One-Year Memorial

BY: Father Lorenzo Ato

Time passes rapidly in our lives. It was November 16, 2005 in which our beloved Bishop Francisco Garmendia was called to the house of our Holy Father. At his departure he left a grand legacy for the Church with special emphasis for our Hispanic Communities as well as in other non-Hispanic communities, for the Church of Archdiocese of New York.

Bishop Francisco Garmendia was born on November 6, 1924, in the house of Mendizabal of Lazcano, Guipuzka, in the region Vasca in Spain. Since the age of seven, he would help in the Mass at his local church. He received his sacred orders on June 29,1947.

One day, as we sat at the table to have dinner, Bishop Garmendia commented that when he was young, a local priest asked if he desired to be a priest. After giving the idea of becoming a priest much thought, he answered yes.

Afterward and following many years since his initial conversation with the priest, Bishop Garmendia was accepted at the Roman Catholic Order of Canons Regular of Premontre seminary 1935.

With much happiness, Bishop Garmendia told us of the day he was ordained on June 29, 1947. After some time, his superiors sent him to England to study English. From there he was sent to Buenos Aires where he studied chemistry. At his graduation, he was assigned to Salta, a northern province in Argentina. At the College in Salta he taught Chemistry and English.

In l964, Bishop Garmendia was sent to the City of New York to his first parish the Church of Saint Peter’s in Yonkers. There he began his significant work with the Hispanic community.

I first met Bishop Garmendia late in his spiritual and pastoral years. On October 1997, Bishop Garmendia was invited to serve as the main celebrant of the Mass of Our Lord of Miracles – a celebration that originated in Peru – at the Church of Saint Benedict in Manhattan. I preached that day together with Bishop Garmendia.

My early recollection of Bishop Garmendia is he was a very cheerful person who loved to tell jokes. At the end of the Mass celebration Bishop Garmendia said to me, “Lorenzo, you preach like the angels. Why don’t you come with me to Saint Thomas Aquinas church and work with us? ” I thought this was a joke, but he was very serious. I responded, “Of course Bishop, I would love to work with you. It would be a great blessing to work with someone like you, Bishop.”  The Bishop just cheerfully smiled. Ever since that day, the Lord united our abundant and rewarding ministries.

I knew Bishop Gannendia as a Holy Bishop with a good spirit for everyone. He was a great fighter for social justice and served within the community of Saint Thomas Aquinas as well as other communities. He was very dedicated to his ministry and he gave his heart, devotion, and life to everyone.

One year after Bishop Garmendia’s passing; his memorable ministry of generosity, service, and dedication still endures in our thoughts, in our communities and in our Church. I had the fortune to be part of his life, like a spiritual son. During our gatherings at dinner there was always a theme to share. Bishop Garmendia’s discussions were profound and filled with love for the Lord Jesus, Our Mother Mary, the life of all of our Saints, the doctrine of the church, and his deep love of the church, where he would deem Saint Thomas Aquinas as a part of the universal Church.

While sitting in front of Bishop Garmendia, I felt I was back in the old days of my seminary life. There was always an opportunity to learn of his life as a priest, as a bishop, and his experiences of giving to the poor. Bishop Garmendia had many who would follow him, and they would come to the church at all hours for his guidance, wisdom and assistance. Sometimes he would call me and say, “Lorenzo, help me.”  Afterward I would respond, “Bishop: What do I do?”  He would say, “Pray and the Lord will provide.”  Bishop Garmendia would proceed to assist the needy by going down stairs of the parish house or leaving the parish house to visit them by providing any form of assistance. At times, the Bishop would give me money and send me for food or clothing for those who were in need. At other times, I would have to deliver the food or clothing to the residence of the needy. I would gladly do it. All of this, Bishop Garmendia would do because of his love for Jesus and Mary.

Bishop Garmendia would respond to any request or inquiry with assertiveness and respect in any given situation that presented itself. He would do all of this as Jesus would do for the people marking his light for humanity through his love for every person under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I know his spirit is still with us. How can we not remember him at every celebration of the Eucharist as he would celebrate the Mass with personal devotion and love? Bishop Garmendia’s love was so profound when parishioners approached him requesting him to build an adoration chapel to the Blessed Sacrament he proceeded to do so. There, at the Chapel, Bishop Gannendia would spend hours and hours with the Blessed Sacrament. In his hands he would always carry a Holy Rosary and the Divine Office that he would never let go. It is my belief that the Blessed Sacrament strengthened and encouraged Bishop Garmendia to move forward with his pastoral ministry of service to the people, which increased the greatness of his love for God.

At the Church, Bishop Garmendia dedicated hours in performing Confessions to the people. He would say, “Lorenzo, the souls are important to the Lord. We have to save the souls for the Lord. That is the work God has commanded.”

In the collar of his jacket Bishop Garmendia would always display his Divine Mercy pin, where his miraculous love for God would transcend to all those who approached him for assistance. With his love, Bishop Garmendia would also dedicate himself to delivering the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the homes of the faithful.

Thank you, Lord Jesus for giving us an example of faith and witness through the life of Bishop Francisco Garrrendia. Those who knew him are in peace because he held his responsibility to deliver the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ everywhere.

Bishop Garmendia’s love inherited by God, guides and strengthens us in our passage as pilgrims as we enter the house of the Lord.

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