Betty Cleary’s Remarks on June 29, 2011

Dear Friends:

Isn’t it a beautiful day and how appropriate to celebrate and honor our dear friend Bishop Francisco Garmendia who has a special place in heaven as in our hearts. A warm welcome to Bishop’s nephew and his wife representing the family members in Spain. Bishop entered so many lives in a casual way. He knew immediately what each one needed. Like Jesus the Good Shepherd, he loved his flock, called each by name, fed us with knowledge of God, gave us Hope and taught us how to minister to our fellow men. He was a Spiritual father, friend and confidant to all.

On September 8th 1964, I met Father Garmendia outside the Chapel of St. Peter’s Church in Yonkers. As a member of the Legion of Mary, I along with Eva O’Neill were assigned to visit the Hispanic families moving into our parish. Msgr. Voight, our pastor, anxious that their Spiritual needs be attended to, requested the chancery to assign a Spanish speaking priest, Eve and I continued to volunteer under Father Francis’s direction in various ways such as CCD, preparation for First Holy Communion, Christmas Shows etc. Eve, in time moved upstate. I continued to volunteer while working full time. Occasionally I would do typing for Fr. Francis. I became familiar with many of his Pastoral Ministries before and after his reassignment to South Bronx parishes, and eventually to St. Thomas Aquinas.

Early in June of 1977 Bishop called to say he had been called to visit Cardinal Cooke who presented him with a question: “Would he accept the Office of Bishop?” I interrupted him and said. “What did you do?” He said, “I cried,” and then the Cardinal asked me again and I said, “Yes, but please do not take me from my people and put me in an office.” Cardinal Cooke said, “No, you will never be taken from your people. Your home will always be at St. Thomas Aquinas.”

How proud we all felt at this great honor to our beloved pastor not only a Bishop but also the first Hispanic Bishop of the South Bronx.

In the Fall of 1984, I took early retirement from the Telephone Company. A few months later, Bishop called to say he had been Appointed by the Cardinal to be Vicar of the South Bronx and would need a secretary. I told him I had no experience as a Secretary. My knowledge of Spanish was limited but I had grown to know and love the Hispanic Community from my work with the Lay Apostolate. He knew this and so I agreed and began my work at St. Thomas Aquinas I have never regretted it.

What are some of my many memories?

Joys and sorrows become a part of every family. Fr. Francis became a part of my family during his three years at St. Peter’s up to his last days at Rosary Hill. He officiated at weddings, christened new babies, visited our sick and said funeral Masses for loved ones. Not just for my family but to all his people. How blessed we were to know him.

One of my oldest memories is of a nephew about l3years old. He stopped at our home after Mass and asked me very directly, “If Fr. Francis died today, he would go straight to heaven right?” He was so serious. I answered, “I think so,” but it stayed in my mind and in the years ahead it was confirmed by many people who felt as he did about Fr. Francis. He was special; he cared about each individual soul.

I remember Bishop telling this story many times: When he first came to the South Bronx he went out for a walk and met a gentleman who asked him where did he live. He answered, “I live in the South Bronx.” The man said, “Oh! The South Bronx, is the devil’s playground?” Father responded, “Oh no, you are wrong, we will make it Our Lady’s Playground.” And he did.

I think every Catholic in the South Bronx has a Rosary, a Miraculous Medal, or a Divine Mercy medal given to them by Bishop. They participated in Rosary Processions, Rosary Rallies, Legion of Mary Praesidiums, Home Consecrations to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Divine Mercy Devotions, Right to Life Marches etc., etc. What a beautiful testament of the faith of our good Pastor and his beloved Hispanic people.

He also served as Chaplain on Pilgrimages for the handicapped to shrines in Europe, St. Anne’s in Canada and The Holy Land. The Pilgrimages were founded by Mrs. Mary Varick who was healed of cancer of the leg at St. Anne’s. In thanksgiving she promised to take other handicapped on Pilgrimages in spite of the fact that she still suffered from the effects of childhood polio.

Bishop loved his priesthood. There are endless accounts of his promptness to visit the sick or the deathbed of one of the faithful no matter what time of day or night. How comforting for families to know that their loved one was safe in the arms of God who first gave them life.

Many of you have memories of Bishop. Write them down and send them to Fr. Labrado or Fr. Alexis at St. Thomas. God willing, in the near future, a history of the Catholic Church in the South Bronx will be written. There have been and still are many shining lights in our midst. Bishop was a close friend to many of them. Mother, Teresa, Fr. Cizek, a Fordham Jesuit who was in solitary confinement for 5 years in a German prison camp, Cardinal Cook, Cardinal O’Connor, Mary Varick some of whom are already known as ‘Servants of God.” We hope & pray for this recognition to be given to our Bishop Garmendia.

I am sure that Bishop is so proud and grateful to each and everyone who has placed so much love and effort in order to make this a memorable day in the history of the South Bronx and in particular St. Thomas Aquinas Parish.

One last request: Love, pray and offer your help to your new Pastor Fr. Labrado and Fr. Alex, your wonderful office staff, and the volunteer parishioners who worked so hard to make this event possible. Also don’t forget Rosa Graziani and Miriam Rodriguez along with the sick and those recuperating from surgery.

God bless you all and enjoy the rest of the evening.