As much as Isaac Garcia ’08, ’10 M.A. enjoyed the theology and computer education courses he took as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, the most important moments of his education unfolded outside the classroom.
Daily Mass and nighttime prayers helped the Austin native deepen his faith, and his desire to give back.
“Most nights before I would go to bed I’d zip down to the chapel for a quick five or 10 minutes in front of the tabernacle at Keenan Hall,” Garcia recalls. “To me, having the ability to go to Mass every day in your dorm, being able to plan my day so that would be the end of it, was a great advantage. It was complementary to what I was studying, of course, but it formed me in a more holistic way than just learning about something in a textbook.”
Garcia drew on that formation—as well as his technical and communication skills—in 2013, when he began working with the Sisters of Mercy, helping the order revamp its approach to recruiting for new vocations. That meant translating the order’s rich history—one that includes its founding in Dublin and its 1843 start in the United States—for a 21st century audience that expects user-friendly websites and responsive social media.
“The sisters themselves viewed the work I was doing—and still do—as valuable,” Garcia says. “They know that they need to be present in these relatively new arenas, and so if you’re going to be present, you need to be good wherever you are. You need to make sure that if you’re present, what’s there is authentic to who you are. From their founding in Dublin, the sisters were known as the walking nuns, the walking sisters, because they were out and about, they were not cloistered, which was different at that time. I would say that continues with their being on social media. They’re there with the people and the mess that is social media, trying to respond to what’s going on in the world.”
Garcia began his work as a social media specialist, training sisters on how to use Instagram and Twitter to share their stories. He kept a close eye on the Sisters of Mercy Twitter account, and began responding when radio stations and music fans reached out to it, confusing it for a rock band with the same name—something that gave the account more of a personality and helped it grow over time.
And as Garcia moved into a new role as marketing manager, he kept an eye out for stories to tell. Often, these came from the order’s regional offices across the United States.
“In Pittsburgh for example, there are sisters there, and there’s communication help available,” Garcia says. “So I would try to say ‘OK, what sort of resources do we have on the ground? How can we partner with people there on the ground to tell the story in an interesting way?’ Usually it would come out in a longer-form blog post, allowing a sister to use her own voice to tell her own story.”
Garcia also took on larger storytelling projects. One focused on the order’s immigrant history, and its embrace of immigrants. Working with archivists, he discovered journals from sisters who had recorded their early years in the United States, sharing quotes and photos on social media. And he uncovered interesting snapshots from the order’s history, including a mid-19th-century moment in Rhode Island where, amidst anti-Catholic sentiment, local Catholics stepped up to head off threats of violence against the sisters after they recruited a local woman to join the order.
“We just tried to give a snapshot of how the Sisters of Mercy either lived as immigrants or lived with immigrants and advocated for immigrants,” Garcia says, adding that what began as a social media campaign blossomed into a website. “This is a great way to share that what the Sisters of Mercy are saying now about immigrants comes from more than 175 years of experience of being immigrants and living with immigrants and immigrant communities.”
In 2015, when Pope Francis announced the year-long Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Garcia helped with another initiative.
“That was a big project—to help them think strategically, how can we be mercy in the digital era?” he says. “How can we ensure that what we show online ties into who we are, and how do we do that better?”
In 2017, Garcia transitioned to freelance work after he and his wife, Desiree, welcomed their daughter, Cecilia. The move has allowed him to stay home with Cecilia while continuing to do work for the Sisters of Mercy. He sees his support of the order’s mission as part of his ongoing journey to support the church he loves.
Before working for the sisters, Garcia, who earned his master’s degree from the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Echo Graduate Service Program, had worked as a director of religious education at a parish in Vienna, Virginia. He remains active in RCIA education at his parish in Austin and hopes to return to parish ministry full-time down the road. Meanwhile, he is grateful he can continue his work with the sisters.
“I still wanted to have a way to stay connected with this community that I have worked with for a number of years now,” Garcia says. “I wanted to continue that, and I continue that to this day, and I’m happy about that.
“It’s been edifying to be welcomed by a community, even though you don’t look like them, even though you’re not one of them, so to speak. But to be embraced with open arms has been very rewarding. In some ways just being present with the sisters for so long is a gift in itself, just being able to enter into a small part of the work they’re doing and help them do that better, because there still is such a need for mercy in the world.”