My Testimony about Bishop Francisco Garmendia, by Tommy Terzi

Bishop Francisco Garmendia was my Spiritual Director. Through the friendship of Tony and Lillian DeFeo (two very dear friends of the bishop) that’s how I met the bishop. They thought I should meet him, and ask him to be my Spiritual Director!

Lillian called him, and next thing I knew, I was in his office. We spoke a while, bonded a little, and he said he would pray about it. I was about to leave when the bishop asked me if I could hang this picture for him. Next thing I know I’m hanging the picture. “Nice job, ” the bishop said.” Then he said, “I have some other pictures you could hang, the next time you come.” The next time!!?  (Betty Cleary, the bishop’s secretary thought and laughed to herself, “This poor guy doesn’t know what he’s in for” she told me later on.) “Does that mean that you’ll be my Spiritual Director?” He said, “Well it looks like that’s what the Blessed Mother wants.”

How blessed was I.

We became best of friends in so much as he once turned and said to me, “Tommy sometimes you’re like my son, and sometimes you’re like my brother.” I could have died happily right then and there. I loved this man, and became his “right-hand Man,” as Betty was his “right-hand Girl.”  Between ALL the work that had to be done, the three of us still managed to have fun.

Here we were working with a male Mother Teresa! Thanks be to God he’s finally resting with the Lord—-finally Resting. We all look forward to seeing him again, when it be God’s Will.

Talking about working with the bishop, let me tell you about the first “big job” he sentenced me to, I mean—gave me. He asked me one day as we were walking down the front steps of St. Thomas Aquinas, if I would turn around and look up at “that space” over the doors. Didn’t I think that a nice statue of our Blessed Mother, looking over the Parish, would fit there very nicely. (He knew I was friends with a man who owned his own statuary) I told him, “Bishop, do you know what that would take to do?! ”  “No, but you know!” Who could EVER say no, or decline anything that Bishop Garmendia would ask of you—and boy, he took full advantage of it. You never knew what you were getting into, or where it would take you to! So allow me to fast forward and tell you what happened.

I called my statuary friend and told him what the bishop wanted. Without hesitation he said, “Tommy, I’ll donate the statue, ( a five foot statue of the Blessed mother, and he would have it painted) but you have to pay the painter, and he’ll give you a break.” Next, I found a carpenter who would install the statue——no charge—-and install he did! Praise God, and thank you Mother Mary! So, that’s how the statue of the Blessed Mother came to be sitting atop the church, looking over the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas. Amen.

On to my next adventure—-off to Cuba with the bishop and Pope John Paul ll. Yes, the bishop invited me to go along with him to Cuba as sort of an unofficial sidekick. It was a holy thrill of my life! One day he was invited to Castro’s palace for lunch with the Pope, cardinals, and other bishops. He tried to get me in with him—-but couldn’t swing it. He told me when he got back to our room, he would share with me—-and he did. He met with Castro, and Castro tried to impress the bishop with scripture he knew. (Castro had been schooled earlier in his life by the Jesuits) He asked the bishop, after having finished quoting scripture; “Well what do you think of that my dear bishop?” Without missing a beat the bishop replied, “Too bad Fidel, you would have made a good Jesuit.” A big smile spread across the bishop’s face after he told me that. I told him, “Only you bishop, could have gotten away with that, what did he say?” “He just shook my hand and gave me a smile.” I was going to ask the bishop a few questions, however I saw he was tired so I asked him to just tell me one more highlight of being here in Cuba. Without any hesitation he said, “Seeing the faith, hope, and spirituality in the eyes of all the people.” The people of Cuba left an indelible mark on the heart of the bishop, as did the people of Mexico, when we pilgrimaged to Mexico to be with Pope John Paul ll, along with the cardinals and bishops.

On one occasion while visiting Guadalupe, we wound up 1 inch from the glass covered Tilma of Guadalupe. What an experience that was! The bishop and I just stared at the image of Our Blessed Mother on the Tilma, as Juan Diego must have stared at her. We looked at each other, smiled, said a prayer, and off we went to Santiago where the Holy Father was offering a Mass for the people. We were amazed when we arrived at the area where the Mass was to be offered. A simple stage had been erected in a huge field as far as the eye could see, filled with thousands of people as far as the eye could not see! Bishop and I sat about 10 feet away from the Holy Father. I was filled with awe and humility between being this close to the Pope and the thousands of people, and of course my Spiritual Director—-His Most Reverend Archbishop Francisco Garmendia.

There are too many stories to mention here, like always praying to St. Joseph for a parking spot whenever we had to go to Manhattan——we always got one and never had to pay for parking! Most memorable though, was when he wanted to introduce me to Mother Teresa! Mother was in her convent in the South Bronx, and asked the bishop to please come over and offer a Mass for all the Sisters. So I went along—–met Mother Teresa—–she wrote on a piece of paper, “God bless you, Sister Teresa.” That’s how humbly she signed her name. I put that precious piece of paper in a small gold frame which is above my desk, and I’m looking at it right now. How blessed I was that day to be in the company of two Saints——-Mother Teresa and Bishop Garmendia. At times I ask them to intercede for me, as I will ask them to intercede for you.

May God and Mother Mary bless us all.

Thank you for letting me share.

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