Many of you are probably not aware that our Catholic Worker farm is co-owned by Father John Gribowich. Father John is a former student of ours from back in the day when we worked at DeSales University. To make a long story short John became a kind of adoptive son to us and has been an integral part of our family for the past twenty years. After many years of discernment, and several different academic degrees later (theology, library science, art history,) he finally became a priest for the diocese of Brooklyn. It was John who first gave me my deep love for the vision of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. I had known about them, of course, but it was John’s passion for their mission that really began to catch hold within me like a good infection. We could not have started our farm without him and his witness to the Catholic Worker vision was integral to our understanding of what we were committed to doing.
But now it is with bittersweet joy that I announce that, as of yesterday, Father John is now Father Philip Neri, a postulant at the Abbey of the Genesee in New York. If you would like to know more about Father Philip’s spiritual discernment you can read about it in a guest blog he wrote for this site some months back. You can access it here. I also wrote a post on the Abbey of the Genesee which you can access here.
We will miss him terribly. As will his hundreds of friends. John is what you might call a “character” and I mean that in a good way. Full of humor and bigger than life, he has an outsized personality that can charm even the most irascible of souls and turn them into friends. He is one of those kinds of people who can talk to anyone about anything and make you feel as if you are the only person in the room. I cannot count the number of nights my wife and I have spent with him drinking Guinness and bourbon around our fire ring, or in our living room listening to his vast collection of vinyl records as we solved all of the world’s problems with invective, curses, tears, and laughter. We never take ourselves seriously enough to think that we are actually right about anything, but in the process is the joy. John is also the kind of guy who would literally give you the shirt off of his back and his shoes as well. Indeed, his major vice is his pathological inability to say no to anyone in need. All of his friends just refer to him, with deep affection and love, as “Grib.” Not “Father Grib.” Just Grib.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention that Grib is an accomplished musician, especially on the guitar, and he has a deep love for the poetic music of Bob Dylan, as well as my favorite, Leonard Cohen. A night with Grib was never complete unless we listened to some Dylan and/or sang along as he played some Dylan tunes on his guitar. Oh… and he loves Buffalo Wings with an almost idolatrous passion. But he can get away with that and still keep his lean frame since he is also a devoted runner, which to me is a form of masochism (I haven’t run since the third grade.)
I am tearing up as I write these words because his departure to the monastery, though an occasion of great pride and joy, and a move I support, is like a dagger to my heart. He is the dearest friend I have ever had and his physical absence will never lose its pain. Nevertheless, his new vocation is one where he will actually be present to us on a deeper level, and I do not mean that in any pietistical way, but in a robust way as one who will now be present to us in the Spirit. I am also consoled by the realization that this is most certainly a response to God’s call and his new vocation as a monk will fulfill his desire for a more intimate walk with Christ.
The photo above is a picture of Father John saying Mass in our small farm chapel a few years back. When he would visit the farm he would always say Mass for us. That was a priority. And having him say Mass on the farm was always a special moment of grace. He celebrated Mass for us one last time at the farm, in the small chapel he helped create, on this past Tuesday, the day before leaving. He prayed with such reverence, and I was moved so deeply, that I could not help but be struck by the lie that the Novus Ordo liturgy cannot inspire. The quiet and spartan simplicity of the Novus Ordo Mass, so reviled by its critics, is actually its greatest strength. And on Tuesday, that simplicity was an icon of the unornamented simplicity of Christ.
I would ask all of my readers to pause for a moment and to offer a prayer for Father Philip Neri as he embarks on his new monastic vocation. And perhaps a prayer as well for my wife and me as we adjust to life without Father John’s physical presence.
Godspeed Father. Godspeed Grib.
Dorothy Day, pray for us.