Bishop Grosz recalls surprise in being named auxiliary bishop

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Tue, Jan 20th 2015 03:00 pm
Bishop Edward Grosz has been auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo for 25 years.
Bishop Edward Grosz has been auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo for 25 years.

Bishop Edward M. Grosz, auxiliary bishop of Buffalo, celebrates the 25th anniversary of his episcopal ordination this month. In honor of Bishop Grosz, we are celebrating him all week with a series of stories about his ministry prior to his anniversary Mass Sunday, Feb. 1, at 2 p.m. at St. Joseph Cathedral. All are welcome.

Bishop Edward M. Grosz, who describes himself as shy as a child, now talks with NASCAR speed, as he tells the odd way he learned he was named a bishop 25 years ago. It is a story full of mystery, travel, suspense, humor, even a surprise cameo.

The Black Rock native had wanted to be a priest ever since attending Assumption School in Buffalo, just a short walk from his house. After six years at the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary, he entered St. John Vianney Seminary in East Aurora. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1971 at the age of 26. He served as an assistant at Transfiguration and St. Luke parishes in Buffalo, before becoming the founding director of the diocesan Office of Worship. He took on further assignments as chaplain to the Felician Sisters and weekend assistant at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo.

The process of becoming a bishop is shrouded in pontifical secrecy. Candidates can be considered for the episcopate without their knowing. And once the candidate finds out, it often remains a secret for several weeks.

Pope John Paul II signed the document proclaiming then Msgr. Edward Grosz a bishop on Nov. 22, 1989. Word did not come to the bishop for quite a while after. Then, just after Thanksgiving 1989, Bishop Grosz received a mysterious phone call.

"I had just gotten done praying the rosary, the snow was gently falling, and I got a call from Bishop (Edward D.) Head, (shepherd for Buffalo at the time). I said, 'Did I do something wrong?' He said, 'No, no.' I said, 'Then what is the intent of this call?'"

Bishop Grosz was given three instructions, pray three Hail Marys, call a Washington, D.C. phone number, and tell no one.

Msgr. Grosz did as instructed, calling the papal nuncio and leaving a message. During the return call, the nuncio told him to come to the Vatican embassy in Washington, and again, tell no one.

Monday morning, after the holiday weekend, and after arranging to have his Masses at the Villa Maria motherhouse covered, Msgr. Grosz flew to Washington.

"I ring the doorbell. Who answers but Paloma (the caretaker). Paloma in Spanish means dove. I said, 'I'm Msgr. Grosz; I'm here for lunch.'"

The nuncio brought Msgr. Grosz up a winding staircase, passing the future Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the way to the nuncio's office, where he sees a stack of file folders.

"He said, 'Our Holy Father, John Paul II, has appointed you auxiliary bishop of Buffalo.' I said, 'Bishop? What are you taking about? I'm only 44 years old.' 'This is why we must talk.'"

While overwhelmed, Msgr. Grosz and the nuncio talked. This is part of the scrutinium, a secret process of questing the candidate, designed to learn more about him. The nuncio was already aware of many aspects of Msgr. Grosz' life, such as his singing voice. When asked how he knew the bishop liked to sing, the nuncio replied, "The Holy Father must know everything about the bishops. That's how thorough they are."

At noon, the hour where Mary was asked to be the mother of God, the nuncio asked Msgr. Grosz if he would accept the position.

"How can I not accept a call from the Holy Father? If this is what God in His providence wants me to do. Certainly, I'm honored. I'm humbled," he said.

He called Bishop Head, who asked if he accepted. "You knew?" "I'm the one who asked for you to be made a bishop." The dialogue remains in the forefront of Bishop Grosz's mind.

As the news sank in, Msgr. Grosz visited the Theological Seminary while in Washington. There he ran into a friend, Father Michael "Mickey" Spillane who guessed Msgr. Grosz would be named a bishop. Still under pontifical secrecy, he had to deflect the accusations.

Back in Buffalo, the new bishop celebrated Mass for the Felician Sisters before meeting with Bishop Head. He points to the "Mutt and Jeff" photo of the two of them taken a month before all this happened.

"Let me tell you how strange that is," he said, holding the photo that sits on his windowsill. "That took place a month prior to my appointment. That's taken in the crypt of the basilica of the National Shrine. What was so funny is we had just finished Mass in the chapel and somebody said, let's take a picture. That's the picture. He already knew what was going on. I knew nothing about it. Two months later, this thing happens. He embraces me and said, 'I will do anything. We will work together as you are part of the government of the Church and diocese.'"

All bishops must design a coat of arms and select an episcopal motto. Bishop Grosz' coat of arms pays tribute to his family. A saw and plane honor his father, Joseph, a carpenter. Two coins represent his Polish heritage, as grosz is the Polish word for penny. His name actually appears on currency in Poland. After praying on his motto, he chose "Magnificat Anima Mea Dominum" or "My whole being proclaims the greatness of the Lord," from the "Song of Mary."

