Rest in Peace, Fr. Benedict Groeschel
The Marian Fathers extend condolences to the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal whose co-founder, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, died on Oct. 3, at the age of 81 following a long illness.
Father Groeschel was a longtime friend of the Marians, a co-worker in the spread of the Divine Mercy message and devotion.
"Father Groeschel was a very intelligent man with a wonderful sense of humor," said Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, the Marians' vicar general. "He was not afraid to speak up for the truth of the Gospel. He was very helpful to our community in many ways, including giving spiritual direction to some members. He was a man of the Church, a good priest and religious who touched the lives of thousands of people."
Author, teacher, preacher, retreat master, and psychologist, Fr. Groeschel was the co-founder of the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and former host to EWTN's Sunday Night Live with Father Benedict Groeschel. He died as his community celebrated the vigil of the feast of St. Francis, founder of the Franciscans, whose feast day is Oct. 4.
Known for his wit, towering intellect, an iconic gray beard, simple friar's garb, and tough-guy New Jersey accent, Fr. Groeschel was director of Trinity Retreat House in Larchmont, New York. He was founder of St. Francis House and Good Counsel Homes. He served for 14 years as chaplain at Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York. He taught pastoral psychology for many years at St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York.
"His greatest joy was serving the poor and underprivileged," his community said in a statement. "Always deeply concerned with the welfare of others, he tirelessly provided food, clothing, and assistance to people in need — people he always considered his friends."
The statement continued, "In a world often overwhelmed with darkness, he was a man filled with hope, a hope that he shared with both the rich and poor alike. His love for others and deep desire to serve, sent him among poor families who were in need of assistance, young people trying to find their way, bishops faced with challenging decisions, priests, and religious in need of an encouraging word, and the stranger who was far from God. Father Benedict was at home in every circumstance and every encounter. 'The providence of God,' he would say, 'was the mystery of God reaching out at every moment and revealing His love and presence to us all.'"
For years, the Marians and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have co-sponsored the annual Divine Mercy Conference in Bronx, New York. The conference organizer, Ed Miller — whom Fr. Groeschel dubbed "Mr. Divine Mercy" — called Fr. Groeschel a "friend and inspiration."
"His impact and reach with people of many faiths was enormous," said Mr. Miller. " Services that he presided at or participated in generally had long lines of people just seeking a blessing or an autograph. Father Benedict was totally dedicated to the Divine Mercy message. There were at least 15 Sunday Night Live with Fr. Groeschel shows with Marian priests as guests, and he never turned down an opportunity to support any type of Divine Mercy service sponsored by the Marian Fathers in Stockbridge. He was a great admirer of Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, whom he considered the face of the Marian Fathers.
"He often said, 'When I meet St. Peter — and it may not look good — I will say a very few words, 'Jesus I trust in You! Mercy, mercy, mercy,'" said Mr. Miller.
Upon the Marians' invitation, Fr. Groeschel was a featured speaker at the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in 2008, where he delivered a stem-winder on how Divine Mercy and the field of psychotherapy can become partners in healing the world.
"He was still in a wheelchair when the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy took place in Rome," recalled Fr. Joe, "but he came and wanted to speak because of his conviction about the message."
In a wide-ranging interview in 2011 with thedivinemercy.org at his retreat house in Larchmont, Fr. Groeschel offered a challenge to Divine Mercy apostles to turn their zeal for the Divine Mercy into apostolic work to end abortion — the most "hideous lack of mercy in the world right now," he said.
"Really, the message of Divine Mercy is a challenge against abortion," Fr. Groeschel said. "Abortion is based on deception, because almost all of the people having abortions or performing abortions think they're doing it out of compassion, and they're not. They are committing false, ersatz mercy. Abortion is a complete reversal of mercy."
Father Groeschel said in the interview that when he first read St. Faustina's Diary in the 1970s he knew that God had tailored her revelations to our troubled times.
"Well, first of all, how could you read it and not be impressed?" he said, noting that it was no accident St. Faustina's revelations in the 1930s came when they did.
"You have to consider that this was happening during the rise of Totalitarianism, the rise of the Nazis, and the terrible war that followed, probably the most horrific war in the history of the world, and then there was the Cold War that went on for decades," he said. "This was all a time when there was so much cruelty in the world and barbarism."
Now consider this, he said: "Christ told St. Faustina 'Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy'" (Diary of St. Faustina, 300). Through the message of The Divine Mercy, Fr. Groeschel said, Christ urges humanity to look at its sinfulness, to ask for forgiveness, to replace the sinfulness with virtue, and to trust in Him.
Father Groeschel hastened to add that the "trusting-in-Jesus" part can be the most difficult. But he himself always projected the calm certainty of one who trusted, despite the crosses.
Indeed, in 2004 Fr. Groeschel was struck by an automobile while crossing a street in Orlando, Florida. No one expected him to live. In addition to a head injury and broken bones, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. In his remaining years, he would move more slowly, travel less, but still write books and still draw large crowds.
Following his accident, he told the New York Times, "They said I would never live. I lived. They said I would never think. I think. They said I would never walk. I walked. They said I would never dance, but I never danced anyway."
He told us, "I've been very, very grateful to the Marian Fathers. I have known them for years. When I was in better shape, I visited with them up at the National Shrine [of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts]. I remember giving a Divine Mercy talk there back in the 1970s, I recall I stood on top of a truck with a microphone. I also spoke on Divine Mercy Sunday at the Stockbridge shrine on the day Sr. Faustina was canonized."
His fellow friars ask for all to join with them in praying for the repose of the soul of Fr. Groeschel, for his family and Community, and also in thanksgiving for the legacy of renewal within the Church and Franciscan family that he championed.
They also point to a great video from November 2009, a tribute to Fr. Groeschel's inspired life and ministry: