For most lay people, staying true to the Catholic faith involves going to Church, prayer and giving back to their communities. For Jim Grubka of East Aurora, being Catholic is about devoting his time and service to helping the seminarians that have chosen to serve God, and it is through this that he has been honored for his service to his faith and neighbors.
Grubka and his wife, Bonnie, have been active members of Immaculate Conception Parish since 1975. He was born in Buffalo, was a member of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Cheektowaga, and attended grammar school in Cheektowaga. He went on to be part of the first graduating class of John F. Kennedy High School in 1963, and received a bachelor's degree in accounting from Canisius College in 1967.
"The Eucharist is really the center of our faith, but without priests, it goes by the wayside," Grubka said. "All my grandchildren will end up going to Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian to see what a priest was."
Through his work with seminarians, Grubka has contributed significantly to helping them as a former president of the Serra Club of Buffalo, the local chapter of an international nonprofit organization that serves to promote and support ordained priests, seminarians, and religious life. The Serra Club is the only lay vocational organization recognized by the Vatican, according to its website. It was named to honor Father Junípero Serra, OFM, an 18th-century missionary who founded a number of missions in California.
Last October, Grubka was honored at Christ the King Seminary's 2013 Curé of Ars Awards Dinner at the Hyatt Regency in Buffalo. The Curé of Ars Award, which the seminary's board of trustees created in 1985, is given to people whose lives reflect the faith-based dedication and service characteristic of how St. John Vianney (known as Curé of Ars) lived his own life. In addition to having served as the Serra Club's president, Grubka chaired the committee for the seminary's golf tournament and organized a book sale.
During his acceptance speech, Grubka said he was "truly humbled" to accept the award, and called vocations a gift from God, although the "call may come somewhat silently, calmly, even as a whisper." He asked the audience if our children's children will "be similarly blessed to have a priest in their lives," and if they will have a daily Mass, Sunday Mass or a First Communion.
"We have all known many parish priests over the years. They have baptized us, counseled us, married us, forgiven us our sins, baptized our children and grandchildren. Most importantly, they have consecrated the bread and wine into the body of blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the center of the life of the entire Church, and the heart of priestly existence," Grubka said. "We are most grateful to the men called to God's service...we know the need for new priests in the Diocese of Buffalo is great."
In addition to his work with Serra, Grubka said he started assisting in vocations while Father Leon Biernat was the vocation director for the diocese. While also supporting the Serra Club, his mission was to support the vocation office and the seminarians of the Diocese of Buffalo "through prayer, through interaction with them, and we've been very faithful to that mission." Susan Santandreu, the current president of the Serra Club of Buffalo, now works toward continuing that mission.
Additionally, Grubka was instrumental in creating the Adopt a Seminarian program, which gives a profile of each seminarian, as well as an accompanying prayer, to the public to choose a seminarian and remind him of the support he has. Due to Grubka's work, the Adopt a Seminarian program is now in about 69 parishes. It has allowed individual members of the community to email, write to, and pray for seminarians on a daily basis, so they know "they're not alone, and people are supportive of them," Grubka said.
Grubka said he hopes all Catholic schools in the area will eventually pray for vocations as part of the Adopt a Seminarian program. He said Mary Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School in Cheektowaga, under Msgr. Kevin P. O'Neill, began a program in which each class adopted three seminarians.
"They pray for the seminarians in the class, and you can see the beautiful opportunity that all these young children, young men, praying for vocations ... some day, they might want to follow in the same footsteps, knowing that there is support for them," Grubka said.
Grubka is also a Knight of Columbus and has participated in that organization's Refund Support Vocations Program, or RSVP, in which councils in the Western New York area each support a seminarian, and provide them with $500 a year to help with some of their expenses.
"It's pretty important. It helps the seminarians with books, and some spending money, as it might be," Grubka said of his work with RSVP.
In addition to helping vocations, Grubka worked as a revenue agent, group manager and chief of quality review for the Internal Revenue Service in Buffalo and Pittsburgh before his retirement. He is a Vietnam U.S. Army veteran who received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf clusters, and a lifelong member of the American Legion and the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Father Walter J. Szczesny, vocations director for the Diocese of Buffalo, said he has known Grubka since 1990, when Father Szcesny was assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish as a priest. When asked about what Grubka has done, Father Szczesny said it was refreshing to see a lay person, a husband and father, "recognize the need for vocations, and to be so fervent in his desire to ... help young men or young women find out if God is calling them as a sister or a priest." Father Szczesny also said if the message to begin a vocation comes from an average, everyday person, young people might be more receptive to it.
"He's natural, he's real, a normal guy, a holy guy," Father Szczesny said. "It's so nice, from that perspective, that it's not just the bishop or a priest or a sister telling somebody to follow God's call. It's a layperson saying, 'We need you. We need you in our Church.' That's the great part of it."