Joseph Grilliot, generous, loving father, enters eternal life

Joseph Grilliot

I am mourning the loss and celebrating the new life of a great friend, Joseph Grilliot, who passed into eternal life Tuesday at his home in Roeland Park, Kan. His son, Marvin, and his wife, Rachel, and a loving niece, Barbara Martin, were at his bedside. 

It was a peaceful transition in the midst of love and prayer. He lived through his 83rd birthday on Monday. On that evening, family and friends gathered around his bed, singing in joy and sorrow. Of course, we sang him "Happy Birthday" as his three young grandchildren, Sam, Benjamin and Magdalene, sat comfortably on his bed. We also sang one of his favorite songs, "The Cry of the Poor." Throughout his life, Joe heard and responded to that cry. We sang, "Jesus, Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kingdom." And then, of course, we sang, "When the Saints Go Marching In." We all knew Joe would be "in that number." There was no question about it. 

Following some happy/sad and sometimes off-key songs, we retreated to another room for cake and ice cream, where the celebration of Joe's wonderful life continued. 

Joe and I had been friends going back to 1980, when my wife, Hoa, and I moved to the Kansas City area when I became NCR editor. We first met at a local swimming pool where Joe and his wife, Lidia, and Hoa and I had taken our children to swim. Joe and I began talking and soon realized we shared a lot: We had both married overseas -- I, in Vietnam, Joe, in Chile. We had both been raised in the church and were highly influenced by the Second Vatican Council. We were both disappointed in the slow implementation of the council's reforms and many of the rollbacks we saw taking place in the church. We both shared a global view of life.

It wasn't long before we found ourselves on the peace and justice committee of our local parish, St. Agnes, in Roeland Park. We settled refugees together. We protested nuclear weapons together. We read and discerned Scripture together in our living rooms. We watched our boys wrestling on the floor in front of us as we talked about life.

Joe's older boy, Marvin, was in the same class as my boy, Daniel. They grew up as best friends, going to school together through Bishop Miege High School graduation and playing on many of the same sports teams. Both were strong athletes.

For many years, when we had the energy, Joe and I would cut and slice wood with our boys to use for heating our homes in the winter months. The Grilliots had two boys, Marvin and Charlie. Each would help with carrying wood to a large hydraulic splitting machine Joe kept in his backyard. 

We watched our families grow up together, sharing many meals together. Lidia and Hoa both enjoyed cooking. We ate countless Chilean dishes on the back porch of the Grilliot's home on Buena Vista, which stood out because Joe had placed between two large sandstone pillars a large metal piece from an old plowshare inscribed with the Isaiah verse: "They will beat their swords into plowshares." Joe never hid his convictions. We gathered years ago to bless the sign. 

Everyone who knew Joe would concur that he was among the most generous people one could ever meet. He was always doing something for someone else. He also had an impish humor, and never spared it on the reactionary prelates who he felt were holding up the causes of justice inside or outside the church and inflicting unnecessary pain onto some hapless victim.

Joe grew up in western Kansas in the midst of the Dust Bowl years on the Great Plains. He came from humble settings and worked on the family farm as a young boy. At an early age, after the death of his father in a farming accident and with the blessing of his mother, he went away to join the Precious Blood Fathers and was ordained in 1959. After serving as a priest in Vinita, Okla., and Cleveland, he volunteered to become a missionary priest in Chile in 1963. Working in rural communities in southern Chile, Joe fell in love with the people of Chile. Eventually he became disillusioned with a local bishop who adamantly refused to implement the Vatican II reforms, the very reforms that led Joe to Chile to serve the people in the first place. 

At the same time, in the process of his missionary work, he met his future wife, Lidia del Carmen Seguel, and eventually, after much discernment, Joe decided to leave the priesthood to marry Lidia and return to the United States. The couple started from a near-penniless situation, but they had friends, especially other former priests and their wives, men and women who had given many years to the institution and now were finding, sometimes in ecclesial disillusionment, that they had other ways to give to each other and the wider human family. 

It was in those early years that Hoa and I first encountered Joe and Lidia. Our rich associations took us through many years of family life. Our religious and worshipping activities migrated over time to local Catholic Worker houses, which, more often than not, became the focuses of our social justice activities.

Joe's life was rich throughout, made richer by his love for Lidia and his children, and by the work he did for years (much of it as a volunteer) for the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (now Unbound). But it was not without more than a fair share of pain. Lidia entered eternal life several years back after more than one bout with cancer. Months later, Charlie, their second son, also entered eternal life after suffering much mental stress. With each loss, Joe managed to strengthen his inner spirit to carry on and focus on the living, most notably Marvin, Rachel and their children. 

In recent years, Joe moved around the neighborhood and beyond on a three-wheel motorized trike. It had a large metal basket on the back for carrying groceries and whatever else he decided to carry. One day he followed us on a walk and when my wife grew tired she climbed into his trike basket. Joe was ready. Always eager to help out. Always finding the humor in ordinary things. 

Joe carried Hoa as he has carried so many others -- with healthy large portions of fun and love.

Some weeks back, the Holy Family Catholic Worker house faith community gathered at the Grilliot home to bless him and receive his blessings. We took turns anointing him with oil and telling him how much we loved him. It was a celebration led by one of the saints in our midst, Sister of Charity of Leavenworth Marie de Paul Combo, who brought the oils. It was a joyful, spirit-filled gathering. 

A few days ago, visiting the Grilliots, Marvin, another man of faith, with a similar justice outlook, smiled gently and said: "There is nothing sad here." I knew exactly what he meant, though that did not stop us at times from shedding a tear or two. 

There will be a memorial service and visitation for Joe at 5 p.m. Friday at St. Francis Xavier church, 1001 E. 52nd St., Kansas City, MO. The Mass of the Resurrection will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday at the church. For further information, click here.

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