Treasured Memories: The Gift of El Pomar
By S. Georgia Kitt
The gift of her El Pomar estate in 1944 by Julie Penrose provided the Sisters of Charity with a new ministry and opportunities to nurture the spirituality of women in the West. The El Pomar Retreat Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado was the first women’s retreat center west of the Mississippi River, and through the years was home to many Sisters of Charity dedicating their service to the ministry.
One of those women was S. Raphael Garcia. S. Raphael was born to immigrant parents in New Mexico in 1910, the oldest of seven girls. She grew up with cousins who chose religious life and there was never a doubt in her mind that she too was being called. She told her mother, “If I die before I go to the convent I have to find a pattern to make me a dress like the one the Sisters wear so I can go to heaven that way.” After entering the SCs in 1933 she ministered in food service at the Motherhouse and in hospitals in Trinidad and Colorado Springs, both in Colorado. She provided housekeeping services at El Pomar Retreat House (10 years) and then as a trained EKG technician and inhalation therapist at Good Samaritan, Dayton, Ohio (five years). S. Raphael also ministered as a chaplain in pastoral care at The Gardens of St. Elizabeth Residence in Colorado Springs and from 1982-1997 she volunteered in pastoral ministry at Penrose-St. Francis, also in Colorado Springs, distributing Holy Communion to the sick and praying with patients.
S. Pat Malarkey recalls how S. Raphael enjoyed visiting everyone. “Dressed in her petite, white modified habit she was easily recognized by everyone as she whizzed around the whole place, seeming to know almost everyone. Her cheery disposition warmed the hearts of the staff and patients. Her smiling presence calmed the fears of many patients, especially in the ER.”
S. Barbara Hagedorn shared, “When I was writing the History of El Pomar/Julie Penrose Center I included this great story about S. Raphael which happened when she was at the retreat house in its early days. It typifies to me her ‘do what needs to be done’ attitude toward life.
“Before El Pomar had a gas stove (circa 1944-’45), S. Raphael had the job of bringing the coal from the basement early in the morning to fire up the stove. It was also her responsibility to turn the heat up in the morning. She received this job because she was the only one who could fit between the pipes. Thank goodness she was on mission there or it would have been a very cold house! She also shared with me the time she had to ‘be on guard’ at the top of the basement steps as several men emptied Spencer Penrose’s abundant wine and liquor collection from the basement of the house when the Sisters were moving in. I guess it was her job to be sure they didn’t imbibe in the goods as they did their work. Raphael experienced many different adventures and she would retell the stories with a lot of wonder and laughter.”
S. Sally Duffy remembers how loved S. Raphael was by patients as they came to encounter her on her daily visits. “She joyfully shared the joy of the Gospel with every patient as she entered their room. S. Raphael extended compassion and care to the family and friends who visited as well. When patients were being discharged, S. Raphael would accompany the patient to an entrance of Penrose Hospital and help load the car and assist the family. The healing ministry of Jesus was always extended to others through S. Raphael’s joy, care, sincerity, humility, authenticity and hope,” S. Sally remembers. S. Raphael retired to the Motherhouse in 1997, along with her best friend, S. Antoinette Grehek. They met in the postulancy, remained friends, sometimes working together, but always staying in touch. In retirement they enjoyed sewing, listening to music and sharing their special love of walking on the beautiful Motherhouse grounds.