September 26, 2019 — Fr. Al Grosskopf, SJ, received the annual award of Catholic Divorce Ministry, the Father James J. Young, C.S.P. Award, on September 14 at the National Conference of Catholic Divorce Ministry in St. Louis. The award is a carved statue of the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well, who some consider the patron saint of divorced people.
It’s a fitting award for Fr. Grosskopf, who has worked in divorce ministry for almost 50 years and started one of the first Catholic divorce support groups in California, New Horizons. It all began in 1974, when he was serving at Holy Family Church in San Jose, where one of his responsibilities was forming a singles group.
“From the beginning, a number of divorced and separated people found ready acceptance in the singles group, and through this group, entered into the life of the parish community,” recalled Fr. Grosskopf.
As the group developed, the divorced and separated became so numerous that Fr. Grosskopf decided he should start a program exclusively for these Catholics. He invited a divorced graduate student in counseling psychology to do a six-week summer workshop.
The workshop was a breakthrough, Fr. Grosskopf said. “Publicizing it in the weekly parish bulletin was the first time public recognition was given to the presence of divorced and separated Catholics in the Holy Family community, and their presence was legitimized. They were invited to consider themselves as an integral part of an all-embracing Christian community that binds up wounds and heals.”
It also marked the beginning of New Horizons, the divorced and separated Catholics group that Fr. Grosskopf started with leaders who emerged from the workshop. The group was based on the model of Fr. James Young, C.S.P., of the Paulist Community Center in Boston, who founded Catholic Divorce Ministry, and is the namesake of the award Fr. Grosskopf received.
“My own awareness of the significant presence of divorced members of the Holy Family Parish community grew as I began to include ‘the divorced members of our community’ in the prayers of the faithful at weekend Masses,” said Fr. Grosskopf. “This was noticed by a number of divorced parishioners who had been keeping a low profile, and they individually thanked me for acknowledging their presence and praying for them.”
During the late 1970s, the group began hosting conferences in San Jose and San Francisco, which were well attended by people from all over the Bay Area. “Our team of leaders would travel to neighboring parishes to speak on the need for ministry with the divorced,” said Fr. Grosskopf.
In the mid 1980s, he went back to his hometown of San Francisco, where he worked in campus ministry at the University of San Francisco and then served at St. Ignatius Church in the city. Later, as a pastoral minister at Loyola House in San Francisco, Fr. Grosskopf continued to facilitate a divorce support group and prepared many cases for petitions of declarations of nullity.
Fr. Grosskopf said that it’s not uncommon that men and women who experience divorce feel isolated and may feel excluded from the church. “Often, their sense of loss is the loss of a dream, the dream of a successful marriage, rather than the loss of a person,” he said. “Support groups furnish a means for them to share their painful experiences and know that they have been heard and understood by others with shared experiences. This is truly a peer ministry.”
Fr. Grosskopf, now 88, moved to Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, California, about two years ago and is praying for the Church and Society. He also still does some pastoral ministry. “By the grace of God, we continue to minister to the healing of those who have suffered the pain of divorce and separation, a healing ministry in the tradition of the healing ministry of our Lord and Brother, Jesus Christ.”