A ‘farm boy at heart,’ Bishop-elect DeGrood looks forward to rural ministry in Sioux Falls diocese

| December 13, 2019 | 0 Comments

Immediately after getting the call from the U.S. apostolic nuncio asking him to be bishop of Sioux Falls, Bishop-elect Donald DeGrood went to the adoration chapel to pray.

He felt unsure about what was going on, but, he said, “God gave me a very particular grace to say, ‘I want you to say yes, and I will give you everything you need.’ And it was that grace that brought tremendous peace and joy that has continued to resonate in my heart.”

Because of that grace, he feels confident that his appointment is God’s will, Bishop-elect Donald DeGrood, 54, said at press conference Dec. 12 in Sioux Falls following the 5 a.m. announcement that Pope Francis named him the ninth bishop of that diocese.

He succeeds Bishop Paul Swain, who last year turned 75, the traditional age at which bishops retire.

Bishop-elect Donald DeGrood.
DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

“My desire has been as a priest to do God’s will,” said Bishop-elect DeGrood, who is currently pastor of St. John the Baptist in Savage. “My primary desire in my heart is to be holy and to help everyone experience the love of God, and that’s going to be certainly a very strong, prominent focus on my time in the diocese.”

That the announcement was made on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was significant for him because Mary “has a special place in my heart,” he said.

Mary’s “yes” to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation has been an inspiration to Bishop-elect DeGrood, including his “yes” to becoming a priest, he said. A native of Faribault, he had spent two years at St. John Vianney College Seminary while attending the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, but after graduation took a job in sales. When he decided to return to seminary six years later, he was living in New Ulm and owned a house, he said.

“I wrestled with my vocation because I had many other desires, worldly desires,” he said. “I desired family life, marriage. I desired to have the weekends off and all those fun things. I had to wrestle in my heart with all of those things. I really had to try to find greater freedom. I wish I could adequately describe the interior freedom I have now, because I feel that I am just so resigned, in a sense, to God’s will.”

However, he said he is sad to leave behind his parishioners at St. John the Baptist in Savage and the people in the archdiocese, including family.

“Calling my mother this morning was the hardest thing to do, and I know it’s hard for her, but she also wants God’s will of course,” he said.

Related: Father Donald DeGrood, pastor in Savage, named next bishop of Sioux Falls 

At the press conference, Bishop Swain, who has led the diocese since 2006, said that it was a pleasure to introduce Bishop-elect DeGrood “not only because I can now actually retire” — a comment that drew laughs from the crowd — “but because the diocese will have a discerning bishop who is well respected as a seasoned, prayerful, compassionate and upbeat priest who loves Christ and his Church.”

Bishop Swain described the Diocese of Sioux Falls as being “east river,” South Dakota-speak for being east of the Missouri River; the Diocese of Rapid City is “west river.” Noting that the Sioux Falls diocese covers 35,000 square miles, Bishop Swain advised Bishop-elect DeGrood “to get ready for some significant car time.”

As a native of Wisconsin used to forests, Bishop Swain said he was “taken aback” by South Dakota’s wide-open spaces, but “in my over 13 years of car time as bishop here, I’ve grown to appreciate the prairie and plains, the vistas and the sky to the extent that when I now return to Wisconsin I feel closed in by those trees and hills and all of that. This unique part of God’s creation is a treasure to be savored and preserved.”

Bishop Swain said that as a farm boy, Bishop-elect DeGrood already appreciates “the work ethic and faith grounded in hope that those who farm and ranch live and witness every day. Those core values are deeply ingrained here, not only in the rural areas, but our cities and villages as well, and therefore in our parishes and our people.”

Bishop Swain assured Bishop-elect DeGrood that he would support him in whatever way he can, but “the most practical gift I can give you I think is just to get out of your way, and I will.”

Describing the time in adoration after receiving the call to be bishop, Bishop-elect DeGrood said he also turned to two men in his life, now deceased, who were important to him: his father, Robert, who died in 2003, and his uncle Donny.

He said his uncle was disabled and suffered from spasms, but he was a great “prayer warrior,” and he would pray the rosary over and over.

“He was a great inspiration for me, and he prayed that I would be a priest. But he never told me that he was going to pray that I would be a bishop,” he said with a smile.

As a “farm boy at heart,” he said that as he drove to Sioux Falls Dec. 11, he felt as if he were “going to Nazareth.”

“When I was a little kid, I was supposed to be doing chores, and I would sneak out the back of the barn and down into the woods, and what did I think and pray about? Being a simple, humble country priest like my pastor, Father Francis Pouliot,” he said. Father Pouliot, now retired, was pastor of St. Lawrence in Faribault.

He had wanted to be a priest in a rural diocese, but Bishop-elect DeGrood stayed instead in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He had asked for country parish assignments, but never received one.

“When I go into the country, I feel there’s interior peace,” he said, “because that’s where so much of my great experience has been as a person, as a priest, being able to serve the various people I’ve been privileged to serve.”

He said that he does have apprehensions and uncertainties and that he was “here really at this point to pray, to listen and to learn.” He will be consecrated and installed a bishop on Feb. 13, 2020, the day before his 55th birthday.

He knows some of the priests of the Sioux Falls Diocese who were seminarians while he was spiritual director and formator at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, and through his work with the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha. He’s also spent time at Broom Tree, a retreat center owned by the Sioux Falls diocese.

He said he planned to head to Broom Tree later that day to pray “and let the Lord do his work.”

Bishop-elect DeGrood said he has been praying for the people in the Sioux Falls Diocese.

“All I ask for is your prayers, that I’ll be a holy bishop,” he said.

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