Bishop Grob: from Wisconsin farm boy to auxiliary bishop

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Bishop Grob: from Wisconsin farm boy to auxiliary bishop

Bishop Jeffrey Grob was on vacation in Madison, Wisconsin, when he received the call from the apostolic nuncio telling him Pope Francis had named him a bishop. He and his mother, Bonnie Grob, had gone up to their hometown for some appointments and time off.
Then-Father Jeffrey Grob pictured with his parents, Gerald and Bonnie Grob, outside St. Francis Xavier Church in Cross Plains, Wis., following a Mass of Thanksgiving in June 1992. Photo provided
Then-Father Jeffrey Grob processing into his first Mass after ordination to priesthood. The Mass took place at St. Clement Church in Chicago on May 24, 1992. (Photo provided)
Left, Jeffrey Grob in his graduation photo from Holy Name High School Seminary in Madison, Wis., in May 1979. (Photo provided)
Jeffrey Grob around the age of 5. (Photo provided)

Bishop Jeffrey Grob was on vacation in Madison, Wisconsin, when he received the call from the apostolic nuncio telling him Pope Francis had named him a bishop. He and his mother, Bonnie Grob, had gone up to their hometown for some appointments and time off.

The call came at 6 a.m. on the Sunday before Labor Day.

“I was in bed. I wasn’t on for Masses. I was awake but I was in that kind of in-between state, coming-into-consciousness kind of thing.”

He saw the name Pierre come up on his phone and thought it was a friend in Ottawa and the call went to voicemail. A few minutes later, when he checked the caller ID to retrieve the message, he saw the name was that of the papal nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre, whose contact information he had in his phone from previous visits of the archbishop to Chicago.

It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he would receive a call from the nuncio because he had served in leadership positions in the archdiocese, including chancellor and judicial vicar, his position at the time of the announcement.

“My immediate thought was, ‘Oh no, something bad happened in the archdiocese,’” Bishop Grob said.

He returned the call, and after some catching up — it turned out the nuncio was on vacation, too, in Paris — the nuncio shared the purpose of his call.

“And everything stops. The birds stop singing. The sun stopped rising. All movement stopped,” Bishop Grob said, displaying his usual sense of humor. “And I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ Honestly, it was just a call I never envisioned.”

When the nuncio asked if he would accept, Bishop Grob never thought to decline.

“In my life, many things have happened and I never would have chosen them, but they were put in my path and God brought me exactly to where I needed to be,” he said. “So in that moment I said yes.”

After hanging up, he went down the hall to tell his mother.

“I heard the phone ring at 6 o’clock and I thought right away, ‘This is not good,’” Bonnie Grob said. “I heard him talking for a while and then he walks into my room and says, ‘Mom, you’re not going to believe this.’ Then I said to him, ‘Who died?’”

He explained what the call was about.

“Then the water works went on a little bit and I said, ‘Yeah? What did you say?’” she recalled, laughing. “You hear it and you try to wrap your head around it and you think, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And then you immediately think of all the people who are gone that you wish were here for this — specifically his dad, his grandparents. Well, everybody. You want everybody here.”

She never thought her son would be made a bishop.

“Honest to God, I didn’t,” she said. “I guess I thought he had too many other things going on that they wanted him to do.”

Bishop Grob’s vocation to priesthood showed itself early when he was growing up on a dairy farm near Cross Plains, Wisconsin. He remembers attending Mass with his family at St. Francis Xavier Church and insisting on sitting at the end of the pew so he could look down the aisle and watch the priest.

“I was fascinated with what the priest was doing up on the altar,” he said. “Being good Catholics like my parents were, we sat in almost the last pew in the back of church. It was a long, beautiful, old Catholic church.”

Bonnie Grob recalled his fascination with the Mass.

