Oblate School of Theology awarded the second OST Medal of Honor in its history to an employee who has lived the Oblate charism for many years and worked for the School for some 18 years.
The medal was instituted in 2016. Yolanda Garcia, administrative assistant for OST’s Institutional Advancement Department, received the medal from Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI, President of the School, May 4 during its Honorary Doctorates and Medal of Honor Recipients’ Dinner at the Whitley Theological Center.
“This award is the non-academic parallel to the honorary doctorate,” Fr. Rolheiser said. “That’s why we present it at Commencement. It’s the highest non-academic award that OST can give,” he said as he introduced Ms. Garcia’s daughter, Rebecca, of San Antonio; her son, Joseph and daughter-in-law Jeannette, of Houston; her sister, Ana Rosen, of Tamarac, Fla.; and her niece, Jessica Brodman; her great-niece Alexis Brodman; and her great-nephew, Vincent Colonna, all of Coconut Creek, Fla.
Honorary doctorates are awarded for extraordinary service to the Church; the OST Medal of Honor is awarded for extraordinary service to the School, the priest explained.
Ms. Garcia began working for the Oblates in 1967 with the Mary Immaculate League, forerunner of the Oblate Missions. She worked in the mail department and did other administrative tasks. Later, she worked for a Catholic newspaper, El Visitante Dominical, the Spanish-language equivalent of Our Sunday Visitor. The newspaper was subsidized by the Oblates and edited by Fernando Piñon, brother of Fr. Gilberto Piñon, OMI.
After that, she worked briefly for Oblate Missions, but then moved over to work at OST, where she handles a broad range of administrative tasks, Fr. Rolheiser said. She works in the Institutional Advancement Department and was the administrative assistant for the International Priest Internship for more than 10 years. She maintains the databasefor the School and for Mission Project Service, a new outreach of OST for missionaries around the world; she also runs the little bookstore for the School, sells OST merchandise, and works every major fundraiser and major event at OST.
However, the job isn’t everything, the priest asserted. “There’s also the heart, and it’s more for her heart that we want to honor Yolanda. For her, these past 50 years have always been a vocation more than a job. She has believed in and lived the Oblate charism, which can be summarized in five words or phrases: the poor, the cross, Mary, community and simplicity. These five things have characterized Yolanda for these 50 years, and her simplicity is a simplicity of both life and lifestyle,” Fr. Rolheiser observed.
He joked that, “I don’t want to canonize her – that’ll be done later,” but he emphasized that “while that may be pious hagiography, everybody here who has worked with Yolanda knows that she brings these five wonderful qualities to the School.”
The OST President commented that Ms. Garcia is distinguished by her loyalty to the School, her trustworthiness and her graciousness. “Yolanda is what you’d order from a catalogue for a dedicated employee. She’s thoroughly dedicated, she never misses work, she never slacks on any work and she’s always been very loyal to the School and everything the School stands for. Fifty years of carrying that is a long time.”
For example, Fr. Rolheiser noted that Ms. Garcia is completely trustworthy with money. “A lot of the money that flows through the School flows through Yolanda’s office and Yolanda’s hands; we’ve never needed a forensic audit of her office.” The audience laughed, and he added facetiously that, “If anything, whenever anything comes up short, she adds some of her own money to make it all come out right.” Then he added, “She’s trustworthy in everything – absolutely everything.”
Finally, Ms. Garcia has brought a wonderful graciousness to her work and her office. “Whatever personal issues or personal goals there have been – and there are always office politics, jealousy and tensions among staff – Yolanda has always risen above these; they’ve never affected her work or how she’s treated people,” the OST president stated, adding that this is not always easy. Working in such a capacity, “you aren’t always noticed and you’re very seldom appreciated. Sometimes you have to endure what Iris Murdoch calls ‘the martyrdom of obscurity,’ or the martyrdom of not being noticed. Sometimes it makes or breaks people in the workplace.”
He used a military metaphor to illustrate the importance of all Ms. Garcia does. “For every pilot who\ flies, or every soldier who carries a gun into battle, you need 37 other people. We have 25 faculty members, but we don’t have 37 people for each of them; we have about one and a half – about 40-50 staff – and they are vitally important.”
Addressing the honoree directly, he said, “Yolanda, we want to recognize you tonight in this marvelous public forum, to say thanks to you and how important your work has been, and the qualities you’ve brought to this work. You haven’t flown the plane, but it wouldn’t have flown if you weren’t here. Your work has been a very important part of the mission of the School.”
He compared awarding this medal with last year’s touching moment awarding an honorary Doctor of Pastoral Leadership to Monsignor Lawrence J. Stuebben, who died in March, and in 2011 the awarding of an honorary Doctor
of Pastoral Leadership degree to the Rev. Dr. Homer Bain, when there was an ovation for seven minutes and people had tears in their eyes. Dr. Bain died in 2013. “Yolanda,” Fr. Rolheiser said, “This is a touching moment for me, and I think for the School, to present this medal to you.”
Accepting the medal, Ms. Garcia said she did so “with great honor and pride,” adding, “Thank you, Father Rolheiser and Oblate School of Theology, for selecting me. I am thankful to my children, my Florida family and my friends for taking time to celebrate with me; and I’m in very good company with Fr. Bryan and Sister Jane Ann. May God bless them and may God bless each and every one of you.”
Written by J. Michael Parker