Welcoming New Adventures

Father Grodnicki not deterred by age in trying new ministries, endeavors

July 26, 2023 at 5:24 p.m.
Father Robert Grodnicki, center, stands surrounded by fellow clergy members as they gathered to celebrate his retirement Mass in St. Luke Parish, Toms River. Mike Ehrmann photos
Father Robert Grodnicki, center, stands surrounded by fellow clergy members as they gathered to celebrate his retirement Mass in St. Luke Parish, Toms River. Mike Ehrmann photos

By EMMALEE ITALIA
Contributing Editor

For Father Robert Grodnicki, newly retired pastor of St. Luke Parish, Toms River, the priestly life has been a bit unconventional assisting those on the margins struggling with addiction and working with foster care and adoptions before his role of pastor. And yet, if anything, it encourages his perspective that anyone can do something new, no matter their age.

“A lot of people think they’re too old to do something,” he said. “If they haven’t been married [I suggest] the seminary … I was 37, and they were happy to have me!”

This bodes well for the priest of 35 years who now looks to embrace retirement.

PHOTO GALLERY: Father Grodnicki Retirement Mass

    Father Grodnicki happily poses for a photo with parishioners in St. Luke Parish who attended his retirement Mass
 
 


“I told Bishop I have a job offer from DeLorenzo’s (Pizza); he told me to take it,” Father Grodnicki joked. “I’m open to anything.”

Born in 1945 in Trenton, his family belonged to St. Joseph Parish before moving to Morrisville, Pa. He attended Catholic schools, where he “remembered every nun and priest I ever had as a teacher — even at Bishop Egan High School in Levittown.” After graduation from Villanova University, Villanova, Pa., he spent four years in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at McGuire Air Force Base, Wrightstown. He studied accounting at Rider University, Lawrenceville, and worked as an accountant in New Jersey and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It was there that he felt his calling.

“I was not really thrilled with my life … I loved my education, and Villanova was Augustinian,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘maybe I should try this, I’ve tried everything else.’”

Father Grodnicki applied to the seminary in 1982, received his Master of Divinity degree from Washington Theological Union, Washington, and was ordained an Augustinian priest April 23, 1988, in his home parish of Holy Trinity, Morrisville, by Archbishop Eugene Marino of Atlanta.

Varied Experience

Following ordination, Father Grodnicki worked for a year in Minnesota with the Hazelden Foundation, a center for addiction and addiction studies affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous. He earned a master’s degree in social work from Loyola University, Chicago, in 1991, then was stationed in St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish, Bronx, N.Y.

He served as a social worker from 1991-1996 for New York Foundling Hospital — founded by three Sisters of Charity to empower struggling children and families — where he assisted in foster care and adoptions. Subsequently, he pursued doctoral studies in sociology from Fordham University in New York. In 1998, Father Grodnicki returned to Chicago to work with the Department of Children and Family Services for the state of Illinois as well as Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago in child welfare.                            

“It was interesting … dealing with the legal system of child welfare,” he reflected. “I think my priesthood affected people around me because they finally got to know a priest on their own terms. … I went out into the world and worked with other people.”

Upon his return to New Jersey in 2006, Father Grodnicki was incardinated into the Diocese of Trenton by Bishop John M. Smith. He was assigned as parochial vicar of St. Luke Parish and assumed the role as parish pastor in 2009.

Answering Community Needs

Because of his background in addiction social work, Father Grodnicki was asked to begin a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous in St. Luke Parish.

“Hurricane Sandy hit, and all these places [nearby] … that had AA groups got washed out,” he explained. Although the church had very little space and the power was out for a while, “they were all so desperate at the time … so we took them in.”

After completing a large addition during his pastorate, the parish now hosts almost 25 separate AA groups. “They never went home, they stayed with us,” Father Grodnicki said. “Our doors are open all the time; most nights you see the parking lot full of cars … all related to help with addiction. That was the need we saw.”

