By TOM TRACY, Special to the Bulletin | Published May 28, 2015
MIAMI—When the economic recession of the early 1990s hit the Garcias in a personal way, the Miami family with Cuban roots on both sides was in serious danger of collapse.
“We went through some rocky times in our marriage when we lost my computer business, but what saved our marriage was an invitation to a charismatic group,” recalled Deacon Carlos Garcia, who these days is a technology specialist at Christ the King School in Atlanta. He is also an ordained permanent deacon for the Atlanta Archdiocese since 2013.
In the 1990s, Garcia became a core member of the charismatic assembly at his Florida parish and eventually invited his wife, Dalila, a public school teacher, to join the weekly prayer group, “and that is when our relationship started really growing.” The two went on to establish a lively parish youth ministry in Miami, which soon included participation of their oldest son, Michael.
The youngster was already expressing an interest in the priesthood when he was still in middle school, but he respected his parents’ decision to at least finish high school before giving the matter too much weight. After making his confirmation and as he was finishing high school, he still talked confidently about a calling from God.
“He was 17 years old and he said to us, ‘Why prolong what God is calling me to do?’” Deacon Garcia said of his son, who along with five other men was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Miami on May 9. “He had always been an altar server and he said, ‘I am always my happiest when I am serving at the altar.’”
Although the rest of the Garcia family felt a calling to move north to the Atlanta area, where in 2003 they bought a house and took jobs in public schools, Michael attended the minor and then major seminaries in the state of Florida. There Michael credits his priestly vocation, in part, to a former pastor, then-Father Felipe J. Estevez, a fellow Cuban-American and since 2011 the bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida.
Father Michael Garcia, 26, is expected to visit his family in Georgia and celebrate Mass at 5 p.m., Saturday, May 30, at St. John Vianney Parish in Lithia Springs, and again at the same church at 10:30 a.m., Sunday, May 31.
Old family friends and previous pastors are expected to be on hand for the weekend, according to Deacon Garcia, who has been on the Christ the King School faculty for the past 11 years.
The Garcia’s younger son, William, lives in Atlanta, where he graduated from Georgia State University and is now a graphic designer working for a local marketing firm. William, who is 24, still serves as an altar server at St. John Vianney, and Dalila Garcia is a lector and Eucharistic minister there.
“I was recently telling both of my sons that they both set out to accomplish something and they both excelled at it,” Deacon Garcia said. “I am more in ecstasy over Michael’s ordination and everything he is participating in right now than I was over my own ordination.”
“It is a feeling that I cannot express, and it must be God who is lifting me up—the whole event and the whole celebration and unity of the community is so beautiful. I hope I stay in this high for a long time,” Deacon Garcia said.
Sometimes the Garcias are asked in Atlanta why their son is a priest for the Miami church, or asked in Florida why the senior Garcia is a deacon for the Atlanta church and the two men like to joke that they are holding up both geographic ends, and keeping spiritual tabs on the middle turf, too.
Deacon Garcia thinks his son will make a fine priest who has a gift for speaking the truth to people but in a gentle, thoughtful way, which aims to build up the local church. Michael, he said, was always known for finding something good in popular culture and has a knack for examining popular films such as the “Lord of the Rings” series for Christian themes.
“He has always been the quiet type, who used to build things with his hands, and likes creating something. That now relates to his ministry and how he wants to build up the church, the body of Christ that fills the (church) buildings.”
As for the unique father-son vocational relationship, Deacon Garcia said he is personally aware of only one other family with a permanent deacon whose son was later ordained a priest: Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor for the Atlanta Archdiocese, and his son, Father Dennis Dorner, a priest of the archdiocese.
On a personal note, the Garcia parents said they have not been back to Cuba since leaving as very young children with their parents in the early 1960s. Deacon Garcia said he is not inclined to return to the communist island until there is full freedom of worship and respect for human rights there. Pope Francis is set to visit Cuba Sept. 19-22 prior to making his first U.S. visit.
“I am dying to see where my parents are born, and to go to the baseball stadium and to visit the beach: my whole family is from the famous Varadero Beach, a touristic area in Cuba,” Deacon Garcia said. “If God doesn’t permit it, there is a reason, but there is always hope. I would love to visit Cuba.”
And although he is busy with job and parish responsibilities, Deacon Garcia said he still finds time to be with the local charismatic renewal activities especially for the Spanish-speaking Catholic community. He is set to give a talk to his parish charismatic ministry in June, and he facilitates at one or two other charismatic activities annually.
“Even though I don’t participate as much as I like to, I have that in my heart and anytime I am asked to pray over sick people, I have in my heart not a dry kind of prayer, but one that is all Holy Spirit-driven.”