Some people choose one field and work in it their entire lives.
That isn’t the case for the Rev. Dr. Richard Gonzalez.
After a decades-long career as a medical doctor, Gonzalez finally answered a lifelong call to the priesthood Friday, Aug. 2, at Church of the Messiah, Winter Garden. And all his friends and family were there to witness the moment.
Gonzalez was ordained by Bishop Gregory O. Brewer of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, but with a special twist. Assisting in the ordination was Bishop Griselda Delgado of Cuba, the first female Bishop of Cuba. Gonzalez said the emotional ceremony filled the church sanctuary.
“(Delgado) happened to be in the area, which is kind of amazing,” Gonzalez said. “To have the bishop of the country I was born in to be here and be part of it … she was very, very cool.”
Gonzalez was born in Cuba, but his father moved his family in 1962 to Washington, D.C., to flee the effects of Fidel Castro’s rise to power in the late 1950s. He was raised in Washington— the only place he had family at the time — and grew up in the Catholic church.
He said he first felt the call to priesthood at a young age, but as he grew older, he realized he wanted to have a family, and Catholic priests aren’t allowed to marry. So, he found another way to care for others: medical school.
“I said (to God), ‘Look, I really want a family, so send me to do something,’” Gonzalez said, “I believe this is where I got sent to: to be a doctor.”
Gonzalez graduated in 1981 from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. In medical school, Gonzalez found a passion for helping underserved communities by working at community health clinics — something he continued throughout his entire career.
Although he was established in the medical field, Gonzalez said his calling to be a priest never diminished. About seven years ago — because of his own personal beliefs about women being ordained, priests being able to marry and the sexual abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic church — Gonzalez left the church.
That’s when he found the Episcopal church. He served as a deacon and eventually pursued priesthood. Currently, Gonzalez serves at the Church of the Messiah, Winter Garden, where he has been attending for three-and-a-half years. The Rev. Tom Rutherford, rector — or head priest — of Church of the Messiah, Winter Garden, sponsored Gonzalez during his ordination process.
Gonzalez said he is excited to spend time tending to the spiritual needs of the community, in addition to the physical needs.
“Monday through Friday, I work over at the community health center,” Gonzalez said. “Sundays I’m here, and I do one or two services, or sometimes three services, and the rest of the time, I also go visit people who may be at the hospital … as a clergy, not as a doctor.”
In addition to his duties at the Church of the Messiah, Winter Garden, Gonzalez — who is bilingual — also assists at a Spanish-speaking church.
“I’m grateful to God for all the blessings in (life) and grateful that I found the Episcopal church, and I’m excited to see what the future brings,” Gonzalez said.
Church of the Messiah, Winter Garden is located at 241 N. Main St. and will celebrate its 69th anniversary this year.
“Right now at Messiah, I don’t know what God has in the future for me, but whatever it is, I’m ready,” Gonzalez said.