For Father John Gribowich, 36, the best type of ministry is to love others.
“That comes usually in working with people who are going through some type of struggle,” he said. “I have a great love for the poor ever since I was in high school. I want to live the social justice mission of the church.”
Born in Trenton, N.J., he grew up in Pennsylvania as a member of St. John the Evangelist Church in Morrisville. He was the only son of the late John and Louise Gribowich.
He jokingly said he felt the call of the priesthood when he was in kindergarten. “I wanted to be a priest my whole life, but I did a lot of other things … as a way to test if I really had a call,” he said.
After attending schools in Pennsylvania, he graduated from DeSales University, Center Valley, with a bachelor’s degree in history and theology.
Growing up in a time when coming from a very Catholic household was natural, he was attracted to the priesthood and grew involved with the church.
“I absolutely loved my parish growing up,” he said. He was an altar server, joined a youth group and played modern liturgical music. He also became a member of the Knights of Columbus and volunteered at a soup kitchen.
God Through Music
A musician who plays guitar and loves jazz and Bob Dylan, he thinks “music is a great source for me in experiencing God.”
“Singer-songwriters have this raw emotion that indicates a yearning for the divine,” he said. “I like hearing where people are in their search.”
In 2002, he entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa., as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He left in 2003 and became a teacher and campus minister at Allentown Central Catholic High School, Allentown, Pa., where he ran an inner city service program.
He earned a master’s in theology from St. Charles Borromeo in 2005. Afterward, he continued working at Central H.S. and taught at DeSales University.
He moved to New York in 2007, and worked at a bookstore, at the Museum of the City of New York and at St. John’s University, Jamaica.
Meanwhile, he earned a master’s degree in art history and library science from Pratt Institute, Clinton Hill. He also has taught at Immaculata University, Immaculata, Pa.
Drawn to Urban Ministry
In 2013, he returned to the seminary, this time for the Brooklyn Diocese. He said it was the right time to answer a call that was always there. It also was the right place because he loved doing urban ministry in the diocese.
He graduated from St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, with a master of divinity degree and a bachelor of sacred theology degree.
He is grateful for the mentorship of Father Bill Smith, pastor of Our Lady of Light parish, St. Albans, and to Father Michael Perry, pastor of Our Lady of Refuge Church, Flatbush.
“Every priest I encountered had something in them that prompted my vocation,” he said. “It is hard to pinpoint an individual priest but the earliest priest I remember was the pastor at my parish, Father Francisco O’Railly. And there have been great priests mentors all the way.”
Social Justice Mission
Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement also played a major role in how he understands ministry and the role of the Church.
He co-owns the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, which helps to feed the poor in Pennsylvania and New York. And he ministers at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, praying with cancer patients and their families.
As a priest, he would seek to be a servant to the people who are entrusted to him and to “really listen” to their needs.
“You become a priest to lay down your entire life,” he said. “I have an obligation to find the presence of Christ in each person.”
Father Gribowich will offer his first Mass of thanksgiving at Our Lady of Refuge on June 28 at 11:30 a.m.
He will have another first Mass for Our Lady of Light parish – with original jazz tunes played by parishioners – on July 5 at St. Catherine of Sienna Church at 11 a.m.