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Father Tuck Grinnell retires after 45 years of ministry

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Fifty years ago, Father Horace H. “Tuck” Grinnell, was a seminarian for the only Catholic diocese in the commonwealth of Virginia — Richmond. It was an altogether different world back then, he said. 

The United States was involved heavily in the Vietnam War. Students protesting in Mexico City were shot down by government forces. Russia was cracking down on liberalization in Czechoslovakia. The assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. led to riots in major cities. 

Seminary enrollment in the country was at an all-time high, said Father Grinnell. And the university he attended for a year before entering seminary was still all-male “in those ancient times.” 

Now, after 45 years of ordained ministry to the people of Virginia, Father Grinnell, pastor of St. Peter Church in Washington, will move to the St. Rose of Lima Priests’ Retirement Villa in Annandale. But he doesn’t anticipate getting a lot of rest. “People are already calling me for weddings and baptisms and to be on this board or that board — I think I’ll be as busy as a one-armed paper hanger,” he said. “I'm not retiring from being a priest — I'm simply retiring from running a parish.”

Father Grinnell was born Aug. 12, 1947, in Charlottesville to Thomas and Ruth Grinnell. He attended Holy Comforter School in Charlottesville and graduated from Benedictine High School in Richmond in 1965. He attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for a year hoping to study chemical engineering before deciding he had a calling to the priesthood. His father also attended the university and helped found the Catholic student group there in the 1940s. 

Father Grinnell graduated from St. Mary’s College Seminary near Catonsville, Md., in 1970. He graduated from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, in 1973 and was ordained a deacon there. Back then, seminarians from Richmond were sent all over the country and world for their formation, including Rome, Baltimore and Washington, said Father Grinnell. But he was the only one at that time in Belgium.

He returned from overseas to be a full-time deacon at St. Mary Church in Alexandria. He spent some time at The Catholic University of America in Washington working on his doctorate but never finished. He was ordained to the priesthood May 4, 1974, by Richmond Auxiliary Bishop Walter F. Sullivan. 

That year, the Diocese of Arlington was created. “It hadn't been announced when I was ordained, but it seemed like (it was imminent),” Father Grinnell said. “All of my family was in what is now the Diocese of Richmond, but I made my Cursillo in Northern Virginia and I fell in love with not just Cursillo but the people I met there. Plus, I had been a deacon for a year in Northern Virginia.”

Father Grinnell has been involved with Cursillo, a spiritual group that hosts retreats, ever since. He has served as spiritual director for more than 50 weekend retreats. “What I found in Cursillo was a way to grow spiritually,” he said. 

Father Grinnell was parochial vicar of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Arlington (1974-77); St. Louis Church in Alexandria (1977-80); St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington (1980-84); and St. Mark Church in Vienna (1984-86). He served as pastor of St. Charles (1986-94); St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church (1994-2010); and then returned as pastor of St. Charles (2010-14).

For the past 28 years, he has helped celebrate Masses for healing. He loves seeing the peace it brings the participants. “There's a beautiful presence of the Holy Spirit in the music and in the prayers. We have confession at the same time,” he said. “I've seen countless healings — I consider it normal. How good is it to watch God’s work? It's marvelous.”

Father Grinnell has spent the last four years as pastor of St. Peter, a small church in a rural area of the diocese. “The good thing about Rappahannock is you get to know everyone in the whole county, not just Catholics. It’s a most interesting place, besides being a most beautiful one,” he said. 

Working with the county and other clergy, they’ve made great strides in serving people who are poor or isolated, he said. “We are reaching out to people — it's the Christian community in action.”

In his retirement, Father Grinnell hopes to get involved with prison ministry and to have more time for skiing and other sports. “I want take up racquetball again. I’ve not been able to play because there are no racquetball courts in Rappahannock,” he said. “If anyone wants to play, I would be game.”

The world may be a different place than it was when Father Grinnell began studying for the priesthood, but his mission has remained constant. “I’ve loved talking about Christ, living Christ, sharing Christ with people through the sacraments,” he said. “I’ve loved working with the least of my sisters and brothers — they’ve transformed my heart.”

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There will be a retirement picnic for Father Grinnell June 10 from noon to 3 p.m. at St. Peter Church, 12762 Lee Hwy., in Washington, Va. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018