with a final table appearance including two scores of $25,000 and $32,000. That continued with more cashes throughout the year.
Through his poker winnings and regular giving that year, he was able to send $80,000 to Holy Cross and then another $60,000 in 2018. His WPT Maryland winnings were a big chunk of that. In July of this year, he finished sixth in a $1,100 event at the Venetian for $45,183 but is hoping the WPT Maryland kickstarts a bigger run.
“This year, don’t ask,” he says of his year so far in 2019. “I have really been on a cold streak. I’ve only cashed three times this year, and actually entered more tournaments and cashed a lot less.”
Hold’em Goals for Holy Cross
As part of their donations to Holy Cross, the Sebestas have set up an endowment and the order uses those funds for infirmed and retired priests. He’s thankful for the care and compassion the order showed toward his son.
“When Andrew got the brain tumor, they took care of him really well for seven years,” Sebesta says. “They’d send him down to Houston for checkups at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. They spent a lot of money on him, so I don’t mind helping them if I can.”
Sebesta remembers Andrew as a humble, quiet man. He was also intelligent but saw a different path for his life – in the service of others. After graduating third in his high school class, he’d planned on attending Rice University. Sebesta graduated from the University of Texas, but Andrew then decided to attend Notre Dame instead.
His father majored in chemical engineering and Andrew chose that also. However, he also added a history degree his junior year, which would later fit well with attending seminary. It can take as many as eight years for seminarians to officially become priests.
“He finally was ordained, but six months before he was ordained they found the tumor,” he says. “At that time we really didn’t know how serious it was going to be. The good news was I think he was where he was supposed to be.
“He wasn’t a pushy leader, but he had a good sense of humor. When he had his first operation, we had a really good brain surgeon. That night when he was recovering, he asked the surgeon what was the difference between a priest and brain surgeon? His answer was, ‘A priest tries to give you peace of mind and surgeon tries to take a piece of your mind.’”
Despite battling cancer, Andrew was able to work as an associate pastor for a time in Colorado Springs. After his death, the Sebesta family was inundated with letters and cards from members of his parish in Colorado. The local Knights of Columbus at the church even renamed their chapter in Father Andrew’s honor a couple of years ago.
“Somehow he was able to connect with people,” he says. “We got so many compliments. He must have made an impact.”
This recreational poker player now has a bigger goal and is playing with his son in mind. He hopes to cash in a tournament for at least $100,000. That would bring yet another opportunity to donate an even bigger amount to the Holy Cross, a group that has meant so much to him. Sebesta adds: “It keeps his memory alive.”
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.