Interview with the Auxiliary Bishop: Getting to know Bishop Daniel E. Garcia
Editor: On Jan. 21, Pope Francis appointed you the first auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Austin. What does this appointment mean to you?
Bishop Garcia: First, I am very grateful to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for appointing me to serve alongside Bishop Joe Vásquez in this diocese where I was born and raised. For me, serving as auxiliary bishop provides me the opportunity to be of assistance to Bishop Vásquez. He, of course, will continue to shepherd the Diocese of Austin, and now with my help, we can be present to even more segments of the population throughout Central Texas.
On a personal level, as auxiliary bishop, I am beginning to understand what it means geographically to serve a larger group of people. As a pastor for many years, I was accustomed to serving a local parish, which was very small geographically. Now, first as vicar general and even more so as auxiliary bishop, I am meeting more people and serving more people from across the diocese as I attend various events and serve on committees.
Editor: You have mentioned before that you value the advice and guidance of several priests, who you consider your mentors. Tell us a little about that.
Bishop Garcia: In the 26 years I have been a priest, I have had wonderful examples of priests and bishops, young and old, living and deceased, who have modeled for me what priestly service is. They, as well as the people I have served, have enabled me to be the priest I am today. I am especially grateful for the love and support of all of my brother priests in the Diocese of Austin.
Over the years, I have worked with many priests, who I consider mentors. It’s probably kind of like when you become a parent for the first time and you turn to your friends who already have kids to ask questions and seek advice. Well, in many ways as a priest, I have often turned to my fellow priests for their advice and support. I have also been blessed to work closely with several bishops, all of whom have traits that I really admire. Each of them has modeled for me, in their own ways, the role of a bishop and how he serves his people. As I take on this new role as auxiliary bishop, I hope that I can glean from them a little bit of what I admired about them and I hope I can bring that to my role.
Editor: Tell us about your childhood.
Bishop Garcia: I was born in Cameron, which is a small town in Milam County about 30 miles southeast of Temple. My family actually lived in Waco for five years until I got ready to start school. My parents wanted me to attend Catholic school, so we moved back to Cameron so that I could start at St Anthony’s Catholic School, which was connected to St. Monica Parish. As a family we attended Blessed Sacrament Parish in Cameron, which was later destroyed by a fire.
Our faith was central to us as a family. Our grandparents instilled in us the importance of our faith and of serving others. On a daily basis, they exemplified Jesus’ call to love God and to love our neighbor.
My extended family was very large, thus in happy times and in times of crisis family support was always present. Likewise, growing up in a small town like Cameron, the faith expressions of the various cultures –– German, Czech and Hispanic –– were a blessing to me.
Editor: How long did you attend Catholic school?
Bishop Garcia: I attended St. Anthony’s Catholic School, which was run by the Divine Providence Sisters out of San Antonio, for five years from 1966-71 until the school closed. Then my sisters and I went to public school. It was a big change to go from Catholic school to public school. Since I had played baseball from the age of 6, I knew a lot of my classmates, which helped to ease my transition from Catholic to public school.
Editor: Tell us about your discernment for the priesthood.
Bishop Garcia: Like every young person, I had lots of ideas of what I was going to do with my life. I always said I wanted to become a doctor, and the idea of living a vocation in the church was not something I envisioned for myself. The priests who I knew well always encouraged me to consider being active in the church and open to God’s call. There were moments in my high school days when I remember priests asking, “Why don’t you go to the seminary?” or “Would you consider the seminary?” I quickly dismissed those questions because the priesthood was not on my radar at the time.
After a couple of years of college and then returning home to work at the local hospital, at the age of 21 or so, I began to ask myself some tough questions. It was at this time, I realize that my heart was much more open to exploring the priesthood. I naturally became more involved with the church as a young adult. Undoubtedly, my pastor at that time, Msgr. Louis Pavlicek, helped me to seriously consider the possible call to the priesthood. I always admired how Father Pavlicek worked and served the people of various cultures. He was a friend and a mentor who was always ready to listen to the questions I had as a young adult, including those I had on the priesthood.
I vividly remember the day I mentioned to Father Pavlicek that I was seriously considering the priesthood. It was very difficult to admit to myself that a possible call to the priesthood was stirring in my heart. I could no longer ignore the quiet yet persistent question from God, “Will you just give it a try?”
After I finally admitted to myself that this desire was growing inside me, it was actually a relief to say, “I am not sure I’m going to be a priest, but I am going to give it a try.” And now, ironically, more than 30 years later, here I am. Obviously, God had a plan for me and ultimately I had to be open to God’s plan.
