Sunday, November 6, 2022

Bishop Francisco Garmendia, My Pastor, Mentor and Best Friend

Bishop Francisco Garmendia: A Man of Faith and Service

Bishop Francisco Garmendia was a remarkable man who dedicated his life to serving God and his people. He was born on November 6, 1924, in Lazcano, Spain, a small town in the Basque Country. He felt a call to the priesthood at an early age and joined the Canons Regular of the Congregation of the Most Holy Saviour of the Lateran, a religious order founded by St. Augustine. He was ordained a priest on June 29, 1947, and served as a missionary in Argentina for many years.  

In 1975, he moved to New York and became a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He was appointed as the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in The Bronx, where he ministered to a large and diverse Hispanic community. He was also the Vicar for Spanish Pastoral Development, overseeing the pastoral care of more than one million Spanish-speaking Catholics in the archdiocese.  

On May 24, 1977, Pope Paul VI named him as the Titular Bishop of Limisa and Auxiliary Bishop of New York. He was ordained a bishop by Cardinal Terence Cooke on June 29, 1977, becoming the first Hispanic bishop in New York. He continued to serve as an auxiliary bishop until his retirement on October 30, 2001. He died on November 16, 2005, at the age of 81.   

Bishop Garmendia was a man of deep faith and devotion. He had a special love for the Eucharist, Our Lady, and the Divine Mercy. He encouraged his flock to pray and adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, to honor Mary as their mother and queen, and to trust in God's mercy and forgiveness. He also had a strong pro-life conviction and defended the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death. 

Bishop Garmendia was also a man of social justice and compassion. He was aware of the needs and challenges of his people, especially the poor, the immigrants, the oppressed, and the marginalized. He advocated for their rights and dignity and supported various initiatives to help them. One of his most notable achievements was co-founding The Hope Line or La Linea de la Esperanza in 1990, a non-profit organization that provides counseling, referral, food pantry, diaper distribution, SNAP benefit enrollment, virtual taxes, financial literacy workshops, and other services to the South Bronx community. The Hope Line was born out of Bishop Garmendia's response to the Happyland Fire in March 1990, which killed 87 people in an illegal social club in The Bronx. Bishop Garmendia and Mr. James P. McLaughlin, President of United Parcel Service, led an effort to establish a bilingual telephone hotline to assist the survivors and their families. The hotline soon expanded into a comprehensive community assistance program that still operates today. 

Bishop Garmendia was a holy priest and bishop who left a lasting legacy of faith and service in New York and beyond. He was a true man of God who loved God and his people with all his heart. He is now being considered for beatification and sainthood by the Catholic Church. I will remember his sense of humor, smile, humility and dignified presence. He was my pastor, my mentor, and my best friend. He is missed dearly but is with the Lord and Our Lady whom he loved so much.  May he pray for us and inspire us to follow his example of holiness and generosity.







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