Being ordained to the priesthood and starting his ministry as a priest of the Diocese of Nashville won’t look exactly like he envisioned it a few months ago, but Deacon Juan Carlos Garcia is keeping a positive attitude.
“You have to work with what you have,” he said. Still, “I can’t wait to be able to hand shake and give people hugs,” he said. “I want to embrace people and tell them, ‘I’m here for you.’”
“This is especially hard on me coming from a Hispanic background,” he said with a laugh.
Deacon Garcia, who was born in Mexico City and moved to Nashville at age 10, has spanned two cultures since a young age, and plans to do the same as a priest.
“I’m hoping to be a bridge,” he said of his ministry. “I want to bring people together,” serving Hispanic and Anglo Catholics, as well as other international Catholic communities in the diocese, such as the Vietnamese, Korean and Filipino.
Deacon Garcia has chosen two priests to vest him at his ordination who represent his two cultures. Father Fernando Lopez, pastor of his home parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Nashville; and Father Dan Steiner, pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Donelson, where Deacon Garcia served as a seminarian, will help him dress in his priestly vestments at the ordination ceremony. “It’s a nice way to merge the cultures,” he said.
Deacon Garcia is planning to celebrate his first Mass in Spanish at Our Lady of Guadalupe on the day of his ordination, at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15, and his first English Mass at Holy Rosary at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16.
Our Lady of Guadalupe provided a firm faith foundation for the Garcia family when Juan Carlos was a teenager. Deacon Garcia’s sister was in the choir, and he joined the youth group.
“I definitely think that’s where the seed was planted for the priesthood,” he said.
Friends from the youth group asked him if he had thought about becoming a priest, but he wasn’t sure yet. “It was about two years later I formalized my discernment,” he said.
Like many young priests in the Diocese of Nashville, Deacon Garcia points to the late Bishop David Choby as a major influence and supporter of his vocation. “He was a very key person for me to say yes to the vocation.”
Deacon Garcia graduated from Stratford High School in Nashville and went on to attend Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas, and then Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. He just received his diploma from Notre Dame in the mail since their formal graduation ceremony was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deacon Garcia offered his thanks to the people of the Diocese of Nashville for their monetary support to pay for his seminary education, and for their prayers. “The prayers are what sustains us,” he said.
Deacon Garcia is currently settling in at his first parish assignment, at St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro. Deacon Garcia is looking forward to joining Father Edwuin Cardona, his friend from seminary who was ordained last year, and pastor Father John Sims Baker, a veteran priest of the diocese.
“I’m always open to learning from people,” Deacon Garcia said, and Father Baker “has lots of years of experience” to share.
Deacon Garcia is excited about his first assignment and ready to serve. “It’s the priest who is at the happiest moments of people’s lives,” such as baptisms and weddings, he said. “And it’s the priest who’s also with people at the saddest moments,” in the hospitals and at the funerals. “It’s always the priest who’s there,” Deacon Garcia said.
“How God manifests himself has always captivated me,” Deacon Garcia said, and “how God chooses the priests to bring forth his graces.”
Editor’s Note: Deacon Juan Carlos Garcia and Deacon Javier Suarez will be ordained to the priesthood on Saturday, August 15 at 10 a.m. at Cathedral of the Incarnation. Due to precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this is an invitation-only, ticketed event. It will be livestreamed at the Diocese of Nashville’s Facebook page, or listen on 100.5FM or at WBOU.org.