Bishop Robert Gruss ‘visits’ Bettendorf parish for a chat

Clockwise, from top, left, Father Chris Weber, Emily Andes, Bishop Robert Gruss and Brett Adams participate in an online Touchpoint Conversation sponsored by Our Lady of Lourdes-Bettendorf April 28.
By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — Bishop Robert Gruss was “in the house” via his online presence April 28 during a Touchpoint Conversation that Our Lady of Lourdes Parish sponsored.
Bishop Gruss, who leads the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan, spoke about his journey to the priesthood in the Diocese of Davenport, his assignments there, getting the phone call to become a bishop, and the importance of prayer.
Lourdes staff members hosted the conversation: Father Chris Weber, parochial vicar; Emily Andes, director of faith formation/religious education; and Brett Adams, coordinator of evangelization/youth minister.
Touchpoint Conver-sations began March 24 as part of the Lourdes eChurch initiative, said Father Weber. The goal is to keep parishioners connected to the church and one another. “We also try to have a little fun along the way.”
Bishop Gruss told the online audience of more than 100 that he moved to Iowa as a 25-year-old pilot. He discerned a call to the priesthood, entered the seminary and was ordained in 1994. He served at St. Paul the Apostle Parish-Davenport, St. Anthony Parish-Knoxville, Sacred Heart Parish-Melcher, St. Mary Parish-Pella, and then as diocesan director of vocations and diocesan chancellor after that. He served nearly three years in Rome as vice rector of the Pontifical North American College before returning to the diocese where he served as pastor and rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Less than a year later, he was ordained a bishop to lead the Diocese of Rapids City, South Dakota. He served there for eight years before being appointed shepherd of the Saginaw Diocese.
Many people know the Saginaw Diocese because of the Little Black Book series of prayers based on the writings of the late Bishop Ken Untener, Bishop Gruss said. The series for Advent/Christmas, Lent and Easter seasons are still available.
Bishop Gruss described the call he received asking him to become a bishop. He said he was in the hallway of the cathedral offices when a staff member poked her head out of her office to say someone with an accent was on the phone wanting to talk with him. It was the U.S. nuncio. “I was either in trouble or being assigned a bishop,” he said. The nuncio began the conversation talking about walking through the Holy Land. Bishop Gruss said he felt like asking the nuncio “What’s your point?” When the nuncio finally asked the question, the future Bishop Gruss said yes to serving as a bishop.
The position “is not as bad as I envisioned,” he laughed.
Asked how he was settling in at his new diocese, Bishop Gruss said he’s in a transition period getting to know people and figuring out the area. He said he knows the people are attracted to the Lord and want a relationship with him.
Bishop Gruss also talked about the coronavirus pandemic and said Michigan has been hit hard, ranking third highest in the nation for deaths at more than 3,500.
“Right now would be the height of confirmation season. It’s always a great joy for me to be with the people in the parishes. Obviously that is not happening and will not for a while,” Bishop Gruss said.
Bishop Gruss said Mass is being live-streamed daily from the cathedral. He noted that an online Stations of the Cross service offered in his diocese was picked up by religious media and shared around the world “The Lord did not cause this virus. It has happened for the greater good.” While he doesn’t know what the future holds, he hopes for a shift in focus from worldly things toward heaven – a personal encounter with Jesus.
“We are a domestic church to lead people on a path to holiness,” he said. “What role do we have to help grow in holiness to get to heaven? We can still gather for Mass and worship the Lord” – even online. “We can do family instruction together. We can do family service projects.”
In response to a question from Father Weber, Bishop Gruss said “The gates of heaven will open up to us depending on how we embrace suffering.” He promised his audience “your life will be enhanced by prayer. The Lord desires a relationship with us. He has so much to share with us. Go to the Lord.” To those who say they don’t have time to pray, he noted, “Go to the Lord and ask for help.”
Touchpoint Conversations are held Tuesdays at 7 p.m. on Facebook at
Past talks featured Patty Reife, parish nurse, on staying healthy at home; Michael and Tasha Havercamp of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, on having hope during the pandemic; Lourdes parishioner Ben Carlson, program director of Camp Shalom, on the pandemic’s effects on camp ministry and on family life; and Lourdes parishioner Grant Whitty, a FOCUS missionary, on sharing the Gospel during the pandemic.  The May 5 session was to feature Lourdes parishioner Kelly Bush, director of student wellness at Assumption High School in Davenport, on how young people are doing.

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