People of the Year: Garcia: He Takes the Helm of the Diocese of Monterey

By Victor Calderon
The Salinas Californian
December 29, 2007

In his first year as bishop for the Diocese of Monterey, the Most Rev. Richard Garcia has taken on often controversial issues including immigration and gang activity, topics not commonly addressed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Garcia, the former auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Sacramento, has met with residents to address what can be done. He visited churches, schools, migrant camps, prisons and youth facilities, talking with people who want to make a difference in their lives and in the community.

In July, Garcia called on grandmothers, who have a strong influence on their grandchildren in the Latino community, to help steer young people away from gang influences.

"I've tried to be a visible presence, but I think I can do more on immigration and gangs," he said.

Richard Garcia, the new Bishop of Monterey, sings Jan. 29 during a Vespers service.
Photo by Scott Macdonald

Garcia was installed Jan. 30 in a multilingual ceremony in Monterey. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Garcia in December 2006 to succeed the Most Rev. Sylvester Ryan, who retired after 15 years with the Monterey diocese. Garcia became the second Latino serving as bishop in California and the fourth bishop of the 40-year-old diocese.

The diocese covers the counties of Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo and San Benito.

Garcia said when he started his duties, he focused on moving forward with personnel decisions that had been delayed as the church awaited a new bishop.

"(Bishop Ryan and I) are very much alike in our vision for the church," he said, "but I felt a need for us to move even further to address the people's needs."

Garcia said he is proud to have visited with diocese members at most of the 46 parishes as well as elected officials and community leaders. He's held listening sessions with area clergy, adults and youth, and said he plans to do more in the coming year.

"It's been uplifting meeting the people in the region," Garcia said. "I take my role seriously: If I'm going to be a true shepherd, (I have) to listen to all people and their true concerns."

Fatima Dias, a parishioner at the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo in Monterey, called the bishop a wonderful successor to Ryan who has done great work bringing in new ideas.

"I think Bishop Garcia has come into his position with a really inclusive attitude," said Dias, the director of marketing and communications for United Way Monterey County. "He is enthusiastic and has a great dream for the future of the diocese."

Focus on youth

The bishop said he is worried about area youth and wants to focus on education. To that end, he said, he'd like to see a Cristo Rey school established in east Salinas.

The Cristo Rey Network is a national association of high schools that provide Catholic, college preparatory education to urban youths who live in communities with limited educational options. It has school sites nationwide, including Sacramento, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Throughout the year, Garcia celebrated Mass for agricultural workers and voiced concern over the possibility of immigration raids.

"I want to see people have the joy and peace they need in their lives in this country," he said. "I want to make sure everyone feels a part of this family in the Diocese of Monterey."

Garcia presided over several funerals, including the Nov. 30 service for county Supervisor Jerry Smith at the Carmel Mission. He attended other services, including that of Anthony Narigi, 21, of Salinas, who died after a vehicle crash following the July 22 MotoGP races at Laguna Seca.

Garcia said he's encouraged by an increase in people aspiring to the priesthood. In the past year, the diocese has seen an increase from four to 11 seminarians, men on the path to becoming a priest.

Forward with faith

In Gonzales, he said, he'd like to see a full restoration of classes at St. Theodore's parish. He also wants to connect parishioners from the north part of the diocese with the south.

"I look with a lot of hope in the next year," Garcia said. "The (Catholic) Church (as a whole) went through the priest abuse scandal, and we need to get back going, and the only way we can is with the faith and spirit of the people."

Contact Victor Calderon at


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