Parishioners reflect on Bishop DeGrood’s pastorships with gratitude and joy

| Jessica Weinberger | February 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

Bishop-elect Donald DeGrood greets Quy Pham after Mass at St. John the Baptist in Savage Dec. 15. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Prayerful. Approachable. Genuine. Compassionate. Humble.

Newly ordained Bishop Donald DeGrood’s past parishioners said he was set apart from the beginning as they reflected on his parish assignments in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. His charismatic homilies and personable approach attributed to his rural roots built passionate faith communities as he consistently modeled how to seek God’s will. Above all, he immensely loved his flock.

Anita Van Esser, a parishioner at St. Peter in Forest Lake, where Bishop DeGrood served as pastor from 2004 to 2013, recalled how genuinely interested he was in every person and faith journey.

“It wasn’t just how you were. He wanted to know how you were doing on your road to salvation,” she said.

He empowered the laity and encouraged parishioners to seek spiritual advisers, enroll in the Archbishop Flynn Catechetical Institute in St. Paul and attend retreats, she said. Bishop DeGrood was influential in a resurgence in daily Mass attendance and confession that’s continued since his departure, Van Esser said.

“He was always trying to make you a better person and to understand your faith,” she said. 

Kelly Adrian, a parishioner at Bishop DeGrood’s most recent parish assignment, St. John the Baptist in Savage, said her faith grew immensely since he became pastor in 2017.

“With his homilies, it was like, oh my gosh, this is what I needed today — like he was speaking right to me,” she said.

Kelly, and her husband, Mark, sought his individual counsel as they faced challenges with infertility and the adoption of their daughter. Bishop DeGrood listened intently to them with compassion and encouraged them to seek God’s will, they said.

“He was really genuine and made me hopeful that if you follow God’s will, you can find happiness,” Mark said.

Bishop DeGrood’s vision and strategic plan, guided by prayer and the Holy Spirit, set the foundation for a noteworthy legacy at St. John the Baptist. His vision, “All in now, so we are all in Heaven,” became a rallying point for increasing parishioner engagement, bolstering youth participation and community building. He regularly incorporated the “all in” message into his homilies as he encouraged parishioners to invest in their faith and in parish life.

Carrie Otto serves as the parish council chair and recalled how ambitious his approach was as he desired for the parish to reach its fullest potential. Through the roll-out, he remained Christ-centered, she said.

“He was so incredibly consultative and wanted to consult with people he knew had diverse perspectives and expertise,” Otto said. “He had this amazing ability to take that consultation and then trust in God with guiding the final decision.”

Otto’s husband, Josh, enjoyed how Bishop DeGrood let his sense of humor show through videos for social media, and through personal stories that resonated with people in the pews. 

“The last several weeks after Mass, he would have a receiving line that would go through the atrium,” Josh said. “He was always present for people, and you could see how much he cared for people in the parish.”

That included the students and staff in the K-8 parish school, where he was often seen sitting among the young people at lunch time. When he’d lead morning prayer for staff and see a student walk by, Bishop DeGrood would invite him or her to join. It was one of the many ways that he brought people together and developed an inclusive culture, said Principal Phil Singwald.

A strong supporter of Catholic education, Bishop DeGrood was well-loved by students and staff, Singwald said. No matter how busy, he would make time to build connections and help everyone be the best they could be, personally or professionally.

“He’s a very strong leader and accomplished so much in such a short amount of time here. But you knew this was not his end stop,” Singwald said of his mentor.

Patti Knecht, leader of the family apostolate Servants of the Cross, met Bishop DeGrood when he was pastor at Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul from 2013 to 2015. He soon became spiritual director for the group, known for its Living Stations of the Cross. 

Growing up in the Sioux Falls diocese, Knecht was overjoyed when she received a call from Bishop DeGrood shortly after his appointment with a humble request for prayers. To her, he was the right choice, she said, noting his appreciation for relationships and community, and even his ongoing references to the Lord of the Rings.

As the group’s spiritual director, he prayed specifically for the apostolate and aided in nonprofit logistics and retreat planning, attending when his schedule allowed, she said.

“He’s brought such goodness in my life and the life of this family ministry,” Knecht said. “He’s just genuine and real. He loves his flock.”

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