Father Robert S. Grodnicki is known throughout the greater Toms River area as a pastor who opens wide the doors of St. Luke Parish to all who need support in their journey to recovery from addiction. Indeed, some 15 recovery groups meet there every week.
At the Diocesan Recovery Mass Sept. 17 in Freehold Township’s St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, where he was the celebrant and homilist, Father Grodnicki shared how important patience, courage and most of all, faith, are in helping those with addictions recovery.
Photo Gallery: Recovery Mass
The Mass was concelebrated by Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, Co-Cathedral rector, and Father Michael McClane, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton, and priests of the diocese.
Father Grodnicki shared his own journey to healing, explaining that it began in a Washington, D.C., jail cell 37 years ago when, as a new Augustinian seminarian, he hit rock bottom after a night of serious drinking.
It’s a story he relives on the anniversary of that occasion every year without fail, a story more than appropriate, he said, to share at the Mass for persons in recovery, or those with family members or loved ones who are in recovery or wish to be in recovery.
“A week ago, I received a phone call from someone I knew who calls every year on that date who always asks the same question, ‘Where were you 37 years ago today?’ I was in jail waiting for someone to bail me out,” Father Grodnicki said.
The someone was Father William Waters, director of formation for the Augustinian order that Father Grodnicki had entered two weeks earlier.
That night, he said, “I wanted to be the center of attention. I went out for a beer and then quite a few more beers, and the next thing I knew, I was in jail.”
When his release was secured, Father Grodnicki said he expected to be sent home. “I thought that would be the end of me as a priest,” he recalled.
Instead, Father Waters took him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and told him it would be a mainstay of his life for the next 90 days. “He said, ‘I am going to pick you up every day for 90 days, and you are going to a meeting,” Father Grodnicki related.
When he first began attending the meetings, he recoiled, thinking, “I am not like them. But the longer I went to the meetings, the more I knew I did belong. I had thought I was unique, alone,” Father Grodnicki said.
He drew upon the story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John 11:32-44 likening it to an allegory of one’s relationship with God, saying, “When you hit rock bottom, when you feel dead, when you don’t feel anything and are beyond despair. When you think there is no one to save you – when you say like Mary, ‘If only you had been there, Jesus,’” that is the moment to realize that “Jesus has always been there but we didn’t listen.”
Those suffering from addictions, he said, should not give in to the feeling that they are suffering from a “terminal illness” nor should they regard themselves as “the center of the universe like the scribes and the Pharisees who don’t want to hear the truth.”
“Become a forgiver – that is what Jesus did,” he said, advising they cultivate a sense of humor, patience and compassion. “Many feel they are no longer worthy to be in church. Many feel they are great sinners. Many blame God and think he doesn’t hear us. We need compassion, understanding and patience with people. We need to act the way Jesus did.”
The evening, themed “Grace for the Journey,” was sponsored by the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care. Department director Deanna Sass called the event a natural next step following the statewide turnout to the diocesan-sponsored addiction symposium held in September 2018 that addressed the role of Catholic parishes in supporting recovery.
During the Universal Prayer, she led the congregation in praying for those struggling with the “agony, pain and suffering brought forth by addictions” and for those on the recovery journey to be “strengthened each and every day, to stay the course, to work the steps and to choose life.”
Those who attended fellowship in Dentici Hall after Mass expressed their appreciation for the gathering. Among them were many who belong to AA and Al-Anon groups who asked to remain anonymous. The people at one table shared that they had 147 years in attendance at various groups between them.
“I think that Masses like this are a beginning. I hope we see more of this,” said one woman.
One adult child of an alcoholic who went to Al-Anon weekly for 14 years before “finally finding some serenity” said, “It is nice to celebrate recovery. It’s wonderful when someone does go into recovery, and you see that all the aggravation and pain was worth it.”
Another person commended St. Luke Parish for offering multiple recovery groups. “For so many of us, this is a way of life. When you are falling down, there is someone there to pick you up.”
Fran and Don Klimaszewski are a husband and wife coaching team for RAFTS – Recovery advocates for the Shore. Members of St. Rose Parish, Belmar, they started volunteering with the organization two years ago.
Don Klimaszewski has been in recovery for 37 years, and his wife is a recovery advocate and addiction nurse who retired in 2006. She said they are energized by the growing amount of recovery activity they see in the Church and community at-large.
“The Recovery Mass was wonderful, and Father Grodnicki’s talk was very encouraging,” Fran Klimaszewski said. “The fact that he gave his own history and that you can identify with him as a very humble and dedicated man was very moving.”
The couple said they plan to participate in the Oct. 3 “Free the Captives” program at St. Luke Parish, which will include a panel discussion about overcoming addiction.