John Garvey, Orthodox Priest, Longtime Columnist for Commonweal Dies

Father John Garvey, a priest of the Orthodox Church and longtime Commonweal columnist, who died Jan. 20, "had a rare capacity for conversation, and especially for listening," said veteran religion writer Peter Steinfels.

A former executive editor of the New York-based lay Catholic journal of opinion, Steinfels made the comments in a Jan. 26 appreciation of the priest, whom he had asked to become a regular columnist after Father Garvey "brushed off" an offer to join the staff.


Father Garvey died in Puyallup, Washington, near Tacoma. He and his wife had retired to the Northwest some years ago. He was 70.

On Jan. 23 at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Tacoma, a Divine Liturgy was celebrated followed by a funeral service for Father Garvey. Interment was at the Wilkeson Town Cemetery.

According to Steinfels, the priest wrote 341 articles for Commonweal over four decades as well as occasional articles for other journals and four short books. In 2000, Father Garvey's wife, Regina, became the administrator of Commonweal's three-year study of American Catholics in the Public Square.

"John's columns were gems of the plain style: conversational, first-person, direct, without elaborate metaphors or clever categories. He had a rare capacity for conversation, and especially for listening," Steinfels said, writing in Commonweal.

"In his columns, he introduced people from his pastoral experience or from the rest of his everyday life: 'I once knew a man who ... .' Or, 'A woman who sat next to me on a four-hour bus ride ... .' Where many columnists dwell on the world's wholesale miseries, John went retail: the loss of a loved one, or of love, or of faith, or of purpose."

Born in Decatur, Illinois, May 8, 1944, John Garvey was raised in a Catholic family, the eldest of eight brothers and sisters. He grew up in a family of writers -- his father and brother were journalists and publishers. In 1947, his father and an uncle founded a small publishing house called Templegate.

John received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1967. He married Maria Regina Carbonell June 10 the same year.

In 1984, John was received into the Orthodox Church in America at St. Michael's Orthodox Church in St. Louis. In 1990, his wife was received into the church at St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Church in Springfield, Illinois.

In 1992, he was ordained a priest and a year later completed his master's of divinity degree at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York.

Father Garvey served parishes in the Diocese of New York-New Jersey as well as in the Albanian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America. He and his wife moved to Washington state to be near children and grandchildren. In retirement, he was attached to Holy Resurrection Church in Tacoma, where he continued to serve and preach.

His published works included "Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions" (2006); "Death and the Rest of Our Life" (2005); "Orthodoxy for the Non-Orthodox: A Brief Introduction to Orthodox Christianity" (2002); and "Saints for Confused Times" (1976).

Steinfels, a book author and former columnist for The New York Times, recalled when Father Garvey told readers of his decision to join the Orthodox Church, describing it as a journey 21 years in the making.

"When I first discovered Orthodoxy, I found that I had no doctrinal disagreements with it, whereas I did with Catholicism," Father Garvey wrote. "Over the years I found in Orthodox spirituality and liturgy something which I could find nowhere else, something I need. ... This was not a matter of leaving Catholicism, which I love, but a matter of becoming Orthodox."

Father Garvey also was a member of and consultant to several Orthodox Church in America committees.

Father Alexander Garklavs, archpriest and rector of Holy Trinity Church in Parma, Ohio, and former chancellor of the Orthodox Church, called Father Garvey "a pastor with modern sensibilities and traditional values. "

"His journey to Orthodoxy was a process of deep introspection and discernment, but becoming an Orthodox priest was a privilege which he treasured with humble honor," Father Garklavs said in a statement. "He was a conscientious pastor, an engaging preacher, a wonderful conversationalist and a great colleague to priests and people from a wide spectrum."

Besides his wife, Father Garvey is survived by two children, Hugh and Maria, both married; four grandchildren, Andrew, Timothy, Violet and Desmond; and six brothers and sisters.

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