Anoka deacon: Despite barriers, God called

| April 23, 2015 | 1 Comment
From left, Nube Hurtado Nieto, Wilson Naranjo Romero, Deacon Ramon Garcia and his wife, Suzanne, pray before a pre-marriage session at St. Stephen in Anoka. The Garcias meet regularly with both engaged and married couples. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Nube Hurtado Nieto, Wilson Naranjo Romero, Deacon Ramon Garcia and his wife, Suzanne, pray before a pre-marriage session at St. Stephen in Anoka. The Garcias meet regularly with both engaged and married couples. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Deacon Ramon Garcia’s father died when he was young. At age 17, he started working to support his family in Mexico.

He was going to college at the same time, and watching his friends get married and beginning their adult lives.

“I had questions in my life at that time,” he remembered. “I tried finding my place in life. I needed a break, and a friend and cousin who lived in the United States said, ‘Come for a year.’?”

He was 21 at the time.

Twenty-six years later he is still here, married with three children, and an ordained permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“My intention was to stay one year,” Deacon Garcia said. “God has another plan.”

When he first came to the United States he worked in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant and began volunteering in youth ministry at Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, a parish in south Minneapolis that serves Spanish-speaking people.

“I felt hungry to volunteer,” Deacon Garcia said. “It’s an opportunity we didn’t have in Mexico. Something moved inside of me to volunteer.”

A veteran in Hispanic ministry in the archdiocese, Deacon Carl Valdez was among those who mentioned the diaconate to Garcia. Father Lawrence Hubbard, who has long served the Hispanic community in the Twin Cities area, encouraged him, too.

“In Mexico, we didn’t have this vocation,” he said. “I was hungry to learn more about what it meant to be a deacon.”

He and his wife, Suzanne, a teacher at Our Lady of Peace School in Minneapolis, were already taking part in the archdiocese’s Institute of Christian Life and Ministry, a faith formation program for adults, when the director of the diaconate, Deacon Rip Riordan, invited Garcia to apply for deacon formation.

“I felt many barriers — language, age, culture — but I felt God called me,” said Deacon Garcia, who was younger than most diaconate candidates. “There was a little fear, but Suzanne and I prayed about it and we decided to apply.”

For the Garcias, the diaconate has led to a full and fulfilling life. Since his ordination in 2008, Deacon Garcia and Suzanne have continued to work together just as they did at Sagrado Corazon.

They’ve been active in marriage preparation, Marriage Encounter, natural family planning promotion, small faith communities and eucharistic adoration. Now at St. Stephen in Anoka, they’ve taken on family catechesis, which this year involves 27 young people and 48 parents who meet with Deacon Garcia every Sunday.

Witness to miracles

“One of the richest things in my life,” Deacon Garcia said, “is to participate in parish life and to see couples who at one time were into drugs and domestic violence become leaders in the community. I say they are miracles, because they are now working with other couples in Marriage Encounter.”

He gives credit to the Holy Spirit for moving four or five couples to sacramentalize their marriages after living together for 12-15 years, and he sees the fruit of the strong relationships he and Suzanne have built with married couples.

“The community has become a family,” which fulfills one of immigrants’ deepest longings, he said.

One man told him, “I’ve been here for 10 years in the United States; I feel alone. I couldn’t find a community, and that made me feel alone, and now I feel I have a family,” he recounted.

Thanks to that family feeling, couples in the Hispanic community find godparents “not among their relatives,” Deacon Garcia said, “but among their new friends.”

He wishes, though, that more resources were available to help all those who seek his aid.

More hands needed

Garcia points to the woman who said she was embarrassed to ask for help but had nowhere else to turn when her washing machine broke and her roof was leaking, and to the woman from Honduras who came to St. Stephen to pray, and who shared with him that she and her children needed a place to sleep and the help of a lawyer for their immigration issues.

He has been in immigration court testifying on behalf of a refugee who said she came to the United States because she and her children had been threatened with death if they didn’t work for drug dealers.

He confided that he often sneaks away for an hour of eucharistic adoration at St. Bonaventure in Bloomington near their home, because when he tries to pray at St. Stephen, “within 10 minutes I get the tap on the shoulder — ‘Deacon, there’s someone here to see you.’”

He simply said, “We have many limitations to how we can respond to these huge needs of the families.”

Encouraging more young men to learn about the diaconate is one solution, he added.

“To be a deacon, for me, is to be a person that is engaged and has close relationships with many families in the community, serving them, supporting them,” Deacon Garcia explained.

“The great thing is to have them discover their relationship with God. When they start to live the sacramental life, this is a great thing, a beautiful thing.”


For more information

Requirements to become a permanent deacon

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