“When he was little, he always played Mass at the farm. I swear to God, to this day, if I ever have to eat another one of those little wafer mints it will be way too soon,” said Bonnie Grob, who shares her son’s good humor. “He had a little altar out on the front porch of the farmhouse.”

The young Bishop Grob commandeered items for his altar from his paternal grandmother and had makeshift altar cloths, a cross “and all the little mints,” his mother said, laughing. “Everybody got them. You had to receive ‘Communion’ and be a good Catholic after all.”

When it came time for high school, he asked to attend Holy Name High School Seminary in Madison instead of the local public school. After high school, where students lived on campus throughout the school year, he entered college seminary and the rest is history. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1992.

He served in parishes as resident and assistant pastor at Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity Parish, Winnetka, from 1992 to 1998, and as a weekend assistant at St. Basil Parish in Ottawa, Ontario, from 1998 to 2002, while he was studying. He was dean of Deanery IV-D from 2008 to 2009 and pastor of St. Celestine Parish in Elmwood Park from 2008 to 2013.

He has served the archdiocese in many, often simultaneous positions, including assistant chancellor from 1994 to 1998, judge on the Court of Appeals from 2003 to 2013, judicial vicar from 2013 to 2015, chancellor from 2015 to 2017, archbishop’s delegate to the Independent Review Board from 2010 to the present, archbishop’s liaison to lay ecclesial movements and new communities from 2015 to the time of his ordination and judicial vicar and vicar for canonical affairs from 2017 to the time of his ordination.

He doesn’t regret ever saying yes to God’s call to priesthood.

“Even on my worst day I would not have traded it. It’s true,” Bishop Grob said. “It was in my bones, so to speak.”

Bonnie Grob said the bishop’s father would have been “proud as a peacock” that his son was made a bishop, but wouldn’t have flaunted it to people. Gerald Grob died in a plane crash while on a fishing trip in 1995. His son celebrated his funeral Mass.

“I think one of the most beautiful things that Jeff could do for his dad was he said his funeral Mass, because he only had the collar three years when his dad was killed in that plane crash,” Bonnie Grob said.

She has lived with her son since 2005, when she received her first breast cancer diagnosis. They share their space with six exotic birds, including an African Grey parrot who mimics people’s voices.

Bishop Grob always had pets growing up, his mother said. He had a little dog named Rusty and they would go up the hill to get the cows home in the morning. He also had a pet raccoon who would come into the house in the evening while the family was watching TV.

“She’d find her way into the kitchen, through the dining room and into the living room,” Bonnie Grob said. “She was a real little character.”

Bonnie Grob wants people to know that, when it comes to her son, what you see is what you get and he’ll be the same way as a bishop.

“He’s just a down-to-earth little old country boy from Cross Plains, Wisconsin, raised on the dairy farm. There’s no fluff with Jeff,” she said. “To him, I think the best place he wanted to be was just a plain old country parish priest. Just have his flock and have his parish.”

Lauretta Froelich has known Bishop Grob for many years through the Charismatic Renewal. Bishop Grob served as the cardinal’s liaison to the lay ecclesial movements and new communities, which includes the Renewal.

“I think what’s really important for everybody to know is how much Bishop Grob loves. He just is love personified. I mean that,” Froelich said.

She recalled a time when he was leading a multi-day event for both the Spanish- and English-speaking groups of the Charismatic Renewal and showed total patience as his talks were translated into Spanish through an interpreter.

“He never became flustered or frustrated. He was teaching about what the church teaches about evil, which is a difficult subject. The church was packed and every night everyone came back,” Froelich said. “His teaching was full of love, God’s love for his people and the church’s love for its people.”

Bishop Grob also stepped in to help the Charismatic Renewal when its chaplain, Father John Harvey, became ill and was in and out of the hospital.

“Father Grob gently slid into place — despite all of his other important responsibilities for the church — and was always there to help us,” she said. “He’s an encourager, he’s a builder-upper. He has a sense of who he is and whose he is, so he helps call that out of you.”



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