|In February 1993, Tom Garcia Jr. suffered the loss of his younger sister Susan. Her tragic death was the catalyst and inspiration of this search for the whole truth surrounding Tom and Susie’s lives. Love has been the driving force in our research. The search for truth is the journey. Justice is our destination.|
By Tom & Lori Garcia
In 1962, Tommy Garcia, an 8-year-old Catholic boy, arrived in Philadelphia with his birth mother, 3-year-old sister Susie, and a woman known as Louise. All had driven together from Los Angeles. Tommy was dropped off at the entrance of the Divine Lorraine Hotel, and told to take Susie inside to the cafeteria. He did not see his mother again for nearly two years. The next morning, Tommy and Susie were taken by limousine to a massive estate, Woodmont, in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. Susie was taken away crying, and Tommy did not see her for over two years. He was ushered in to the private study of Father Divine. It is here that the charismatic leader of the Peace Mission Movement said to Tommy, “It has come to my attention Tommy that no one wants you. I want you Tommy. I care about you. If you agree, you will live with me here at Woodmont, and I will take care of you for the rest of your life.” This speech haunted and confused the impressionable young boy. His heart pounding, he was thinking that something was terribly wrong. In his minds eye, he pictured the orphanages from the TV program East Side Kids. He looked at the peculiar configuration of people in the room– Father Divine, Mother Divine, surrounded by their secretaries who were rapidly writing every word down in notepads — and said, “yes.” And so began his life as the son of Father Divine.
Father Divine: A charismatic, controversial African-American Leader of the 20th century who died September 1965 at over 100 years of age, but is still believed by his followers to be God.
Described by some as a great leader with a profound, if eccentric vision of how civil rights, material prosperity and spiritual fulfillment were to be achieved.
Converts typically gave up all their worldly possessions to the Movement, took on divine names like Happy Love and Faith Harmony, and commenced lives of religious insularity. They renounced sex, family ties, and racial identity.
Divine and the revitalization movement he created and led, has been the subject of extensive sociological and historical research.
The Library of Congress maintains an exhaustive archive on his movement, which dates from 1916, as do many libraries throughout the United States.
Divine?s tremendous impact and influence is clearly evident in Philadelphia and New York City where many of his established churches, missions, hotels, and business concerns are located and operate to this day.
There are Divine nursing homes, churches and hotels elsewhere in the U.S. and in northern Europe, also in ongoing states of operation.
Divine?s popularity peaked during the era of segregation and economic depression (1930’s – 1940’s), when people of color were experiencing the worst of social conditions. With his referral, many were able to secure decent-paying jobs.
Whole families entered the Movement, becoming “brothers” and “sisters” to each other and their own children.
Early on, the overwhelming majority of his followers were black. His popularity steadily grew and transcended racial barriers, as idealistic white people also joined the Movement.
Father Divine?s famous daily banquets were the signature practice of the Movement, and remain as a defining symbol of the prosperity and abundance that blessed all believers. Followers and outsiders alike attended lavish meals, complete with singing, praise and testimonies of Divine?s power.
Father Divine?s vision of community, beneficial to those adults voluntarily willing to subject themselves to the Movement’s discipline, exacted a terrible price on some of the children.
Some did receive nurturance from their parents who continued their relationship within the community. They were offered the choice of remaining or leaving, once they reached the age of 18. Others were emotionally and physically abandoned and thrust into a completely alien, communal way of life.
Tomas Guillermo Garcia: Living in Los Angeles, was a hard working, legal immigrant from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico.
Married in 1953 to Georgia Costa, of Greek descent, they produced two offspring, Tommy and Susie.
Tomas could never have predicted the series of events that would befall him in the years to come.
He did not know that in the Spring of 1962, Georgia, an ambitious photographer of some merit, would be approached while photographing their handsome Greco-Mexican son Tommy, by Louise Schell.
Tomas did not know that the ‘church’ Louise brought his wife, son, and daughter to on Jefferson Street was a place of worship for followers of Father Divine?s teachings.
He could not foresee that Georgia would take his son and daughter from him, under the guise of a trip to visit her family in New Hampshire.
He did not know that the telegram he received in August 1962 that said “NOT COMING BACK – GEORGIA” would be their final communication.
Louise Schell: The woman who brought the Garcia family (sans Tomas) to the Jefferson Street Mission, and who, three months later, was the same person responsible for delivering the Garcia family to the Divine Lorraine Hotel in Philadelphia.
