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Meet the Shrine's New Rector
Father Anthony Gramlich, MIC, Lays Down the Welcome Mat
When asked to describe with one word what it means for him to be appointed the new Rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, a former high school wrestler conditioned in the art of taking necessary action, eschewed adjectives and went straight for a verb.
"To serve," said Fr. Anthony, who took over the reigns of the Shrine, in Stockbridge, Mass., on Jan. 1.
"The number one priority as the Rector is to serve God's people and to give them the message of The Divine Mercy," he said. "I always say — so that I don't get a big head on my shoulders — that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the true Rector of the Shrine because she will always be here leading us to Jesus. Right now, I'm just trying to do God's will of leading people to Jesus with her."
In one of many new appointments throughout the Marians' American Province, Fr. Anthony replaces Fr. David Lord, MIC, who served as Rector for four and a half years. Father David is now serving at a Marian parish in Darien, IL.
Father Anthony credits Fr. David for improving the spiritual life of the Shrine through the many new programs and events he helped institute. They include a daily Holy Hour and Rosary for Life; a monthly Festival of Praise; a Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception; the Music on the Lawn series in the summer; and specific days of celebration such as St. Faustina Day in October and Hispanic Day in August. Father David also helped reinstitute the annual "Marian Week" celebrations from August 15-22.
"Preaching and liturgical worship were given a whole new emphasis under his leadership," said Fr. Anthony. "He set a certain tone here that I hope to build upon."
Primary among Fr. Anthony's plans is to put an even greater emphasis on the Divine Mercy message as a source of healing for those who are lost in sin and estranged from God.
"Jesus' mercy is the answer to human problems," said Fr. Anthony. "People are looking for answers in their lives, and they can find it through the message of The Divine Mercy. No matter what they've been through, no matter what mistakes they've made, even if they have one foot in hell, Divine Mercy can still rescue them. It's the lifeline for people. It doesn't require us to be saints. What it requires is a humble and contrite heart."
Specifically, Fr. Anthony — through preaching and programs — hopes to establish the Shrine as a place of healing for those who have experienced an abortion or who suffer from addiction.
In March, the Shrine will host a retreat for Rachel's Vineyard, the Pennsylvania-based group that offers spiritual outreach to women and men suffering from post-abortion trauma (PAT). He has also invited Alcoholics Anonymous to use the Shrine's facilities for its weekly meetings.
The very purpose of the Shrine, said Fr. Anthony, is to provide a spiritual refuge for people so that they may refocus their lives and turn to God in trust.
"There's something special about this place," said Fr. Anthony, 34, who joined the Marians in 1995 and who served as the Shrine's Vice Rector since May of 2006 and as its Assistant Rector for two years prior to that. "God is present here. Pilgrims who come here for the first time are always telling us that. He's touching, healing, and reaching out to people. I believe that's the reason so many people who come here wind up going to confession."
Speaking of refuge, Fr. Anthony hopes to have a new field altar built on the south lawn of the Shrine, where the Marians host their annual Divine Mercy Sunday celebrations (usually, it seems, in the pouring rain).
"I'd like to call it an outdoor shrine to St. Faustina," he said. "Really, at this point, it's a necessity. The early spring weather here in the Berkshires makes Mass very difficult, and the altar could be something we use throughout the year."
Other plans include instituting a "Filipino Weekend" to acknowledge the huge impact the Filipino community is having on the spiritual life of the Church and, in particular, the spread of Divine Mercy.
"They come to visit us throughout the year in large numbers, and I'd like to dedicate an entire weekend here geared specially for them as a way for the Marians to say 'thanks,' " he said.
Born in Delran, NJ, the fourth of five children in a close-knit family, Fr. Anthony says he felt a call to turn to God during the summer after his freshman year at a state college. He yearned for something more meaningful. He began reading about Marian apparitions. He joined a prayer group at his local parish where he was introduced to the Rosary and the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy.
He returned for his sophomore year forever changed. In his dorm room, where beer bottle caps were once fixed to the walls, he promptly hung a picture of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the shock of his college buddies.
Until his graduation, it was a difficult period for him — being a believer in a secular environment. But he now recognizes it was a period that helped equip him for the special challenges he faces as a Catholic priest.
"Here I am, the Rector of the Shrine, where thousands of people come each year, many searching for meaning in their lives," he says. "I can sympathize with people. I understand the struggles people are facing out there. God wants us to serve them. It's essential."