Head shepherd

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The Guardian

09 September 2009
JIM DAY
Bishop Richard Grecco says he will listen to others and consult to help establish priorities. Guardian photo by Jim Day
Bishop Richard Grecco says he will listen to others and consult to help establish priorities. Guardian photo by Jim Day

 

Bishop Richard J. Grecco recalls the disbelief that surfaced the day his mother calmly accepted the decision of Grecco’s youngest brother, Denis, not to attend church.

“And the three older brothers said ‘Wait a minute mom and dad, we all went to church, why aren’t you making him go to church?’ Mother said ‘I never made you go to church. You just came. He’s decided to question it. He doesn’t want to go. When he makes up his mind to come, he’ll come.’’’

Denis did eventually make up his mind to come to church and, like his three brothers, went on to become a priest.
An entire brotherly bunch of four (he has no sisters) all entering the priesthood is “unique but not unheard of,’’ says Richard Grecco, who will be installed on Sept. 21 as the 13th bishop of Charlottetown to replace Bishop Vernon Fougere who is resigning due to health reasons.

Though his father, in addition to being the projectionist of the town’s sole theatre where Grecco loved to watch good “dust up’’ movies starring Gene Autry, was caretaker of the Holy Rosary Church, the boys were never pulled into church nor pushed towards the priesthood by either of their parents.

It was Thorhill, a small town that sits between Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, providing plenty of influence for Grecco in choosing to become a man of the cloth.

There was only one Catholic parish in Grecco’s “very neighbourly, friendly’’ hometown but he found its reach wide. All aspects of life, he observed, seemed to connect in some way to the parish church.

“Whether it was sports, social life, prayerful life, it all centered around the Holy Rosary Church,’’ he said.

Grecco says he was impressed at a very early age by the social needs that could be met by organizing a parish.

An alter server by age seven, he was also a member of the church’s youth club and an eager volunteer for church events.

After going to church each Sunday, his Italian family would go home to enjoy a big spaghetti and meatball lunch and relax the rest of the day. Mom loved to regale the boys with stories of Italian saints.

“It was a happy childhood — a small town where everybody knew everybody’s name,’’ said Grecco, who would love to fish when he wasn’t watching movies being spun on the theatre house reel by his father.

“It was a wholesome, happy kind of life and it centered around our parish church.’

Grecco says what ultimately drew him to the priesthood was a sense of community and the importance of both family and parish life.

While going through the seminary, he spent summers working at the border as a customs and immigration officer, encountering all walks of life — one day he may be dealing with Hells Angels bikers, royalty the next.

After being ordained in 1973, Grecco went to St. Denis Parish where “a wonderful pastor’’ taught him how to discipline himself in a job that has wide-ranging demands.

“Your first parish is where you’re learning the ropes on how to deal with people,’’ he said.

“A lot of our social issues are loneliness, anger, unresolved hostilities. I think if people find the Lord in their heart they understand that they are basically good and that they can deal with anything. So if you are a good spiritual leader, you are a sounding board to help them get in touch with their interior life to make sense of their daily experience.’’

Grecco went on to teach moral theology at St. Michael’s College in Toronto and St. Joseph’s College in Edmonton.

In 1997, he was named auxiliary bishop of London. As such, he worked closely with the many lay associations across the Archdiocese. He served as the episcopal vicar for almost all of the ethnic communities in the Archdiocese.

Grecco now comes to P.E.I. on the heels of his brother, Rev. Denis Grecco, who is working as a visiting scholar for the Catholic studies program at the University of Prince Edward Island.

His two other brothers have left the priesthood. Patrick Grecco left after 10 years to become a teacher and is now retired. Donald, who was a priest for 30 years and is currently a private certified counsellor, was charged last year with gross indecency and assault on a male in connection with incidents allegedly involving a child while Donald was a pastor in the late 1970s.

The bishop’s eyes well up when he discusses his own personal angst over his brother’s plight.

“Oh, it’s been very difficult on the family,’’ he said.

“I’m praying for him and we all are. It hasn’t gone to court yet so we’re waiting for a resolution from the courts on this.’’

Grecco becomes animated and effusive when the subject turns to his new job as bishop of the Diocese of Charlottetown, which has a population of 63,240 Catholics in 58 parishes and missions, served by 49 diocesan priests, three priests who are members of religious communities, one permanent deacon and 111 religious sisters.

“What I want to do is get around to visit the parishes, meet the priests, meet the people, and listen to them so that I can hear from them what they understand to be the priorities — consult and establish priorities that way,’’ he said.

He says the major restructuring of parishes that generated so much concern on P.E.I. over pending closures of church buildings is widespread across the country.

“So it’s not unique here (on the Island) but the way it happens here is unique,’’ he said.

“It’s not like any other place. So therefore it is extremely important for me to listen, to understand the needs of the people, and (determine) how to proceed with this planning and restructuring.’’

