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 CNS Story:

GROESCHEL Aug-10-2004 (840 words) With photo. xxxn

Father Groeschel slowed but working again after near-fatal accident

By Tracy Early
Catholic News Service

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (CNS) -- Father Benedict J. Groeschel, who hovered near death after a car hit him Jan. 11 in Orlando, Fla., is again walking and working.

The priest, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, walks more slowly and carries a cane for extra security. At daily Mass, he is usually a concelebrant rather than the celebrant. And an afternoon nap has become a new feature of his life.

"But I walked over a mile yesterday," he said in an interview Aug. 9.

Internationally known for his retreat work, Father Groeschel said he had led a retreat the previous week, the first since his accident, and had another scheduled for September.

Mother Angelica's EWTN cable network has been an outlet for his work, and has replayed some of his old programs during his illness. But he said he had recorded one new program and planned others.

EWTN announced Aug. 9 that the priest would appear via satellite Aug. 11 on "EWTN Live," hosted by Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa.

Father Groeschel said he also plans to resume teaching a course in pastoral psychology at the New York archdiocesan seminary, St. Joseph's in Yonkers, N.Y., this fall.

And he outlined an ambitious program of writing -- by dictation -- and editing several books that he expected to see in print later this year and next year. "I'm terribly busy," he said.

All this represents enormous progress for a priest who was brought back from Florida on a medical plane Feb. 20, and spent months at Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle and then Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains before his release in June.

Father Groeschel was interviewed at Trinity Retreat in New Rochelle. About 30 years ago New York Cardinal Terence J. Cooke assigned him to use the facility as a retreat center, mainly for priests. It is in a former private home that was given to the New York Archdiocese.

The house's former garage was adapted for Father Groeschel's private quarters, though currently he is staying in a guest room in the house so someone can always be nearby. His fellow friars take turns staying with him and assisting him.

His condition means every detail of his daily life must get special attention. For him, performing various tasks is not necessarily accomplished with ease and comfort.

"I prayed that I would be able to get out of a chair and walk, and take care of my personal hygiene, and I can do that," he said. "What I still need is help getting dressed and tidying up a little."

Father Groeschel said he hopes that by Labor Day he will no longer require personal assistance and can return to his own quarters. But he said he will have to have a hospital bed -- he needs to sleep with his head and feet elevated to avoid edema, or an accumulation of fluid.

Despite his encouraging progress, serious problems remain, and he has to take a "humongous" amount of medicine, he said.

In an Aug. 6 message on his order's Web site, www.franciscanfriars.com, he commented that anyone in a situation such as his has to be "prepared to live with an incredible array of pills, capsules, powders, syrups and other mysterious objects."

Alluding to damage to his right shoulder and a crushed right elbow, he commented in his Aug. 5 message, "I'm thinking that people will be calling me Lefty."

The priest has been writing a daily message for the friars' Web site, though once in a while his message does not get posted to the site.

In the interview, he showed he had regained some use of the fingers on his right hand, but said he probably could not have surgery on the shoulder and arm because he is taking a blood thinner and stopping the medication for surgery would put him in danger of having a stroke.

Although Father Groeschel, who turned 71 on July 23, anticipates further recovery, he acknowledged that he probably will no longer be flying around the country.

"I have resigned from the board of the Franciscan University in Steubenville (Ohio), and I will probably have to resign from the board of Ava Maria University," which is in Florida, he said.

"I will do my retreats here, and I will preach at churches in the area," he added.

One result of the accident and hospitalization that his doctors consider positive is the fact Father Groeschel lost 40 pounds, he reported. He is supposed to maintain a low-cholesterol diet to keep the weight off.

He was postulator for Cardinal Cooke's sainthood cause, but that role has been given to Father Joseph Giandurco of St. Joseph's Seminary. However, Father Groeschel plans to remain involved in the cause.

Citing Blessed Mother Teresa, Cardinal Cooke and others, Father Groeschel said, "I have been blessed to know five or six people who are likely to be canonized." And he calls on them for their intercession every day, he said.


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