LA QUINTA – As the adopted son of the International Peace Movement’s late founder, Tommy Garcia of La Quinta says he wants to re-start the charities the movement was once famous for.
Evangelical leader Father Divine led a movement to feed and shelter thousands in the 1930s and 40s. Many of his followers thought of Father Divine as the living form of “god.”
Before he died at age 89 in 1965, Father Divine did two things. He married 21-year-old Edna Ritchings, known as “Mother Divine.” And, he adopted 8-year-old Tommy Garcia. He reportedly chose Garcia to be his heir, but it was not to be.
The once huge charity banquets the International Peace Movement once held are now small gatherings with an aging group. But the movement still controls tens of millions in real estate, including a mansion called Woodmont near Philadelphia.
Tommy Garcia, now a La Quinta business owner, researched Divine’s church for years, saying he hopes to force the secretive leadership to open up and give what remains of its financial holdings to the poor as it did so long ago.
“For these last eight years, I’ve been compiling as much information as I can for the veracity of this story to be able to go after [Mother Divine], if not in the court, in the court of public opinion,” Garcia said about his plans. “And [I want to] hear her answer questions to very pertinent questions that you must answer in a black and white answer. Not, ‘the spirit moves me in mysterious ways, and you don’t know what God has in plan for you.’ That makes no sense.”
There may be little Garcia can do. Mother Divine controls the International Peace Movement. The church’s headquarters at Woodmont has refused recent requests for media access. But Tommy Garcia and his wife, Lori, say they have dreams of what they would do with the millions of dollars accumulated by Father Divine.
“There are a lot of things that Tommy and I have talked about that we would do, given the ability andthe resources that are available. There are a lot of people that are abandoned, a lot of children we hear described as ‘throwaways,'” said Lori.
Tommy Garcia adds, “One of the most important things he told me was, ‘Tom, treat everybody with dignity and respect no matter what race, creed, color or religion. Take care of the elderly and be a voice to those who have no voice.’ The people that have no voice is my mom, my sister, and the followers that have passed away, that many of their family members never knew what happened to them.”
A religious movement, that has nearly gone silent, may soon find its voice in a La Quinta man once thought of by some as the “son of god.” How the church leadership will fight this prodigal son’s return remains to be seen.
To see the official site of Mother Divine and the International Peace Movement, click HERE.
To find out more about Tommy Garcia and his life, click HERE.
To watch the independent video documentary “The Father Divine Project” with interviews of current International Peace Movement members, click HERE.