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How a Chance Meeting With Father Benedict Groeschel Helped Save a Retreat Center

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

Mark Gordon - published on 10/14/14

Father Benedict was true to his word. For the next decade and a half he came regularly to speak, often twice a year. When we began an annual conference on sacred art and architecture, Father Benedict agreed to be one of our keynote speakers. He recommended the retreat center to his brothers in the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and their lay associates. He vouched for me at EWTN, which led to two appearances on that network. Along the way, we changed the name of the place, revamped the annual program, and scrubbed both the visiting and permanent staff.

The fortunes of the retreat center slowly began to turn. We attracted a larger lay community, became self-sufficient, and saw our reputation shift from backward-looking outpost to robust institution. Eventually, we were able to detach the center from the religious order that had founded it and turn ownership over to an independent, largely lay board that operated under the oversight of local bishops. The ministry thrives today, thanks in part to the words and witness of Father Benedict Groeschel.

I left the retreat center in early 2002 and started my own business. I saw Father Benedict a few times after that, but never in circumstances where we could spend any appreciable time together. He wasn’t perfect—he may have misspoke when assessing the clerical sexual abuse crisis, for example—but he was an indefatigable preacher, a friend of the poor, a daily reader of Augustine, a lover of Jesus, a true son of the Church, and an indispensable mentor to tens of thousands, including me.

When I heard about Father Benedict’s death, my mind didn’t wander to any of this. Instead, I recalled how he opened his talk the very first time I saw him, at that apologetics conference. He said that he had just come from the chapel, where he prayed before the Blessed Sacrament and asked for the courage to defend Christ. There was an uncomfortable pause and then he slammed his fist down on the lectern and shouted, “WHAT RUBBISH! WHAT ARROGANCE! We don’t defend Christ! Christ defends us!”

That apostolic zeal, that fire for the truth is Father Benedict’s greatest legacy. And those who were touched by that fire, personally or at a distance, have been blessed indeed.

Mark Gordonis a partner at PathTree, a consulting firm focused on organizational resilience and strategy. He also serves as president of both the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Diocese of Providence, and a local homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Mark is the author of Forty Days, Forty Graces: Essays By a Grateful Pilgrim. He and his wife Camila have been married for 31 years and they have two adult children.

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