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‘Momma Rose’ was a powerful presence

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Long after age made it difficult for her to work the floor of Garson & Sons, the Catholic religious supply store she founded with her husband John, Rose Garson was a presence there, perhaps working on inventory in the back but holding high court wherever she was.

John and Rose Garson, with son Mark, in front of their first religious goods store at 1403 San Mateo NE. (SOURCE: Paul Garson)

“And woe be to you – priests, deacons, nuns, brothers or other friends – if you came in the store and did not go back to say hello to Momma Rose,” said Louise Davis, former liturgist for Albuquerque’s Queen of Heaven Catholic Parish and a longtime friend of Rose Garson.

“You were always welcome to sit and chat with Rose. She wanted to know about you. ‘How are you? What have you been doing? What do you need?’ She would tell you what she was about, too. She was not afraid to give you her opinion.”

Rose Garson died June 15 at age 95.

Davis, now a member of and a Eucharistic minister at Albuquerque’s Risen Savior Parish, said she was privileged to give the Eucharist to Garson at Garson’s Northeast Albuquerque home during her final days.

“You could always find Rose’s house,” she said. “It was the only house with a life-sized statue of St. Jude (patron saint of hope and impossible causes) in the front yard.”

Rose Garson

Garson was born in Sicily in 1921 and emigrated to Philadelphia when she was 11. She married Philadelphia native John T. Garson, and the couple moved to Albuquerque in the mid-1940s, following John’s service with the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific during World War II.

“Dad sold insurance and did all sorts of different jobs before he decided he didn’t want to work for anyone else,” said Paul Garson, one of John and Rose’s children.

In 1958, John and Rose opened their first religious goods store at 1403 San Mateo NE.

“Dad thought it would be a good way to serve the church and also raise a family,” Paul said.

Rose and John – John died in 1993 – raised a large family. Rose is survived by sons Mark, David, Robert, Thomas, Peter and Paul, nine grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. In addition to her husband, she was preceded in death by daughters Mimi and Elizabeth and sons John and Christopher.

In 1962, the Garsons moved their store to 2139 San Mateo NE. Later, locations in Downtown Albuquerque and in Santa Fe were added to the San Mateo store. Today, Garson & Sons is back to a single location, managed by Paul, at 2415 San Pedro NE.

“If you wanted it, you could find it at Garson’s,” Louise Davis said. “Roman (Catholic) missals, candles, sacramental wine, palms (for Palm Sunday) and also specialty fabrics for altar cloths, vestments for priests and deacons. Rose would make sure you got what you needed. And if it came in and it wasn’t right, she’d send it back and make it right.”

Davis said Rose Garson was a skilled crafter, a knitter and crocheter, who used her talents for the benefit of her family and for disadvantaged or disabled children.

“She made beautiful bedspreads and tablecloths, hand-crocheted in the old Italian style, as wedding gifts for all her granddaughters,” Davis said. “And she went out of her way to help organizations, such as Casa Angelica, that worked with children. There were a lot of little children walking around in winter with warm caps made by Rose. She was a member of a guild of women who made caps, booties and shawls for children and young adults in Mexico and Africa.”

Paul Garson said his mother made blankets for Project Linus, which provides hand-made blankets for critically ill children, and a variety of knit and crocheted items for the mission work of Catholic orders of religious sisters.

“She made hundreds and hundreds of scarves and knit caps,” he said. “That was my mom’s gig – knitting and crocheting. If you had a friend who was having a baby, she would make a blanket. She would make baptism blankets, booties, the actual baptism outfit to sell here in the store.”

The Garson kids grew up in the stores. Paul and his twin brother, Peter, the youngest in the family, spent their first year in a playpen in back of the store. Mark, the oldest, remembers that back in the 1960s, after he had finished a day at Cortez Elementary School, his father would recruit him to sort out candles and bottles of wine in the store.

“Mom was always at the San Mateo store,” Mark said. “She would sit there and price things out, or she would be talking to the customers. She liked talking to the priests and the nuns and those special customers, people we had grown up with and who were like part of the family, and those people who worked in the store and became part of our life. There were one or two salesmen who were close to the family, and she would invite them over to the house for spaghetti dinner.”

Mark, a cook at Albuquerque’s Dismas House, a halfway house that helps people move back into society following incarceration, has especially fond memories of his mother’s cooking – her spaghetti, pasta fazool and especially her Irish tacos, which included a filling made up of corned-beef hash, cheese, lettuce and taco sauce.

“We used to have contests to see who could eat the most Irish tacos,” Mark said. “I hold the record – nine.”

A funeral Mass was celebrated for Rose Garson on June 20 at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, her longtime parish church.

“She was very sweet, kind and gentle,” Davis said. “I will miss her something fierce, but I am happy she is at peace.”