Fr. Fructuoso Garcia, who will leave Canada after 41 years on July 4, stands with pride in front of a large poster displaying the 2,000 phone numbers he’s memorized to gain publicity for his fundraising efforts that support churches in Latin America. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Ex-pat priest goes home

  • June 28, 2013

TORONTO - After 41 years of celebrating Mass in the Greater Toronto Area, Fr. Fructuoso Garcia is getting ready to hang up his collar and return home to Spain.

“On the fourth of July I escape forever and ever and ever,” said Garcia, 76. “We will see each other on the judgment day.”

He arrived in Canada in 1972 after refusing an assignment to Germany. Ordained on Dec. 30, 1962, Garcia spent a decade ministering in Spain before being asked to move to Germany.

“I didn’t go to Germany because the language is very difficult to learn,” he said.

In addition to Spanish, he spoke English and French, so Garcia convinced his superiors to send him to Canada instead.

He spent the first half of his Canadian career moving from parish to parish in the Toronto area.

During that time Garcia established a Spanish school called Escuela y Hogar Español through a joint-funding agreement with the Government of Spain. The school lasted about 25 years before closing in 1996 when an accident left Garcia with broken ribs, putting him and the school out of commission.

Two years earlier, Garcia had been assigned to a dilapidated St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church (Iglesia Catholica San Juan Bautista, to parishioners) on Dundas Street West.

“It was not possible to live in this church without renovations,” he said. “Everybody was in the sense of not coming any more because it was in ruins, practically in shambles.”

With a church in desperate need of repairs, declining numbers in the pews and a debt of more than $90,000, Garcia launched more than a decade of renovations, pouring $300,000 into parish. Poorer parishioners were asked to donate time rather than money.

“With the little money they gave we made miracles,” he said. “Now it is a very beautiful church.” But it wasn’t just the physical structure in need of repair, the parishioners needed work too. “We worked not only with stones and roofs and things but also with people,” said Garcia. For help, Garcia turned to a man he’d met 22 years ago in Mississauga, Jaun Lujan, and dubbed him the parish's social minister. When St. John the Baptist was back on its feet, the duo started helping parishes in Cuba, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

“He made a remarkable mark in my heart,” said Lujan. “Fr. Garcia helps a lot in trying to help people. I will be very sad when we are separated after many years of working together. He was a good friend for many many years.” Garcia is now looking forward to spending his retirement years on the family farm on the outskirts of Salamanca.

“In Spain I will be with my family ... it is easier to find more jobs (and) priestly speaking I have my companions over there.”

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