Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

05 October 2014

Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel--Requiescat in Pace

I note with mingled sadness and gratitude the death of Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel, C.F.R., Ed.D. For many years he was the director of Trinity Retreat in Larchmont, New York: a place for priests to make their annual retreat and, in the case of a good number of us over the years, a place to stay while taking extended time for reflection and self-care. Such was my case for a few months in 2006 and 2007.

I had met Father Benedict before that time, when he gave a retreat to us seminarians during our Spirituality Year in 1998-99. Not long into a confession I made with him during that retreat, he looked intently at me, put his hand on my arm, and said: "You are a card-carrying member of the self-haters club." Dead right! Seven years later our acquaintance would be far more extensive--and intensive--because of my stay at Trinity, where occasional meetings with him were one of several therapeutic initiatives in the program. 

Father's life of prayer and years of experience with priests gave him a knack for recognizing the truth. Because of his Jersey City upbringing, he also had a knack for stating the truth as he saw it without ambiguity. His upbringing and personality were perhaps tempered by his life of prayer and suffering, though they were also bolstered by his sense of humor. He would often joke about the town of his youth and its regional accent, using a pronounced version when quoting bygone slogans such as,"When you're out of Schlitz, you're out of beer." This saying applies, of course, to the Catholic Church as having been invested with the fullness of the means of grace.

In our meetings Father would mention various priests he knew from our diocese, often with a story and a keen observation. He didn't forget a face. (I just accidentally typed, "fact"; that was also true.) But the bulk of the conversations centered around the concerns that led me to request the time away. I will contend with most of them for the rest of my days; but my perseverance, and God's grace, will redound to my salvation and to that of my charges. Father believed that I would "make it," and encouraged me several times to that effect. From his warm smile and quiet tone I wouldn't have known that he'd almost died from a bus accident a little over two years before. He knew that every moment subsequent to that event (and every moment before it) was a blessing. Sitting with him in his wisdom-infested office, I knew, was also a blessing.

Our final encounter took place at the episcopal consecration and installation of our diocesan bishop, John Oliver Barres, who grew up in Larchmont. Considering that this might be (and was) the last time I'd see Father Groeschel, I wanted to get a photo with him. As Father was caught in a maelstrom of well-wishers (as many for him as for Bishop Barres), I didn't get to say much more than my name and the reason for our acquaintance, if he even needed my reminder. Since the modern media have made it easier to allow no personal data--thoughts, words, and deeds--to go unpublished, I conclude these remarks with that photo, and a Deo gratias for Father Benedict's life and ministry.

CMZ and BJG, 30 July 2009

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