2005-05-20 / Top News

Father Rey Garcia To Join Island Community

By Jessica Delaney

Father Rey Garcia will be assuming many of Father Jim Williams’ responsibilities at Ste. Anne’s. A self-described nature-lover and adventurer, Father Rey says the most important things in his ministry are protecting human dignity and encouraging natural human warmth.
Father Rey Garcia will be assuming many of Father Jim Williams’ responsibilities at Ste. Anne’s. A self-described nature-lover and adventurer, Father Rey says the most important things in his ministry are protecting human dignity and encouraging natural human warmth.

As the pastor at Ste. Anne’s Catholic Church, Father Jim Williams, begins shifting more of his time to parishes on the mainland, the daily business and all the masses here will be performed by Father Rey Garcia, SJ.

Fr. Jim will continue to serve as Ste. Anne’s pastor, but will be covering St. Ignatius Loyola in St. Ignace and Immaculate Conception parish in Moran, filling in for the ailing Father Mike Rhoades.

He say’s he is ecstatic that Fr. Garcia has been assigned to Ste. Anne’s.

“I was always a happy pessimist,” said Fr. Jim. “He’s a joyful optimist and a really holy man.”

Fr. Rey Garcia has been coming to the Island for the past five summers and has assisted with the Spanish and Phillipino masses.

Born in the Philippines just before World War II, Fr. Rey’s childhood was engulfed in a world of violence. He grew up learning to hide in foxholes and to protect his sisters from enemy soldiers.

“My childhood was only a glimpse before the war,” said Fr. Rey. “I grew up so fast.”

Even after liberation, when the Americans stepped in, the situation was not easy. As a child, Fr. Rey was bullied and threatened, but he said that the violence never changed him into a violent person.

At the age of 15, he immigrated to America, arriving with questions and doubts and with little self-esteem. But thanks to the country and to the people, he said he was able to regain the lost confidence.

“I found out that America is lovely. I conquered myself.”

Fr. Rey attended Iowa University for his undergraduate work and joked that he enjoyed taking diversionary classes such as home economics so he could meet girls. For graduate work, he moved to the University of Michigan on a scholarship.

Immediately after graduation, he hoped to work in the New England states, but instead ended up at a hospital in Louisiana. There, he worked mostly with lepers for the United States Department of Public Health and Education.

“Our biggest job was educating the public because of the stigma. We meant to incorporate them, not isolate them.”

It was during his work at the hospital that he became interested in the priesthood and enrolled at Notre Dame. He chose the Jesuit order because his brothers had attended a Jesuit school and, at home in the Philippines, Jesuit priests were his families spiritual advisors.

In 1972, Fr. Rey served as a missionary in Brazil and the warmth of the Brazilians strengthened his resolve to become a priest.

He was called back to the United States in 1976 and was ordained, but his stay in America was short-lived, as he returned to the Philippines to care for his elderly parents. He remained there after their deaths, until the violence became too much to bear.

“It was so painful when you see your people killing each other,” he said. “There was violence both on the right and the left. And there was the fact that I was alone.”

Returning the U.S., he worked with AIDS patients at a Chicago hospital, went back to Brizil briefly, then moved to Tampa, Florida, before entering the Gaylord diocese.

Fr. Rey is excited about his opportunity to work on Mackinac Island. He pastored at four churches in the Gaylord area and is pleased that he will now have the chance to settle down to a single parish.

A nature-lover, Fr. Rey has already begun planting flowers around the rectory. He said that gardening is calming to him, and that he writes his sermons while planting.

“I’ll work in the garden, talk to the trees and birds, sing a song,” he said. “I’m not afraid to dirty my hands, to plant some flowers. That’s probably my trademark.”

All existing programs at Ste. Anne’s will continue, and the new priest is hoping to have the opportunity to begin some new ones as well, including more music with the Hispanic population and possible group dance.

“The important thing is forming a community, getting to know each other,” said Fr. Rey.

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