Donald Hoban has long been a daily communicant at the 8 a.m. daily Mass Father Eugene Grohe, C.Ss.R., offers every day but Monday at Sacred Heart Church in Esopus. He likes to assist the priest by lighting the altar candles, clearing the altar after Mass and turning out the church lights.
He knows better than to show up late, even by one minute, because Father Grohe is always on time.
It’s been that way for 50 years. That’s how long Father Grohe has served at Sacred Heart, where he is very much a beloved institution.
He first came to the Ulster County church back in January 1969, according to an old clipping from the Kingston Daily Freeman they were passing around at an open house at Sacred Heart June 9 to honor Father Grohe and thank him for a job well done. In many cases, he’s on the third generation of families he’s served.
Parishioners at Sacred Heart talk about how the priest gets to know the children, and one of the cherished moments comes on the third Sunday of the month when Father Grohe blesses the kids too young to have made their First Holy Communion. He invites them up to the sanctuary, and “if I forget, they remind me,” Father Grohe said.
Hoban said, “Every kid that grew up in the parish, they could relate to him.” That includes Hoban’s girl and two boys, raised with wife Arlene, who now have grown kids of their own.
Father Grohe has probably slowed down a bit, which might be expected. After all, he is 94, and will be 95 Aug. 27.
Until a few years back, he performed double duty. Along with his work at Sacred Heart, Father Grohe tended the 412-acre grounds at nearby Mount St. Alphonsus, where he lived. It was first a seminary and then a retreat house run by the Redemptorists, the religious order to which Father Grohe belongs. He studied for the priesthood at the Mount, and was ordained there on June 18, 1950.
Early in his priesthood, Father Grohe spent a few years as a missioner in the central part of Brazil, where he rode horseback to visit some outposts. “I loved going out into the country,” he said. “You’d do 15 or 20 baptisms, and 10 or 12 marriages on a Sunday. It was very apostolic.”
Unfortunately, he contracted tuberculosis, which cut short his service in South America. Before coming to Esopus, he spent about a dozen years at a parish outside Erie, Pa.
The Redemptorists have staffed Sacred Heart since 1913, a streak that will soon end. The church is a spiritual home to about 300 families and about as picturesque as you’ll find.
Father Grohe gets a hand from fellow Redemptorists, Father Thomas Travers and Father Thomas Deely, who are especially helpful with the Hispanic community.
Father Grohe was reluctant to offer praise by name for fear of forgetting someone. Still, he had kind words for Michelle Metelski, Sacred Heart’s longtime coordinator of religious education, and Gloria Meschi, the parish secretary, and also said Deacon Timothy Dean has been “very helpful.”
Sacred Heart is part of the parish of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Sacred Heart, where Father Carl Johnson is the pastor.
At the end of July, Father Grohe will take his leave from Sacred Heart and go to reside at a Redemptorist retreat house in Long Branch, N.J.
Likely, he’ll keep up with his successful faith formula that’s served him so well for so long.
“I have tremendous trust in our Lord, the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph,” he said. “I pray to them every day. I need their help, both spiritually and physically.”
He said he’s always put a high priority on visiting the sick, because “people know you are concerned about them.” Witnessing his prayers for them, they understand “how important prayer is in their life, and how they can help other people.”