The Passing of a Dear and Blessed Friend

A small group of close friends, gathered around the bedside of our dear friend Bishop Francisco Garmendia knowing it would not be long before he would leave us. What can you do or what can you say?  He had already passed into that area of what is often referred to as the “Vestibule of Heaven.”  It was sad. He had been ill for over 4 years. His memory would fail him at times but not his faith and deep love of Our Blessed Mother. The Rosary was his companion as it had been all his life. Each of us remembered him from other days. To all, he was a shepherd, pastor, teacher and friend.

Then an unexpected friend arrived. The beautiful worldwide traveling statue of Our Lady of Fatima which had come to Rosary Hill Chapel on the same day November 14th and was scheduled to leave in 4 hours. Before leaving however, She was brought down to visit Bishop. All knew of Bishop’s total devotion to our Lady, His Episcopal motto was “I am all Thine My Queen and My Mother and all that I have is Thine.” They knew each other well.

The statue was placed close to the bed and Our Lady looked down on him. She had on a beautiful jewel studded cape of white satin. The Dominican Sisters in their white habits accompanied Her and sang the beautiful “Salve Regina.” How could we be mournful, He was on the last lap of the journey and Our Lady came to tell us She would take care of him now, no need to worry.

On Tuesday, his condition remained somewhat the same however Sr. Helen Winters decided to stay with him throughout the night. Early on the 16th Sr. Kevin called to say that his breathing had changed and she did not expect him to last the day. When Tommy Terci and I arrived about 9:30 a.m. other friends were already there. Arlene Vega who moved to Panama last year was in Florida to attend a wedding the previous weekend and decided spontaneously to come to NY to visit him unaware of his critical condition He passed away quietly at 11:10 a.m. The entire Church was represented at his bedside. Sisters, Seminarians, priests and laity. All the Bishops were in Conference in Washington. Bishop Iriondo returned home immediately on hearing the news. Bishop’s sister, brother in law, nephew and 2 nieces arrived from Spain the following day.

The wake at St Thomas Aquinas was beautiful. There was such an outpouring of love displayed by his people as they came to him crying and carrying their Rosaries. He was their Monsenor and he had come home to them. The kitchen was in a flurry. All were welcome to come and eat. The Rosary was being prayed continually at the coffin. In the evening, the church was filled wall to wall at the Mass of the Eucharist. When it came time to close the church, close friends offered to stay the night and Fr. Nieto agreed.

On Tuesday, the Mass was held at St. Patrick’s. Cathedral and here again was a gift from Our Lady. Prior to the Mass, Bishop Iriondo spotted Mm. Ervita Granda, who works at Rosary Hill in the Housekeeping Department and asked her to read the Prayer of the Faithful in Spanish at the Mass. She was very close to Bishop. She was able to speak to him in Spanish and did so, oftentimes consoling him or at other times, he consoling her. Never could she have dreamed of speaking from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Bishop was laid to rest at Our Lady of Peace Mausoleum at Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Valhalla, New York. We thank God for the privilege of knowing him and ask him to intercede for us who are still on the journey. He was and will always be our Shepherd, spiritual father, teacher and friend.

We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to have shared in a minute way the ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. We have watched their care of the dying, their hospitality to the families, their love for the Lord, the poor and the dying. All who enter the Home speak of the atmosphere of peace and love that pervades. It is a credit to their Foundress Rose Hawthorne, daughter of the noted author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Pray that they may receive many vocations.

~ Friends of Bishop Garmendia