In Memory of a Beloved Man . . . Most Rev. Richard J. Garcia, Bishop of Monterey
By Joan Steele, Administrator, Mission San Antonio de Padua (8.2018)
My very first memory of this wonderful man began on a bright Sunday morning as he arrived to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation with our six Confirmandi at Mission San Antonio de Padua. He immediately captured our attention and our hearts as he genuinely honored the decision of these youth to confirm their faith as an important step in their journey to adulthood. On many occasions since then, Bishop Garcia returned to the Mission to celebrate Sacraments and participate in our Celebrations.
In 2010, when the Campaign to Preserve Mission San Antonio was born, Bishop Richard J. Garcia became a willing and enthusiastic founding Board Member. Concerned for all the parishes in his Diocese of Monterey, Bishop ardently supported the fundraising efforts to restore and stabilize the seven California Missions located within his jurisdiction. He shared with others his love for these historic treasures that play such an integral part of our state, national and religious history. We were thrilled to have Bishop Garcia celebrate Mass at our Founder’s Day celebration on July 14, 2013. When the California Mission Riders arrived on horseback, the Fall sun setting behind the foothills, Bishop was once again here to welcome them to the Mission and invite them to evening prayer. Acceptance and hospitality, two traits that stood out in Rich’s character.
As we, the people of the Diocese of Monterey fell in love with our Bishop, he, too, fell in love with us. Be it beautiful babies, small children at school, teens, parents, single adults, grandparents, migrant workers, the rich and the poor, those trying to flee the tentacles of gang affiliations, lives of crime or the pain of human trafficking, the elderly and the lonely, this man cared for all of us, prayed for each of us.
Meeting Bishop “Rich” was a blessing that continued to grow as we, as a Diocese, came to know him more deeply on a daily basis. His gentle, compassionate manner welcomed those around him to open up their lives and their spirits, inherently sensing that he would take care to accept and understand them. We came to enjoy Bishop’s kind heart, quick wit and sparkling humor. Serving God and His People was not merely a job to this man, but rather, described a fundamental quality of his innate personality.
In April, 2018, it was announced that Bishop Garcia had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Having previously been through the progression of this disease with two family members, I assumed we still had several years to enjoy our relationship with our beloved Bishop. Following the suggestion from Diocesan Staff, we penned a family letter to Bishop Rich to let him know how much he meant to our family. I don’t know if he ever got to read it, but will share it with you now . . .
Dear Bishop Rich,
Please know that you are in the Steele family’s most fervent prayers. Joan and I, along with Kate, Brendan, Sean, Michaela and Jessica want to thank you for your presence in our lives and for all that you have done for our family and our parish at Mission San Antonio de Padua.
Prior to your appointment as Bishop of Monterey, we believed that our dear Mission would be closed. The Mission’s spiritual connection to all those who live or have lived in or near the valley of the oaks for more than two centuries would come to an end. We prayed that this would not happen and our prayers were answered with your appointment as Bishop.
I read somewhere that Pope Francis, when he was a bishop in Argentina, would look first to the shoes of his pastors upon meeting with them. If they were scuffed and dusty, he would know that they had been out among the people, serving them as they should.
We vividly recall the first time we met you. It was the first confirmation at Mission San Antonio that had taken place in a good long time. We were in the front of the church telling the Confirmandi how to behave around a Bishop. We told them you would likely arrive with an entourage, sent to assist you. We instructed them to call you “Your Excellency” and to bow and kiss your signet ring.
While still relating all this protocol, we noticed a tall gentleman entering the front doors of the church. As the sun was shining behind his back, he was in silhouette as he walked down the aisle. Drawing closer to the altar, we realized the man was wearing a clerical shirt with Roman collar, black slacks and incongruously, a red plaid flannel shirt. He approached us, extended his hand in friendship and said, “Hi, I’m Rich.”
We knew right then that you were going to be a different kind of Bishop than we had ever known. Your genuine love for God’s people shines forth from your compassionate eyes and your spirit-filled actions. Looking back now, we also, for whatever reason, had noticed that day, that your shoes were scuffed and dusty.
You dear Rich, are a wonderful and sincere example of what we have all been called to be. For us, you exemplify the Gospel and the teachings of our Lord Jesus. We love you and wish you the joy and comfort that comes from knowing that God is holding you in the palm of his hand.
Yours in faith,
Kevin, Joan, Katie, Brendan, Sean, Michaela and Jessica Steele
Bishop Garcia truly wanted to see our Mission retrofit/restoration complete and how I wanted to be able to give him that gift before he passed. Now, I ask each of you reading this memorial to consider giving a gift to the Campaign in his honor. Please help us to complete this worthwhile project so that the Mission can remain open to the public for many generations to come. I know, deep in my heart, that Bishop will know and smile.
When Bishop Rich used to visit the Mission, he would always ask to see Rosario, our special, holy cat. Bishop loved Rosario and shared his story with numerous people. He always told me, “I’m going to confirm that cat one of these days.” As many of you already know, we lost Rosario last October after a valiant fight for his health.
Knowing our sweet Rosario, I’m sure that when Richard Garcia reached the pearly gates, Rosario was there, sitting at the foot of a magnificent olive tree, watching and waiting for him.
So, we circle back to where we began. “Hi, my name is Rich.” Yes, how rich you were in spirit and love, and how much richer we are for having known you.
Posted on Sun, August 26, 2018
by Joan Steele