He found his priesthood has helped him learn how to deal with different types of personalities and disorders.

“Faith helps you to see the Gospel in a whole different way and see what Jesus was really talking about,” Father Grodnicki explained, pointing out the Lazarus story for guidance in helping people with grieving and hospice. “You try to apply it to the experiences you have in life.”



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For Father Robert Grodnicki, newly retired pastor of St. Luke Parish, Toms River, the priestly life has been a bit unconventional assisting those on the margins struggling with addiction and working with foster care and adoptions before his role of pastor. And yet, if anything, it encourages his perspective that anyone can do something new, no matter their age.

“A lot of people think they’re too old to do something,” he said. “If they haven’t been married [I suggest] the seminary … I was 37, and they were happy to have me!”

This bodes well for the priest of 35 years who now looks to embrace retirement.

PHOTO GALLERY: Father Grodnicki Retirement Mass

    Father Grodnicki happily poses for a photo with parishioners in St. Luke Parish who attended his retirement Mass
 
 


“I told Bishop I have a job offer from DeLorenzo’s (Pizza); he told me to take it,” Father Grodnicki joked. “I’m open to anything.”

Born in 1945 in Trenton, his family belonged to St. Joseph Parish before moving to Morrisville, Pa. He attended Catholic schools, where he “remembered every nun and priest I ever had as a teacher — even at Bishop Egan High School in Levittown.” After graduation from Villanova University, Villanova, Pa., he spent four years in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at McGuire Air Force Base, Wrightstown. He studied accounting at Rider University, Lawrenceville, and worked as an accountant in New Jersey and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It was there that he felt his calling.

“I was not really thrilled with my life … I loved my education, and Villanova was Augustinian,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘maybe I should try this, I’ve tried everything else.’”

Father Grodnicki applied to the seminary in 1982, received his Master of Divinity degree from Washington Theological Union, Washington, and was ordained an Augustinian priest April 23, 1988, in his home parish of Holy Trinity, Morrisville, by Archbishop Eugene Marino of Atlanta.

Varied Experience

Following ordination, Father Grodnicki worked for a year in Minnesota with the Hazelden Foundation, a center for addiction and addiction studies affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous. He earned a master’s degree in social work from Loyola University, Chicago, in 1991, then was stationed in St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish, Bronx, N.Y.

He served as a social worker from 1991-1996 for New York Foundling Hospital — founded by three Sisters of Charity to empower struggling children and families — where he assisted in foster care and adoptions. Subsequently, he pursued doctoral studies in sociology from Fordham University in New York. In 1998, Father Grodnicki returned to Chicago to work with the Department of Children and Family Services for the state of Illinois as well as Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago in child welfare.                            

“It was interesting … dealing with the legal system of child welfare,” he reflected. “I think my priesthood affected people around me because they finally got to know a priest on their own terms. … I went out into the world and worked with other people.”

Upon his return to New Jersey in 2006, Father Grodnicki was incardinated into the Diocese of Trenton by Bishop John M. Smith. He was assigned as parochial vicar of St. Luke Parish and assumed the role as parish pastor in 2009.

Answering Community Needs

Because of his background in addiction social work, Father Grodnicki was asked to begin a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous in St. Luke Parish.

“Hurricane Sandy hit, and all these places [nearby] … that had AA groups got washed out,” he explained. Although the church had very little space and the power was out for a while, “they were all so desperate at the time … so we took them in.”

After completing a large addition during his pastorate, the parish now hosts almost 25 separate AA groups. “They never went home, they stayed with us,” Father Grodnicki said. “Our doors are open all the time; most nights you see the parking lot full of cars … all related to help with addiction. That was the need we saw.”

He found his priesthood has helped him learn how to deal with different types of personalities and disorders.

“Faith helps you to see the Gospel in a whole different way and see what Jesus was really talking about,” Father Grodnicki explained, pointing out the Lazarus story for guidance in helping people with grieving and hospice. “You try to apply it to the experiences you have in life.”


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