Editor: You have been a priest for 26 years. It’s obvious you enjoy your vocation. When you celebrate Mass, there is joy and love for the Eucharist and for Christ. How do you maintain that?
Bishop Garcia: I think a priest must work to maintain a strong relationship with the Lord. This may sound funny, but my relationship with the Lord is no different from any other person who seeks a relationship with God. In fact, the priesthood does not guarantee a strong relationship with God. As a priest, I cannot help bring others closer to God if I don’t continuously work on my relationship with God –– I cannot give what I don’t have.
My relationships with the people I have served –– the laity –– have invited me to strive to be closer to Christ. Being a priest has allowed me to enter the lives of many wonderful people sometimes through moments of sadness and conflict but also in times of great joy. Through the loving presence of people, I have experienced the love of God.
Editor: With the new role comes more responsibility. How do you prioritize your prayer life?
Bishop Garcia: It’s not always easy, as I stated before, I too have to carve time in my daily schedule in order to listen to God. I jokingly have said to other brother priests that I always thought I was a person of prayer yet when Bishop Vásquez asked me to be vicar general of the diocese last March, I quickly realized I needed to pray more!
As my responsibilities have increased, I find myself praying even more. I have always encouraged lay people who are so busy to make the time for a few minutes throughout the busyness of the day to sneak away and pray. I have learned the importance of making the time to be quiet and listen to God.
Editor: Tell us about your dog, Micah.
Father Garcia: Yes, I have a little schnauzer named Micah who is about 6 years old. I got him as a puppy, and he has been a great comfort to me over the years. At the end of a long day, he sits with me and simply appreciates my presence. He is great company.
Editor: Describe what a typical day looks like right now.
Bishop Garcia: Well, my day here at the Pastoral Center begins at 9 and usually with a morning meeting with Bishop Vásquez. We go over the day and discuss the details of the topics at hand and how they should be prioritized. Then I usually have several meetings throughout the day as well as private appointments, phone calls and staff updates.
At noon, I often celebrate Mass here at the Pastoral Center, then I try to sneak away to get a bite to eat. I run home for lunch and visit with Micah a little bit, and then I come back and resume meetings and appointments.
The day ends usually about between 6 and 7 p.m. when I go home to rest. My weekly schedule may be altered a bit based on evening events that Bishop Vásquez may ask me to attend. In the months ahead, I expect to be attending more events on Friday evenings and Saturdays and Sundays. I look forward to visiting more parishes and celebrating Masses throughout the diocese.
Editor: Tell about the call you received from the nuncio when he told you that you would we the auxiliary bishop.
Bishop Garcia: Well, it was Monday afternoon and the day had already been very, very busy. I was returning to my desk and my administrative assistant, Janice (Ingram), said “Father Danny the Secretary for the Nuncio is on the phone and would like to speak with you.” I paused and said, “For me?” and she said, “Yes for you.”
She had received a similar phone call when my predecessor, Bishop Michael Sis, was appointed bishop of the Diocese of San Angelo. I knew by the look on her face that this was serious. So as I closed the door and walked to my chair I just began to pray because I knew my life may be about to change. We greeted one another and then he said, “I have news for you. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has named you auxiliary bishop …” At that point I could feel my heart beating outside of me. Then he said, “of Austin.” And in all honesty, I was surprised and relieved. I sincerely love this diocese and I enjoy the people that I serve, people who I have come to know over the years; therefore, I was glad to be able to continue serving here.
Then I double-checked that he had said “of Austin” and he chuckled and said, “yes.” I thanked him and accepted the appointment. The nuncio was very affirming, and actually once I said yes the fear and the nervousness subsided. Serving as the auxiliary bishop of Austin is certainly a blessing for me personally, to my family, and I hope to the Diocese of Austin. I sincerely look forward to working with Bishop Vásquez and working with my brother priests to serve the people of God.
Editor: What is your episcopal motto and how did you choose it?
Bishop Garcia: My episcopal motto is “Walk humbly with God,” which is from the book of the prophet Micah (6:8). This has always been a favorite passage of mine because God invites us to take on a sense of humility as we journey through life, thus adhering ourselves more and more to the ways and heart of God. We are all on a journey, and we must never forget that God is with us through thick and thin. We must also remember that everything we have is gift –– our lives, our faith, the people we encounter –– God has given all of this to us. A truly humble heart helps us to realize how awesome God is.
Reflecting upon these last few weeks prior to the ordination on March 3 has made me very aware of how I have been blessed –– particularly, in the relationships I have made over the years. I realize I am not deserving of the recognition I have been given, but for me this has been a true lesson in learning to receive. My desire is that what I have received, I can share with others. Through my ministry and my life, I pray I can emanate the love of Christ to whomever I encounter.