Georgia Costa Garcia: Subsequently changed her name, in 1978, in the Court of Common Pleas, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to Harmony Faith Love. She remains a follower and supporter. She is responsible for the construction and maintenance of the Movements’ website. In May of 1999, she denied that she is, or ever was, the woman that gave birth to Tommy or Susie, saying she “no longer identifies with that link.” Her brainwashing was more than succesful and complete.
Mother Divine: The second wife, and surviving widow of Father Divine. Current leader of the movement. Responsible for all decisions concerning Tommy following Father Divine’s death September 1965.
Dorothy Darling:: One of Divine’s original secretaries and current remaining higher-up. In telephone conversation in 1998, repeated over and over that she “disagreed with the whole Tommy Garcia thing…” and that she “disagreed with the way it was all handled”.
Thus forcibly separated from his parents and sister, Tommy became the only child ever raised at Woodmont, the 74-acre grand estate in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania where Father and Mother Divine spent much of their time.
He was assigned a chauffeur-valet-bodyguard and given many gifts, including his own electric guitar, amplifier, tractor, go-cart and television – items few children of his generation could say they owned.
Tommy’s pampered existence at Woodmont, in the daily presence of Father Divine himself, stood in stark contrast to the lives of followers and children, including sister Susie.
Like all followers, Susie lived more simply at one of many communal extensions, following the Movement’s strict code of behavior under the assigned care of a follower.
She too had been wrenched inexplicably from her family. Unlike Tommy, no emotional or material compensation was made for her loss.
The peculiar circumstances under which Susie was raised left her lonely and disturbed. She was ejected from the Movement by Mother Divine at age 17.
Followers who choose or chose to join the community study Divines teachings. The Peace Mission residences were and still are repetitious, singular environments in which followers are constantly bombarded with Father Divines words, and exhorted to model their behavior according to a strict code.
During Divine’s lifetime and heyday, most followers had little, if any, contact with Father Divine. Instead, they caught glimpses of him at banquets, read the seemingly endless corpus of his sermons in their newspaper, The New Day, attended lengthy worship services, and performed endless rounds of work required to maintain the communal residences and other properties of Father Divine.
Tommy, however, played a unique role in Father Divines life during the remaining years of his leadership. He had direct access to the dynamic leader and they shared a special relationship.
Time spent alone with Father D was precious to Tommy. This was when Father asked questions of Tommy’s well being and happiness.
Tommy was encouraged to confide in him, as a son to his father.
Tommy inhabited the same arguably privileged public realm as Father and Mother Divine.
Evening time at lavish, communal dinners, Tommy was dressed in a three piece custom-made suit to match Father Divine, including a flower in his lapel, and was always seated within sight of Father Divine.
Followers would urge Master Tommy to speak, and many times young Tommy would stand and thank Father and Mother for any of the numerous gifts he had received. These gifts were in direct conflict with Divine?s tenets; the “Modesty Code” of the movement dictated no giving or receiving of gifts, presents, tips or bribes. Followers owned very little of their own.
To followers, Tommy was “The Prodigal Son.”
Tommy’s role vis a vis the Divine couple is documented in?The New Day . The Movement?s newspaper also printed numerous pictures of Susie, who unbeknownst to Tommy, was living at an extension nearby.
Microfilm copies acquired of?The New Day mention them throughout 1963 – 1964. The photos of Tommy (they spell his name Tommie page 15 July 13, 1963) and “Little Miss Susan – A Philadelphia Rosebud” (March 28, 1964) despite their poor quality, make ones skin tingle – they very effectively captured the moment, forever frozen in time.
Upon Father Divine?s death September 11, 1965, Tommy witnessed much turmoil as higher ups scrambled for positions of power. Mother Divine decided it “necessary” to send Tommy to Church Farm School (CFS) a private boarding school about an hour?s drive from Gladwyne.
School records confirm that Tommy was enrolled at CFS on June 23, 1966 by Miss St Mary Bloom, then President of Circle Mission Church and Training School, Inc., and also Treasurer of the Peace Mission Movement. These records have been tampered with. They do, however, provide indisputable evidence.
It was from CFS that Tommy succeeded in contacting his birth father in Los Angeles. Inspired by increasing suspicion and evidence that much of what he had been told was not true, Tommy found the strength to search for Pop.
He needed to ask Pop the one dreadful question directly.
Their emotional and heart wrenching telephone conversation resulted in Tommy hearing what was so important. Pop?did?want him and had waited all those years, hoping and praying that Tommy would contact him.
In June 1968 Tommy reunited with Pop in Los Angeles. Susie angrily and adamantly refused Tommy’s invitation to go with him, and remained in Philadelphia. She regarded his special treatment with great disdain, and, sadly, she mistrusted her brother.
