SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Christ is at the center of every part of Andrea Garcia’s life. As she was preparing to graduate from Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago in 2014, she prayed and asked him what her next move should be. She was planning to enter an engineering program, and with almost identical offers from both Marquette University and the University of Illinois, she looked to God for direction.
“It came down to the Jesuits, and the mission of Marquette that brought me here,” she said. “I knew from being in a Jesuit high school what they were about and I felt that this was where God was telling me to go.”
She started her education at Marquette studying to be an engineer, but for two years her discontent grew. She knew that she didn’t want to be an engineer, so she prayed and waited for an answer.
The summer before her junior year, she went to World Youth Day in Poland and her focused prayer during that time was for God to help her find the right fit.
“I couldn’t be an engineer for one more second,” She said. One afternoon, she spent the long train ride from Warsaw to Krakow talking to religious sisters about her concerns. She told them she wanted to be useful, she talked about one of her cousins who needed speech services, and mentioned it was something she’d been considering. Later in the trip, while helping at an orphanage, the same sisters saw her talking with some of the children and mentioned how happy working with them seemed to make her.
“I came back from that trip and I knew right away that I’d found my vocation,” she said.
Garcia changed her major to speech pathology her junior year, and decided to double major in audiology and Spanish for the health professions. “I wanted to help children, but I also felt that God was calling me to help my community as a whole,” She said.
Garcia grew up in a Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago, the daughter of immigrant parents who came to the United States from Zamora, Michoacán, Mexico, when they were teenagers.
“I saw such a large need for bilingual services when I was growing up,” she said. “I know that whether I work in schools or in hospitals, my community needs me and I’m going to make it my life’s work to help.”
Since she was a freshman, Garcia’s community has broadened to include the students and staff at Marquette University. She spent all four years of her undergraduate work serving wherever she saw a need, as a resident assistant (RA) for Marquette’s Nuestro Hogar community for three years, and advocating for the Latin community by sharing its beauty and bringing her culture to campus.
“In the community I grew up in, everyone knew what a Posada was, everyone knew about the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, but here, I would ask about those things and get blank stares.”
Instead of just wishing that Marqette offered bilingual services, she decided that she had to do something about it. She noticed that while people didn’t know about some of her favorite traditions, they were intensely interested, so she got involved with planning bilingual Masses, organizing posadas, and making sure there was a space on campus for the Spanish-speaking community.
“It’s been a beautiful thing,” she said. “Before I came to Marquette, I only knew how to pray in Spanish.” Garcia said that in teaching others more about the way she was raised in her faith, and learning about other Catholic cultures, she’s been able to bridge the gap between two worlds and make campus feel like a second home.
On May 19, Andrea Garcia graduated from Marquette University. Her impact can be seen in the prestigious awards she won, like the Andrew J. Thon, SJ. Award for Leadership she was awarded in 2018 and 2019, and the bilingual events that are sure to continue on campus for many years to come. But her greatest achievement during her first four years at the university might be all the future students drawn to Marquette because of her.
After a short break, Garcia will return in the fall to enroll in the speech pathology masters program. During the summer she’ll work as a waitress back home in Chicago to save money and to continue on with what she said is the work of her life.
“In my family and in my community, there aren’t a lot of people who went to college, so there’s a lot of need for mentorship. People need to see that there’s room for them here,” she said.
Providing bilingual speech services is only part of what Garcia is educating herself to do. Her true aim is twofold, and her hope is that through her work, people in her community see that they can have the opportunities she’s had, and when they can’t find the path to them, she wants to be there to help.