Monday, October 6, 2014

Why I stalked Fr. Benedict Groeschel for Three Years

When you are an enthusiastic Catholic and  live in the New York City area, running into Fr. Groeschel is no great accomplishment, the man had a punishing schedule for decades. I remember running into him at the pro-life prayer walk on the Feast of the Holy Innocents December 28 one year and asked him a question which made his face light up. I said,
"Father, can you tell me the story of the Jewish mother who got ashes on Ash Wednesday?" With a twinkle in his eye, he answered in his fluent Broolynese, "When her son asked her why she got ashes, she say, 'So listen, it can't hoit!'"
Fr Groeschel was a mixture of a teacher, psychologist, storyteller,  and of course first of all a Franciscan priest. The stories he told about little old black ladies at Adoration, the depth of his writing about suffering and his unswerving dedication to Christ made me seek out his endorsement of the book of stories from Catholic parents of children with special needs. So I began seeking opportunities to speak with him about my book. Stalking him.
The first time was at a high school on Long Island, where "The Human Experience" was screening. He kindly told me "I do blurbs." I am going to set up a website entitled "I do blurbs!"
I reminded Fr. Groechel who I was when my family were at a rest stop on I95 near New Haven, CT. He was tired but attentive as his companion Father Terry introduced us and I informed him of the book's progress.
When I was farther along in my writing I found him in Connecticut where he was the keynote speaker for a pro-life conference. No snappy responses and no twinkle in his eyes. He looked tired but still took the manuscript and put it in his bag. I felt awful.
But then a few months later, when he called my home to tell me how he loved the book and how he thought I should publish the 30 plus stories in two volumes, I felt wonderful. Father offered to write the foreword and said that with that, I would have no trouble finding a publisher. Sadly, his punishing schedule kept him from getting to my book. I can only imagine that he had a pile of such manuscripts waiting, so finally I called him at Trinity Retreat House.  Father Benedict sounded very weak on the phone, and a realized that it was not possible for him to do it. He was willing but clearly overwhelmed and there was a pleading quality in his voice.
I asked a good friend of his Mother Agnes Mary superior of the Sisters of Life whom I stalked at the Villa Maria Guadalupe on the Fourth of July Life Fest in 2009, certain that she was not as busy as Father Groeschel. I bet that would make her laugh!
Her foreword was perfect and made me realize that I was meant to be encouraged by Father Groeschel but that Mother was the perfect person to write the foreword.
I saw Fr. Benedict one final time. We had dinner together at a banquet for a pregnancy shelter and he was our keynote speaker. The PA system failed, and by the time we asked him to resume his talk, the wedding next door was blasting "La Bamba" and he could barely be heard. He bore it with patience, but I couldn't bear to bring up the topic of my book after all he'd endured at the banquet.
So we just enjoyed pleasant dinner conversation, and my book never entered into the discussion. Father is my favorite Catholic writer, speaker and priest. I was honored to have spent time with him and to have his verbal endorsement for A Special Mother is Born. He knew, as I do, that the spiritual beauty which emanates from these children would be a powerful means of conversion of hearts. May he enjoy the greeting from Jesus, "you fed me, clothed me, visited me when I was in prison, now enter into the home of my Father."
Father Benedict, the bad news is that I hope to follow you there someday. The good news is that I won't be bringing my book for you to sign!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing these stories! My daughters and I had our own close encounter at our first March for Life in 2002. We didn't know what we were doing or where to go. We got off the subway and looked for the crowd. We ended up behind the speakers' stage which was barricaded from the crowds, and we were trying to figure out how to get around to the front/crowd. We weren't the only one doing this, as very shortly a familiar looking, yet a bit frantic, man in sackcloth had scurried by, asking no one in particular how to get to the stage, because he was late and was the next speaker. We set about trying to get the attention of those on stage, who were (understandably) trying to ignore us. Soon they understood the problem. I think Father G. ended up climbing over the orange plastic fencing, and those on stage helped pull him aboard. What I remember most about him was his steeled focus of getting to that stage, no matter what. I can only imagine how many roadblocks had been put in his way that morning.