Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, author, former EWTN host, and one of the founders of the Community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, passed away at 11:00 p.m. on Oct. 3. He was 81 years old.
“The Catholic Church and the Franciscan family lost a giant today,” the friars said in an Oct. 4 statement, expressing deep sadness at Fr. Groeschel’s loss as well as relief “that God has set him free from the physical and mental suffering he has experienced over the past decade.”
Fr. Groeschel was one of eight Capuchin friars in New York City who helped found the Community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in 1987. The community is committed to poverty and evangelization.
Known for his love of the poor, he founded the St. Francis House for the homeless and Good Counsel Homes for pregnant women in crisis. He also directed Trinity Retreat House in Larchmont, New York, and taught at the Dunwoodie seminary.
In addition, he became known as an author and preacher. For more than 25 years, he appeared on EWTN, hosting “Sunday Night: Live with Father Benedict Groeschel,” among other programs.
“The world knew Father Benedict as a priest, teacher, evangelist, retreat master, and a steadfast defender of and advocate for the Catholic Church that he loved so much,” the friars said, adding that while his religious family saw these traits, “we were also blessed to know him as a father who cared for each of us, a father who was always accessible when we needed him and always glad to see us when we came to visit.”
“Fr. Benedict was a brother and a father to everyone he encountered,” the friars continued. “In a world often overwhelmed with darkness, he was a man filled with hope, a hope that he shared with both the rich and poor alike.”
Noting his deep desire to serve the poor, his community also recalled his selflessness, wisdom, and trust in God’s providence, as well as his deep faith and love.
“Those who knew him well understood that it was simply his nature to be so. He poured himself out for others no matter what the cost – and sometimes the cost to him was very great. To have known him was to have been helped by him and even loved by him.”
In 2004, Fr. Groeschel was hit by a car, suffering intracranial bleeding and a heart attack, as well as having both legs, both arms and several ribs broken. His secretary said at the time that it would “take a miracle” for the priest – who was 70 years old at the time – to survive. He praised God for his recovery from the accident.
Fr. Groeschel stepped down as host of EWTN’s Sunday Night Prime television in September 2012, after he made statements in the National Catholic Register suggesting that a minor is “the seducer” in “a lot” of sexual abuse cases, and that many abusers on their first offense should not go to jail “because their intention was not committing a crime.”
He subsequently apologized for the comments, as did his religious community, the National Catholic Register and EWTN, who stressed that the priest’s physical health and mental clarity were both declining, noting that this comments did not reflect his life’s work.
Fr. Groeschel is survived by his sister, several nieces and nephews, 115 religious brothers and priests, and 31 religious sisters, according to his religious community.
Funeral information was not immediately available. A Facebook memorial page was made public on the morning of Oct. 4.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Fr. Benedict,” said Fr. John Paul Ouellette, community servant for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
“He was an example to us all. His fidelity and service to the Church and commitment to our Franciscan way of life will have a tremendous impact for generations to come.”
Michael Warsaw, chairman of EWTN, in an Oct. 4 statement recalled how Fr. Groeschel “played an enormous role in the work of EWTN, hosting numerous programs and being a frequent guest on the Network for nearly three decades.”
“Like Mother Angelica herself, Father Benedict was an iconic presence on EWTN,” Warsaw said. “His grey beard and Franciscan habit were known to Network viewers around the world and he had a profound impact on the lives of countless individuals who knew him only through his television and radio presence.”
Recalling that the priest was “a strong and vocal supporter of Mother Angelica during “many of the most difficult days in the history of EWTN,” Warsaw said that the network “is what it is today, in part, because of the encouragement and commitment of Father Benedict.”
“While we will miss him, we are also confident that he has achieved his final goal of life everlasting with the Father. May this good and faithful servant rest in peace.”