"That's the perfect thing because it's Mary proclaiming the greatness of God," he said. "Its focus is not on Mary, but on God, as God called her to be the channel for bringing God to others. He has called me now to be bishop, like Mary, to be a channel to bring the Lord Jesus to others."

Although he was now a bishop, his first love has always been parish life. In October, just a month before his announcement, he asked Bishop Head to return him to parish life.

He was sent to St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Cheektowaga.

"Msgr. (Anthony) Jasinski founded the parish. He was there 23 years. It was (built on the grounds of) a pig farm," he said, as a matter of fact.

After being told to pick two priests as staff, Bishop Grosz asked Father David LiPuma, from St. Leo's and Father Richard Jedrzejewski, from St. Benedict's in Eggertsville. They worked together for about five years.

"We operated as a pastoral team," he said. "Let me tell you, it was the most beautiful experience of my life. They were just the most wonderful mentors. We operated as a team. It was 2,400 families, 10,000 people. We formed a beautiful parish family. The people saw how we had such a beautiful fraternity among ourselves that was reflected in the very love of the family life of the parish. You would not walk into that church without being greeted. You would not walk into the church without someone hugging you. It was a huggable church. That's how I got the title of the Huggable Bishop," he said with a laugh. "To this day a week doesn't go by without me bumping into someone from St. Philip the Apostle."

Bishop Henry J. Mansell assigned him to Niagara Falls to be pastor of St. Stanislaus and Holy Trinity parishes, and be vicar of Northeast Niagara County. Although disappointed to leave St. Philip's, Bishop Grosz remained obedient and traveled north. He described the seven years there as challenging, but beautiful.

In 2003, after Msgr. John Gabalski died, Bishop Mansell asked Bishop Grosz to take over St. Stanislaus Parish in Buffalo, the Mother Church of Polonia.

Bishop Grosz was asked at the funeral to take over "today." He asked for a few days to say goodbye to his parishioners. A week later it was announced that Bishop Mansell was named archbishop of Hartford, Conn. At that point, in accordance with Canon Law, he was unable to assign pastors, hence the hasty appointment.

In 2004, as the Diocese of Buffalo waited for a new bishop, Bishop Grosz was named administrator, allowing him to oversee the diocese with limited power. He later told Bishop Mansell, "I can appreciate everything you did as bishop in your eight and a half years in Buffalo."

During his nearly five months as administrator, Bishop Grosz made an ad limina visit to the Vatican. Bishops make ad limina visits to inform the pope of the needs and changes in their diocese. Bishop Grosz attended one such visit in 2004. After a Mass, he was the last to leave the chapel. He found himself in chapel alone with Pope John Paul II. After greeting him in Polish, the pope hugged the bishop.

"I thought he was going to break my ribs," Bishop Grosz said. "I looked into his beautiful eyes, and the only other beautiful eyes I've ever seen like his were in my experience in Philadelphia when I took 500 people to Philadelphia for the International Eucharist Congress and I met Mother Teresa.

"Both of them, it's like they look through you. I just looked at him. I thought, I have the pope to myself. Now to think this guy's a saint. I remember walking down the corridor by myself, thinking, 'Oh, my God. I can't believe this.' Especially when I spoke in Polish and he responded in English. Wait a minute, I practiced all this Polish and you're coming back in English."

Since 2009, Bishop Grosz has served as the "point man" for Bishop Edward U. Kmiec and now Bishop Richard J. Malone. "Bishop Kmiec called me the point man. It means whatever the bishop throws on your desk, you do."

"The relationship has been wonderful," he said of Bishop Malone. "He is a fantastic bishop. He's just a great man to work with and for. He's totally available to me, very supportive of anything that I do. Very appreciative. Thanks me. Commends me."

In his current position the bishop handles many diverse and sensetive matters. He deals with residential treatment and the aftercare for priests. He also handles pastoral concerns that are brought to his attention.

In his role as vicar general, he serves as the mind of the bishop and has authority to speak for the bishop. As auxiliary bishop he is vice president of the corporation of the diocese. As such, he serves on the boards of Christ the King Seminary, chair for Diocesan Counseling Center for Church Ministers, Baker Victory Services, Catholic Charities and the Foundation for Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

Looking back at the quarter century since his ordination, he recalls Bishop Donald Trautman offering, what at the time seemed like an odd bit of advice. "If you are called to a higher office in the Church, remember one thing; always follow what is in your heart."

"Higher office? That didn't make any sense to me; now it does," he said. "The past 25 years, as I look back, my point was always, do what the Lord asks you to do, always to follow the will of God, as the will of God is manifested in the authority of the Church, the Holy Father, my own bishop, to whom I have always pledged my allegiance, my obedience, my support, and to do whatever I am asked to do."

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