Father David Garcia celebrates 40 years of priesthood
May 15, 2015 | posted by Carol Baass Sowa
Father David Garcia celebrates 40 years of priesthood
Father David Garcia, whose boundless passion and enthusiasm for a variety of priestly assignments over the years has aptly earned him the “Energizer Bunny” moniker, celebrated 40 years in the priesthood on March 20 at St. Luke Church. Concelebrating the Mass were Bishop Gerald Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino, Father Virgil Elizondo and Msgr. Michael Boulette, in the presence Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Amarillo John W. Yanta, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Thomas J. Flanagan and many fellow priests, family members and friends.
Reflections and thanks for Father Garcia’s work began with Father Elizondo’s homily, which referred to his “priestly heart,” noting that while he had accomplished many wonderful things, Father Garcia had always held his greatest honor to be that of “priest of Jesus Christ.” “I have thanked the Lord for your priesthood on many occasions,” said Archbishop Gustavo to Father Garcia at the final blessing, noting his genuine love of the local church and its history. “I have fallen in love with the Archdiocese of San Antonio because of you,” he said.
At the dinner which followed in the church hall, the opening prayer was given by Sister Charlene Wedelich, CDP, who thanked the honoree for not hiding his many gifts “under the bushel basket, but sharing them with all of us.” Master of ceremonies, Father James Barlow, pastor at St. Luke, recalled camping trips with him in their younger years and introduced Msgr. Michael Boulette, who had known Father Garcia since they were teenagers.
Explaining he had been asked to speak of his friend’s ministry from the point of view of a fellow priest, Msgr. Boulette began by expressing gratitude to Father Garcia’s parents, now deceased, who played not only a large part in their son’s life, but in the lives of himself and their fellow seminarians. “I know they are still with us in spirit,” he said.
He described Father’s Garcia’s priesthood as being one modeled after Jesus Christ. “Those of us who have known you for decades, David,” he said, “know beyond any reasonable doubt that you have met this Lord and he is the reason why your priesthood has meant so much to us.” His priesthood has also been dedicated to the faithful, he observed, noting, “We have watched you love the people of God with your whole life.”
Lastly, as a member of the ordained priesthood, Father Garcia has evidenced his devotion to sacred duty, Msgr. Boulette related, administering the sacraments to the faithful and ministering to all with whom he comes in contact. “To each of us, you have decided we are precious — children of God, an image of Jesus,” he said. “We thank God for you, and you for the journey of faithfulness.”
Father Garcia’s five sisters — Becky De Leon, Anna Elizondo, Virginia De Los Santos, Letty Nolan and Sylvia Garcia — stood together at the podium to speak about their brother. They told of coming from a family who prayed the rosary together daily and noted Msgr. A.A. Leopold and the Brigidine Sisters at St. Paul’s Catholic School had been an important influence in furthering his desire to become a priest at a young age. Before recalling his accomplishments within the family and as a diocesan priest, the siblings could not resist gently ribbing him on being the family’s sole son, proclaiming in perfect unison, “Blessed are you among women!”
Referring to herself as “Father David’s right-hand man,” Diana Aguirre Martinez, Director of Development and Community Outreach for the Old Spanish Missions, Inc., then surprised Father Garcia with a towering, 4-tiered anniversary cake, trimmed in gold icing and featuring color photos from throughout his priesthood.
Lionel Sosa, a friend since Father Garcia’s days as rector of San Fernando Cathedral, rounded out the speeches by recalling the priest’s phenomenal fundraising abilities, having overseen the cathedral’s restoration, followed by restoration of missions Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada, projects involving millions of dollars. He accomplished this, said Sosa, “by stepping out of the parish and into the community, because he knows he’s got a great word to put out — the word of God, the word that must be heard by everyone.”
Last to speak was Father Garcia himself, who reflected on his 40 years in the priesthood. “We can live our lives in one of two ways, he said: As if nothing were a miracle or as if everything is a miracle.” He was there to testify to the latter, recalling how, as a 4-year-old, he had dashed across Houston Street, narrowly avoiding being hit by car which came to a stop inches from him. The driver had just come from having the failing brakes on her car repaired.
Thanking all present for “the miracle of your friendship,” he proceeded with a brief background of his life and the people who had shaped him. Due to a speech defect, he related, he was teased mercilessly by his kindergarten classmates and begged his mother not to make him go to school anymore. Instead, she took him the newly founded Harry Jersig Speech Therapy Center at Our Lady of the Lake College, where Sister Mary Arthur Carrow, a speech therapist, patiently worked with him for six months. “I haven’t stopped talking since,” he quipped.
Especially significant in his life and priesthood, he related, were his extraordinary parents, Dionisio and Emma Vela Garcia. Both came from the Valley and had roots that reached back to Spanish Colonial days. His father’s ancestors received a land grant from the king of Spain in 1750, which is still owned by their descendents. However, by the time his father’s family moved to San Antonio, they were struggling with poverty. Dionisio was the first and only boy in his family to go to college (thanks to an older brother’s help) and graduated from the University of Texas, Austin, as a pharmacist in 1941, a time when most of the Hispanics at UT came from wealthy families in Mexico or South America. Eventually he had his own business.
The roots of his mother’s family date to the 17th century, when her Italian ancestor, Juan Bautista Chapa, explored Texas with the governor of New Spain every year from 1686 to 1690. Father Garcia’s maternal grandmother was widowed while in her 40s in Port Lavaca, but managed to raise a family of nine on her own during the Great Depression, then went on to send all four of her daughters to UT in the 1930s, while the boys stayed home and worked. She was determined her daughters would never have to go through what she did. “We call her the first Hispanic feminist,” Father Garcia chuckled.
His father, he related, taught him to work hard, love family, maintain friendships, remain faithful to the church, have a sense of humor and never take yourself too seriously. “These are all probably the key that has served me the most in my priesthood,” he said.
His mother was involved in various parish organizations in St. Paul Parish and got him into everything from altar boys to Little League to Boy Scouts. “There’s something about mothers that stays inside of you all your life,” he mused. “I know I have Mom inside of me, and for that I am so grateful.”
He thanked the many family members who had traveled to be there that night for their part in his life and the priests, brothers and sisters who had taught him at St. Martin Hall, St. Paul, St. Henry and Notre Dame. “All of them helped to form me,” he said. The priests and sisters he has worked with have also left a lasting impression on him, he related, and he recognized the presence of Bishop Jerry Barnes, a close friend from seminary days, and remembered Archbishop Patrick F. Flores, whom he had served as secretary, calling him “my second father” and the one who showed him what true servant leadership and humility is all about. All men and women religious present were asked to stand and be recognized, as were past and present public officials.
Father Garcia related he was as excited to be a priest that day as he was at his ordination and on the day he entered St. John’s Seminary 52 years before – the place that formed his priesthood. “What comes around goes around,” he said. “I’m now part of the team that the archbishop has set up to work on a project to restore some of the buildings at St. John’s for future use related to church work and the missions.”
His final words were on the inspiration he receives from Pope Francis and thoughts of “the hundreds of millions of our sisters and brothers in need throughout the world,” along with a sobering thought on the need to encourage vocations. “In the next five years,” he said, “half of all the active priests in the United States will retire. We need to invite the best and brightest to consider this life today.”
The closing prayer was given by José and Mary Vasquez, the first couple at whose marriage Father Garcia had officiated. “Dear God,” they prayed, “we thank you for the spiritual presence of David’s parents, Dionisio and Emma Garcia at this celebration. They must be beaming with pride at his devotion and faithful service to you.”