Despite his escape, Tommy regularly communicated with Mother Divine by telephone and letter. Tommy returned time and again to Woodmont. Each time, Mother Divine welcomed Tommy back, reassuring him that Woodmont was his home.
Mother Divine repeatedly told Tommy to “go and learn all he could in the ‘outside world’, and then return to her.”
The years of indoctrination and his special treatment strongly influenced him.
Things dramatically changed in 1996, following 35 years of much back and forth communication. When it became clear that Tom intended to dig deeper into the circumstances of his abduction and abandonment, Mother Divine refused all communication from Tom.
The feature article, “LIFE AFTER HEAVEN” published December 10, 1989 in the?Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, contains many misstated facts and insinuations that require clarification.”Cult-ivating the truth”, by Lisa Ferguson, published April 21, 1998 in the LAS VEGAS SUN reflects a somewhat more up-to-date perspective.
Many questions remain unanswered about the circumstances of Tommy Garcia’s delivery to Father Divine in 1962, their custody of him until 1968, the denial by Mother Divine that Tommy was being groomed by Father Divine for any purpose or reason (despite his extraordinary treatment and plans by Father Divine to adopt him), as well as the contradictory statements made by Mother Divine and Miss Dorothy Darling, her most powerful secretary.
It is possible, despite herculean efforts, that the answers will never be revealed. Undaunted, we correspond and collaborate with professors, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, psychiatrists, journalists, and researchers in our quest of gaining a more complete picture of Tom’s experiences.
We believe that Tommy’s story will be an inspiration for others – to the journalists and academics who are committed to learning about the “dark side” of the Movements success story; to members of similar groups who are struggling for a way out; to those who may have fled the Peace Mission Movement but who are still tortured by their memories; folks searching for their family member whom they lost years ago to the Divine Movement, as well as anyone tantalized by this compelling story.
We welcome active participation in our quest for personal justice.
We consider that some sort of involvement back East could be a part of the future. Many of the dwindling number of followers (most elderly women) have been with the movement for much of their lives. Some are in their eighties, nineties, some are even over one hundred years old. If they were to call on him, Tom says “I will respond. Being kind to people is important. Treating people, all people, with dignity and respect, is important. I know that Father chose me. Will I ever see that in writing, or hear that from anyone at the Movement I doubt it. That’s ok. I do what is in my heart. I continue to do the right thing. My sister Susie lost her life in 1993. She had no soul, they took that from her. Her death shall not be in vain.”
Our website: www.tommygarcia.com
An Abridged Bibliography of Academic Works on Father Divine
EXTRAORDINARY GROUPS – AN EXAMINATION OF UNCONVENTIONAL LIFE-STYLES, New York: St. Martins Press, 1976 First Edition William M. Kephart (Professor Emeritus University of Pennsylvania) tells of Kephart’s personal experiences with Father Divine and the movement. Mr. Kephart passed away in 1993.
Professor William W. Zellner (East Central University – Ada Oklahoma) continued the writings in 1993.EXTRAORDINARY GROUPS – AN EXAMINATION OF UNCONVENTIONAL LIFE-STYLES, New York: St. Martins Press, 1998 Sixth Edition, presents forty one pages on The Father Divine Movement. The subject of LEADERSHIP of the movement is addressed on pages 226-228. Control of the movement was always at Father Divine’s sole direction. It says in part” …in the Father Divine Movement, Father Divine is the organization…It was Father Divine – and no one else – who formulated policy, gave talks, bought property, established businesses (although not in his own name), counseled the followers, dealt with the public, made the major decisions, and otherwise controlled the destiny of the movement.”
Dr. Zellner conducted an interview of Tom in 1999, and excerpts will appear in the books 7th edition, scheduled for release in the year 2000.
GOD: HARLEM U.S.A., University of California Press, 1992, by Jill Watts, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History provides an exceptionally well researched and well written, historians perspective of Father Divine. Her work is recognized and utilized by modern day scholars and educators, and is included in the bibliography on related works since its publication. It is among the finest, most thorough and complete published work currently available on Father Divine.
History professor Robert Weisbrot of Colby College, authored FATHER DIVINE and the Struggle for Racial Equality, University of Illinois Press, 1983. The beginnings, dynamics of the Peace Mission Movement organization and all of its operations, and Divine’s impact on politics and history are detailed. Weisbrot writes that, “Father Divine was unique among black cult figures of the Depression in that he had a national impact as a reform leader… One major reason that Father Divine exerted such influence is that he, more than any other, built on a faith in American Society and its capacity for peaceful change.”
Burnham, Kenneth E. God Comes To America: Father Divine and the Peace Mission Movement. Boston: Lambeth, 1979