Vocations: Priest feels his vocation was helped by his time teaching future priests
NEW CASTLE — Father John Grimm enjoyed his time mentoring and teaching future priests in northern New Jersey, but he was happy to return to parish work last summer as administrator at Holy Spirit Parish in New Castle.
Since 2007, Father Grimm had been on the faculty at Immaculate Conception Seminary, which is part of Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. An assistant professor of moral theology, he primarily taught seminarians, but there were some lay graduate students in his classes and, in his second year there, he taught an undergraduate course.
There were many positives to working with seminarians, he said.
“I remember the director of the seminary said that one of the best things about working there was the enthusiasm of the seminarians and their love and expectation of the gift of the priesthood. It’s something that a priest can take for granted, just living the life year after year. But to be around these guys for whom that’s their goal, and their yearning for that, it’s very inspiring and refreshing,” he said.
But he had left his previous career as a lawyer because he felt called to parish life, and since 2005 – when he left the diocese to earn an advanced degree in moral theology from the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. – he had not been able to do that. He earned that degree in May 2007, and the late Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli asked him to teach at Immaculate Conception, which was the bishop’s alma mater.
Father Grimm called the decision to leave parish work difficult, but a priest friend told him he was not likely to get another chance to teach full-time and that parish work would always be there.
“It was a wonderful experience. It was very formative for me. Maybe the first round of seminary didn’t take and I needed to go back to the seminary. It was very good to see that formation program from the inside,” said Father Grimm, a Wilmington native who graduated from Immaculate Heart of Mary School and Archmere Academy.
He missed hearing confessions, teaching the faith to rank-and-file Catholics, visiting the sick, administering the sacraments and saying Mass. At Seton Hall, he usually concelebrated because of the number of priests on campus. He helped out at area parishes and signed up to hear confessions at the university, “but it’s not the same thing.”
Teaching involved a lot of time behind a desk, preparing for classes and grading papers. While leading a parish certainly involves a fair amount of office work, it is not the same. “To me, the seminary was too close to my old life as a lawyer, to be perfectly frank. It always seemed like I was getting ready to stand up and talk, which is what I did as a lawyer,” he said.
When the call came from Father John Mink, chairman of the diocesan Priest Personnel Committee, to return to the diocese, Father Grimm was ready. He feels like he is a stronger priest given his seminary experience, and he is excited to build upon the work done by his predecessor, Father Tim Nolan.
As an associate pastor, Father Grimm served at Immaculate Conception in Elkton, Md., for a year, then at St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin, but he was not entirely unfamiliar with Holy Spirit. He spent a month at the parish as temporary administrator before Father Nolan arrived. He is eager to put his teaching experience to the test.
From theory to practice
“Like I said to a couple of seminarians up there, ‘Now I have to show you guys how it’s done.’ I’ve been talking to these guys for four years about how to be in a parish,” Father Grimm said.
His other work for the diocese has included advising officials on bioethics issues. He was involved in efforts to defeat a pro-cloning bill in Delaware. He also writes a monthly Sunday readings column for The Dialog’s website.
As an administrator, Father Grimm has the same responsibilities as a pastor. He could hold that title for up to a year, but also could be named pastor at any time. He has tried to reassure his parishioners that “my status had nothing to do with a temporary tag but was hopefully just a transitional situation. It’s just a title as far as I’m concerned.”
He is eager to continue to improve upon what Father Nolan had started at Holy Spirit. He would like to see the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of Peace statue become a center of Marian spirituality in the diocese. Each Saturday, after the 8 a.m. Mass, there is adoration, the rosary and confessions at the church. The first Saturday of each month includes Marian devotions.
He has assessed the condition of the various buildings on the site. The parish had to replace the convent roof and did so through special collections and donations. The roof of the equipment room in the gymnasium was replaced, and they’ve tried to fix flooding problems in the school building. The entire gymnasium roof needs to be replaced, but that is on hold for now as fundraising takes place. On a nine-acre property where all the buildings are about the same age, it should not be a surprise that work will need to be done.