My very good friend, Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R., died yesterday on the same day as St. Francis of Assisi, after praying a rosary. He was a renowned Christian retreat director, author, preacher, teacher, counselor, and guide to many, perhaps the most well-known priest in the United States. It was my privilege to call him co-founder of Good Counsel Homes, my spiritual director, and my friend.
Fr. Benedict and I met during the winter of 1980 while I was at a mission helping homeless and runaway kids in Times Square. He came during the most difficult day I had there, gave a homily filled with practical as well as spiritual insights which began a long personal collaboration in helping the poor and helping those who help others.
Considering the plight of homeless mothers and babies, whom I saw coming off the streets into this mid-town Manhattan shelter, I asked Fr. Benedict, “Why doesn’t someone do something to help homeless mothers go back to school, find a job, or ‘take that next good step in life?’ (As he would often say).” His final response was that he would help me if I wanted to start a home for mothers and babies.
Good Counsel Homes is has been in operation for nearly 30 years now helping mothers return to school and find jobs. Fr. Benedict helped me every step of the way and was the founding chairman of the Board. He was a personal and professional guide as we worked with difficult situations and he was a major reason Good Counsel was able to open our Daystar Home for special needs mothers who are not only homeless, but have a mental health diagnosis and/or an addiction.
For a while, I worked with him at St. Francis Home, a home he began for young men in Brooklyn. I’ve seen him calm the anger and rage of young men. He was sympathetic and inspiring to those young men as he was also with Good Counsel’s young women.
While traveling with him on pilgrimages to Italy, France, Ireland, and England, he was often met by people who were familiar with his writing, his tapes, or appearances on EWTN, the international television network. He always was himself, kind, friendly, and helpful.
Many times I’d meet with him late at night because often he was counseling priests up until midnight. He helped to bring scores of priests who had left the priesthood back into the good graces of the Church and into the practicing ministry.
He’d often sleep only four hours a night. When he once complained to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom he was appointed as liaison by the then Cardinal of New York, Terrance Cooke, that he was always tired. He related that Mother asked him, “How long do you sleep?” He responded, “Four hours.” She replied, “That’s the problem.” “What?” he asked. “You sleep too much!” Fr. Benedict enjoyed that kind of humor.
He was a strong pro-life witness and advocate present at many marches and speaking at many rallies to defend the unborn from abortion. He was also arrested, along with a bishop and another friar, at the notorious Dobbs Ferry, NY abortion mill. He spent several days in the Valhalla prison.
Fr. Benedict often said he was looking forward to going to “Purgatory, because it was like Jersey City,” where he grew up.
Many people believe Fr. Benedict to be a saint. He would scorn at such a remark. He would always say, “Pray for me when I die. I’ll need it.”
While he was not perfect, his preaching and work with the poor touched millions of lives. When he was going to speak to priests on a retreat in Florida on January 11, 2004, he was hit by a car and nearly died. Thousands of people prayed for him and wrote how he had personally changed their lives. Many were converted to or strengthened in their Catholic faith. Some Protestants and non-Christians who remained in their faith listened to him regularly and were helped because of his incredible spiritual insights and practical wisdom.
He will not be forgotten. Of his 40 plus books, all still in print, I believe many will be read for centuries to come.
May Fr. Benedict rest in Your Peace Lord.
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