He agrees reaching out to youth on P.E.I., finding a way to make the church more relevant to them, is critical. He says he is pleased the diocese has a youth co-ordinator and he is eager to learn more about how the youth ministry occurs within the diocese.

“My intention is to do my best to support the youth co-ordinators and to encourage young people because it is a different world — a technological world — a different society for them,’’ he said.

“I think the church has a role to play in supporting them and assisting them.’’

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John Ryan from Grimsby, Ontario writes: As a former member of St. Columba parish and also a member of the St. Catherines diocise I want to wish the very best for the new Bishop. He has a monumental task ahead of him and the first order of business is to get people to pray for the 49 priests that you have left. I am devastated learn about his brothers but maybe if more people had been praying for them it is quite likely they would have been able to fight the devil a little harder and avoid the turmoil that they have been subjected to.My gramma always prayed for the priests. God bless all, J.R.
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Chris S from PEI writes: I hope the children he is looking to reach out to are smart enough to use their critical thinking skills to walk away from the church and fight back against indoctrination.
The whole idea of labeling a child after the religion of their parents is disgusting, the whole idea of taking young impressionable children and filling their heads with nonsense to fill the pews and coffers is immoral at best. And if the way you do it is to fill their head with stories of hellfire then , in my opnion, you have abused the child psychologically.
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Anne Hemphill from Stratford, P.E.I. writes: I welcome Bishop Grecco to P.E.I. and I admire his forthrightness and honesty. I hope he will enjoy his stsy among us. I have met him already and he is a most friendly man.
God Bless you in your new ministry, Bishop.
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To Chris S from pe writes: I suppose that the moral thing to do is to tell them to bow down to the banks and the political parties. Tell them at age 6 that if they can’t excel at everything, even a failure in one thing will mean that the best they will ever do is be a janitor. Tell them as they move through school that unless you are an ubercapitalist, you will be living in a ditch someplace, and that anyone who isn’t wealthy is morally deficient?Tell them that negotiation is a sign of weakness, and attacking their opponent publicly is the proper way to express disagreement, which is autometic if they happen to have parents who support a different political party. Teach them that Canadian Idol and So you think you can dance is as intellectual as you expect them to ever be?

I don’t care if you are catholic or not. it is the nature of humanity for parents to pass on what they believe to their children, and for everyone to try to convince others that what they believe is the truth. Having them not attend a catholic church isn’t going to change that.

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Brother Sun from PEI writes: If only he would be a beacon of love and compassion and not of judgement and condemation. However, being successful in the RC Church necessitates you take the latter course.Perhaps the one hope is that he might encounter and deal with his own woundedness as a result of his families distress at the charges laid against his brother and from the injury offer others acceptance.
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Philip Brown from pei writes: Welcome to our diocese Bishop Grecco, together we will follow the journey of a faith community. God Bless you and the church on PEI
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Leona McCarthy from Fort Augustus, PEI writes: My faith is a faith of love, joy and hope. It is a faith that believes in what Jesus taught when He said Judge not lest ye be judged. I pray for the new leader of my faith on PEI, Bishop Grecco.
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Head Shaker from pe writes: Are you claiming the So you think you can dance, Canada isn’t intellectually rewarding?I agree that there is too much indoctriniation, and Chris S’s beautiful fluffy bunny world (which will obviously happen if people stop being Catholic?) isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Let’s teach them all trickle down economics. Give all your money to the rich, and they’ll create more jobs. Keep your money, except invested with the banks so they can make more money off of your savings for themselves than you will, and the entire economy will collapse and it’ll be your fault for being an economic terrorist.

Yep, that’s probably much much better. I can see you whole point that all the ills of the world must be caused by Catholics. I suppose the pope was behind the subprime mortgage crisis too.

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Really??? from pe writes: So filling their heads with ideas that they will be picking garbage for food, like in a third world country, if we don’t cut taxes to nearly nothing for corporations and the wealthy is more moral and civilized?Reminds me of my childhood. We never thought that we’d ever have to worry about retirement, because we’d never make it to the 21st century. Nuclear apocalypse was coming. You don’t think that scarred kids. Many X-er never had a plan when young, because they were told the world wasn’t going to last long enough to make long term plans. I don’t think I got that from a church pew.
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Fran from PE writes: I think Chris S said it best. People should think for them self when it comes to religion and hopefully be free of any influence from family and peers.If that was the case, then I guess there’d be a whole lot less people believing in the talking snake.
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M Perry from Summerside, P.E writes: We are so blessed to be getting Fr. Grecco as our Bishop.I’m sure he will bring many gifts to P.E.I.What touched me the most is his obvious interest in our youth.Welcome!
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To Fran from pe writes: Why did you add ‘when it comes to religion’?Are you saying that when it comes to secular thinkgs they should do what they are told?
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