Deacon teaches faith and physics at Paul VI

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deacon 50th anniversaryThis is the sixth in a series of articles throughout the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reinstitution of the permanent diaconate in the United States.

Students who elect to take physics at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax get a healthy helping of faith to go with Newton’s laws of motion when Deacon Thomas L. Grodek is at the helm.

“Secular society is trying to convince them that faith and science don’t go together and so... my witness at the front of the classroom as an ordained clergyman teaching science is good for them to see.” Deacon Thomas L. Grodek

 The retired U.S. Navy engineer, father of four and grandfather of 11, was ordained to the permanent diaconate last January and has enjoyed sharing his vocation story and formation journey with students over the past seven years.

 Deacon Grodek was born July 29, 1956, in Chicago. Growing up before Vatican II restored the permanent diaconate, young Grodek did not get the opportunity to see permanent deacons in action. It wasn’t until he joined the U.S. Navy in 1978 that he began to meet the occasional permanent deacon.

 “I remember looking at that and saying, is this something maybe God would call me to do?” said Grodek. “But I didn’t pay it that much attention.”

 His “lightning bolt” moment came in 2000, while visiting family in Chicago for his brother’s 25th wedding anniversary Mass. While Deacon Grodek was helping set up for Mass, a priest who was an old family friend asked him if he had ever considered being a permanent deacon. While the question took Deacon Grodek completely by surprise, it did plant a seed in his heart. Unfortunately, the only thing he knew about the permanent diaconate at the time was that the Diocese of Arlington did not have a formation program.

Some people suggested that he go across the river to participate in the Archdiocese of Washington’s permanent diaconate program, but Deacon Grodek decided to wait. His patience paid off when Bishop Paul S. Loverde started accepting applicants to the program in 2006.

After attending a few information sessions, he finally worked up the courage to talk to the formation director, Father Thomas P. Ferguson, in the summer of 2010.

While Father Ferguson felt Deacon Grodek had a vocation, he was sorry to inform him that the diocese was not taking new applicants until the following year. Deacon Grodek was disappointed at the news.

“But even though I had to wait a year to apply, he set me up with a deacon at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as a mentor. So it was a good year,” he said.

He was accepted into the formation program in January 2012 and was ordained a permanent deacon with five other men by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge Jan. 14, 2017, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

 

While he is assigned to Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, where he and his wife, Marilyn, are parishioners, he also has the opportunity to serve as a deacon at Paul VI. He assists Father Stephen J. Schultz, chaplain, at Mass in the chapel before school, preaches the Gospel and is present to teachers and students who have any questions or need counseling.

Sometimes he gets as much support from the students as he gives. When his family was mourning the loss of his daughter, Maureen, who died from complications linked to her chromosomal anomaly, he said the students were very supportive and knew exactly what to say. The students in turn were able to witness Deacon Grodek’s faith during that difficult time and his love for his daughter.

“God did not abandon us,” said Deacon Grodek. “He surrounded us with the love of the church and sacraments.”

One of the questions he gets now is, “Why don’t you teach theology?”

While he has taught some religion classes in the past, he and his spiritual director see no reason to change subjects.

“One of the things that these kids struggle with a lot is the whole faith versus science thing,” said Deacon Grodek. “Secular society is trying to convince them that faith and science don’t go together and so my spiritual director feels very strongly that my witness at the front of the classroom as an ordained clergyman teaching science is good for them to see.”

While the past year as a deacon, husband, father, grandfather and teacher has been busy, he still can’t help but feel grateful.

“I feel very blessed. There are times where I sit back and I just have to say, ‘Thank you, Lord,’” said Deacon Grodek. “It’s a great joy to know I can place myself in God’s hands. What he has shown me is that he has given me the gifts I need so far to do the ministry.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018