TOTOWA, N.J. (CNS) – Father Benedict J. Groeschel, who was a founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a leading pro-life figure and popular author, retreat master and preacher, died Oct. 3 at St. Joseph’s Home for the elderly in Totowa after a long illness. He was 81.
For many years he was a regular on various TV programs on The NET, Booklyn’s Catholic cable station, and its predecessor, The Prayer Channel.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Father Benedict. He was an example to us all,” said Father John Paul Ouellette, who is also a Franciscan friar and the order’s community servant.
“His fidelity and service to the church and commitment to our Franciscan way of life will have a tremendous impact for generations to come,” he said in a statement released Oct. 4 by the order’s community office in the Bronx.
A wake was planned for Oct. 8 at St. Adalbert’s Church in the Bronx, and Oct. 9, followed by an evening vigil at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J.
A funeral Mass was scheduled Oct. 10 at Newark’s cathedral basilica, followed by burial at Most Blessed Sacrament Friary in Newark. The burial will be private.
“The Catholic Church and the Franciscan family lost a giant today,” said an Oct. 3 statement issued by Father Groeschel’s community.
“Father Benedict was a brother and a father to everyone he encountered. In a world often overwhelmed with darkness, he was a man filled with hope, a hope that he shared with both the rich and poor alike,” the statement said. “His love for others and deep desire to serve, sent him among poor families who were in need of assistance, young people trying to find their way, bishops faced with challenging decisions, priests and religious in need of an encouraging word, and the stranger who was far from God.”
Over the past decade, despite his decline in health, Father Groeschel “continued to serve the church generously and with great fidelity,” according to his community.
In January, 2004, Father Groeschel hovered near death after a car hit him in Orlando, Fla. After a yearlong recovery, he had to walk with a cane and experienced weakness in one arm. But he was able to resume his schedule.
In 2012, following a minor stroke and other health complications, he officially retired from public life and was welcomed by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Totowa. Daily visits of family and friends were the highlight of his days along with spending time in the chapel, concelebrating Mass and making his daily Holy Hour.
Father Groeschel had published a number of books on spirituality and pastoral counseling and founded the Trinity Retreat, a center for prayer and study for clergy. He taught at Fordham University, the Bronx; Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.; and Maryknoll Seminary, Ossining, N.Y.
At the time of his death, he was writing a memoir to be published by Our Sunday Visitor called “The Life of a Struggling Soul.”
His outreach to the poor was legendary. For decades, he distributed food to hundreds of needy people in the South Bronx. His first assignment as a priest was as a Catholic chaplain at Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., a residential facility for troubled children. After being there 14 years, he became founding director of Trinity Retreat in Larchmont, N.Y., a retreat house primarily for Catholic clergy and religious. He was there for 40 years.
He also was the founder of St. Francis House in Greenpoint for older adolescents. In 1985, he and Chris Bell founded Good Counsel Homes for young pregnant women in need.
In 1987, Father Groeschel and seven other friars left the Capuchins to form a new religious community, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, based in the South Bronx and dedicated to the service of the poor.