Abundant Blessings: S.Grace Ann Gratsch reflects on 75 years of ministry
By S. Joan Elizabeth Cook
S. Grace Ann Gratsch’s life has been defined significantly by the discussions and decisions of Vatican Council II. She was born in Norwood, Ohio, the fourth of five children of Edward and Adele Gratsch. Both of her sisters, Ruth and Adele, married and had eight children. Both of her brothers, Ed, the oldest child, and Mark, the youngest, were priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Adele lives in Cincinnati, and she and S. Grace enjoy getting together to celebrate family moments and special occasions.
S. Grace first met the Sisters of Charity in St. Matthew Elementary School in Norwood. She has particularly fond memories of S. Marjorie Ann Suver, her third grade teacher. S. Grace attended Regina High School in Norwood, staffed by the Precious Blood Sisters (CPPS). As she thought about entering religious life, she was torn between her love for the SCs and the Precious Blood Sisters until she visited the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse. There she noticed in a stained-glass window a picture of the Sacred Heart. That picture, plus her love for the SCs at St. Matthew’s – she found them happy, friendly and approachable – convinced her to become an SC after high school graduation in 1948. S. Grace made first vows in 1950.
After first vows she studied at The Athenaeum of Ohio while teaching sixth grade at St. Dominic, then was missioned to St. James, Bay City, Michigan; Corpus Christi, Dayton, Ohio; St. Charles, Lima, Ohio; and Little Flower, Mount Airy (Cincinnati). But before she arrived in Mount Airy she was missioned to Villa Nazareth in Rome, Italy.
She and S. Grace Elizabeth Meikenhous were scheduled to sail together to Rome. Mothers Mary Omer Downing and Mary Romana Dodd and Sisters Mary Janet Miller and Rosarita McKeone traveled with them to New York to attend a meeting about Mother Seton’s cause for canonization. When the Sisters went to the pier, they learned that departure was delayed because of an electrical problem on the ship. The Sisters enjoyed touring New York, then returned to the pier at the designated time. The boat had left the dock! The two Graces were taken by tugboat to the ship, where they climbed a ladder and boarded. All during the voyage the other passengers recognized them as the ones who climbed on board in their long black habits.
It was an auspicious time to be in Rome: a few months earlier, Pope John XXIII had announced the convening of Vatican Council II, and a press conference was held at Villa Nazareth to publicize it. For the opening ceremony in St. Peter’s Square, the Sisters had reserved seats in the loggia above the Square. And two months later, Elizabeth Seton was beatified. The beatification and the Vatican Council brought visitors from Cincinnati to Rome, and the Sisters welcomed them to Villa Nazareth. They also attended evening briefings about the topics being discussed by the bishops – a marvelous opportunity to keep up with the ideas being considered during the Council sessions.
At Villa Nazareth, the Sisters were responsible for administrating the Villa, teaching English to the boys who lived there, planning and supervising recreational activities and summer fun. They also arranged volunteer opportunities for the boys, such as teaching Sunday catechism classes in a nearby parish, sodalities, and collections for people in countries suffering from poverty in the aftermath of World War II. One of the “boys” who lived at the Villa recently described his fond memories of learning to play baseball from S. Grace Ann.
After six years at Villa Nazareth, S. Grace was missioned to the Motherhouse to serve as Novice Director for the congregation. It was a huge adjustment to go from working with Italian boys to preparing American women for vows, at a time when life was changing dramatically in the United States and throughout the world. Understandings of religious life were evolving with the deliberations and conclusions of the Council.
Then S. Grace was missioned to Elizabeth Seton High School in South Holland, Illinois, to teach religion. Again realities were shifting with efforts to adjust religion curricula to the teachings of Vatican II. At her next mission, O’Rafferty High School in Lansing, Michigan, which became Lansing Catholic Central, she was part of a religious education team. This was a rich opportunity to work with other religion teachers in creative ways, adapting lessons and methods to life in the 1960s and early 1970s. During the summers S. Grace studied religious education at The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., where she shared the thinking that was emerging from the Council. She remembers, “I always thought [grace] was something you had. But the whole notion of grace was that it was God’s life within us. And it was a living thing that made us aware of God with us always.”
S. Grace began to internalize the Council’s emphasis on involvement of the laity in the life of the Church. She participated in a Clinical Pastoral Education program at Bethesda Hospital in Cincinnati while teaching part-time at St. Andrew’s, Milford. Then she was appointed pastoral associate at Nativity Parish in Pleasant Ridge [Cincinnati]. She created the position, modeling pastoral service in the Church. She presided at Communion services, preached, organized prayer groups, visited shut-ins and patients in hospitals and nursing homes, taking them Holy Communion. She offered support to caregivers through Network of Care, and created a bereavement committee and choir to sing at funerals. Her pastor, Fr. Joseph Allison, was supportive and eager to encourage her in creating these aspects of church life at Nativity. Later, she served at St. Bonaventure, Cincinnati; Holy Name of Jesus in Trenton; and St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Cincinnati. She organized programs for the different liturgical seasons, such as Advent family programs, a Come Home program for people who were estranged from the Church, Coming Alive in Faith seminars, ecumenical services and Lenten opportunities.
For a time S. Grace and Sisters Barbara Huber and Jean Miller served together in the SC Office of Ministry, broadening our SC understanding of ministry to include changing the conditions that create hunger and homelessness, protesting against war and promoting social justice.
In later years S. Grace had several opportunities to visit Villa Nazareth: the 100th anniversary of Villa Founder Cardinal Domenico Tardini’s birth in 1988, the 50th anniversary of the Villa in 1996, and a pilgrimage to the Elizabeth Seton places in Italy led by S. Judith Metz in 2008. S. Grace reflects with gratitude on her opportunities to promote involvement of lay people in church ministry. She is particularly grateful that Pope Francis emphasizes synodality in decision-making. As she looks forward to her 75th Jubilee, S. Grace summarizes her blessings with words she remembers from S. Camilla Smith, her Novice Director, “God is never outdone in generosity.” And we are grateful to S. Grace for sharing her blessings with so many people.