Rhonda Gruenewald is a Houston-based Catholic convert, wife, and mother of two children who founded the organization Vocation Ministry. A former high school English teacher, she has now collaborated with thousands of vocation promoters and ministries nationwide, presenting informational workshops to clergy, religious, and laity on how to establish or revive a vocation ministry.
Mrs. Gruenewald is the author of two books on vocations, starting with Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry (2015). Her newest book The Harvest: A Guide to Vocation Ministry has just appeared in time for National Vocations Week on November 7-13, 2021. I interviewed Mrs. Gruenewald recently by email about her work.
CWR: Following up on Hundredfold, The Harvest is your second book with the subtitle “a guide to vocation ministry.” Why did you write this second book?
Rhonda Gruenewald: Year after year, studies find that close to 75% of the newly ordained first considered being a priest between birth and 18 years of age, which emphasizes the absolute necessity to encourage vocations early in life. Unfortunately, much of the education our youth encounter has lost its Catholic identity, so the message of vocations is not often being presented.
Additionally, I was asked time and again when giving workshops in over 50 dioceses, “What do you have for schools?” I could tell them to adapt the ideas in Hundredfold, but I did not have anything specific for educators until now.
CWR: Who is your audience?
Rhonda Gruenewald: Those who will gain great inspiration and resources for vocations in education are the people who already have their attention – Catholic school principals and teachers, catechists, youth ministers, homeschool families, and college campus ministers.
CWR: What’s the message of this book?
Rhonda Gruenewald: Every person has a vocation, a universal call to holiness. It is within that search for holiness that each human being finds his purpose in God, a vocation to the priesthood, consecrated life, or sacramental marriage. Through this vocation, we are sanctified in this life. Therefore, it is in the interest of everyone to foster a culture of vocations during the formative years of our children that requires a very intentional approach of forming and developing a relationship with Christ and an awareness of vocations.
CWR: What’s one surprise readers will find in this new book?
Rhonda Gruenewald: That they can do something. Most people hear the “vocation crisis,” but they have no idea they can do anything about it. Through our workshops, we have found that parishes and dioceses that are intentional about vocations, produce fruit. We have seen, through our work, dioceses go from having 0 seminarians to 7 in two years or 3-18 in 4 years. The same holds true for those working with our youth. If they are focused on holiness and helping our young people find God’s purpose, discernment will be normalized and more will answer the call.
But what activities should be done? When? How? The Harvest: A Guide to Vocation Ministry in Education offers proven inspiration and 75 practical activities to help bring about a culture of vocations. We need prayerful action for the Holy Spirit to have plenty of opportunities to plant seeds.
CWR: You’ve based this work on a lot of personal experience. Can you share one insight or story from the book that young people might find helpful to their vocational discernment?
Rhonda Gruenewald: This book is not for students. It is to help educators lead students to their vocation. We do have resources for discerners at our website, through virtual events, and our Facebook discernment groups.
What I have found is that many discerners feel alone. They don’t know anyone else feeling a pull to the priesthood or religious life, so they keep it to themselves, sharing only with a spiritual director or trusted family member. In 2019, we created online discernment groups (The Veil: 625 members and The Collar: 250 discerners) within Vocation Ministry’s Facebook page to help them find community.
Zoe, a discerner who has been part of the group for the last few years, is now entering religious life with the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Wichita, Kansas. She said, “I am so thankful for The Veil discernment group, which has been a wonderful platform for women, who all have the same questions as I do, to walk with one another as we discern the Lord’s path in our lives.”
CWR: You converted to Catholicism in 1999. What makes you feel at home in the Catholic Church?
Rhonda Gruenewald: I grew up in a faithless home where my parents divorced when I was 12. I was baptized into the Methodist Church at 25 and met my husband now of 24 years the next year. He was Catholic enough to say, “I can’t get married over there.”
When I said yes to David, I said yes to the Catholic Church and have not looked back. The Church and its saints, traditions and sacraments became a home I never knew I would want or need. Now, I can’t imagine a life without my Catholic faith.
CWR: If you could pick one patron saint of vocations ministry, who would it be and why?
Rhonda Gruenewald: Being a convert, asking saints to pray for me was foreign to say the least. I had so much to learn, and that is what I did for the next ten years. I grew in faith and fell in love with Catholicism.
When my family and I moved parishes and met a brand new priest Fr. Victor, who asked me to direct a parish vocation committee in 2011, I was so excited because he said this was so important to our parish. Truth be told though I had no idea what the word “vocation” meant in the Catholic context.
I went home that night and googled, “What is a vocation?” and I found St. Alphonsus Liguori, patron of vocations! He and I became best of friends. I asked for his intercession constantly as I was being stretched to promote vocations in bigger and more impactful ways. I even had a first-class relic of his with me when I wrote books about promoting vocations.
I now love the saints and rely on their help each day, especially St. Alphonsus Liguori!
CWR: How has your faith changed or evolved over the years, particularly since taking up this ministry?
Rhonda Gruenewald: Vocation Ministry has grown into an international nonprofit promoting vocations since my volunteer days at my parish in 2011. This ministry would not have blossomed if it were not rooted deeply in prayer, not just mine but many friends and family members have been praying for me and this ministry. I am certain that the devil does not want any holy priests, sisters, or marriages, so this ministry must be wrapped in prayer to thwart his attacks.
To help bring about global prayer for vocations, we just launched the Immaculate Heart Vocation Prayer Society on St. Alphonsus Liguori’s feast day this year. Prayer is always fruitful.
CWR: How do you pray? Any favorite prayers or intentions?
Rhonda Gruenewald: Each day, I ask the Holy Spirit to guide my actions. I say, “Come, Holy Spirit, Come” a lot! For example, during the COVID shutdown, we were not traveling to give workshops. However, I knew that God was still calling men and women to say yes, so my prayer was, “Holy Spirit, help me to do whatever needed so this time we have will be fruitful.” That is how I started interviewing Catholic educators in the summer of 2020. Then, I wrestled with the Holy Spirit because I was not eager to write another book. I will give everyone a hint: Just surrender and do what is asked of you. Thankfully, we now have The Harvest, the resources at vocationministry.com, and five signature workshops for different types of educators to train and equip them.
CWR: How does Catholicism influence your approach to being a wife and mother?
Rhonda Gruenewald: The first seven years of being Catholic, I took part in a study of St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals about how to be a Catholic wife and mother. The funny thing is that I ended up leading that group of 15 women for those seven years. I was formed in this saint’s profound words. My family and I benefited from this formation as I did not even know Our Blessed Mother prior to 1999, and even after that, it took this formation for me to realize that our family needed to depend on her intercession.
CWR: You’re a former high school English teacher. How do those skills transfer into your new job as founder of Vocation Ministry?
Rhonda Gruenewald: We know that God works in mysterious ways. I taught 9th and 10th grade English and coached Speech and Debate at a large public high school for six years. This was before I became Catholic or knew what the word “vocation” meant. Then, when I was asked to write a book about how to promote vocations in a parish setting, I had the skills. Then, to my surprise, I was asked to give workshops around the country. Having a degree in education and communications gave me the confidence to make vocation ministry accessible to any priest, parishioner, or educator who wants to see more holy priests, sisters, and marriages in their diocese.
CWR: What do you hope people take away from your work?
Rhonda Gruenewald: The hope is that educators do not see the ideas and suggestions as “extras” but instead as part of the fabric of the classroom and the school’s Catholic culture. By doing so, it will strengthen its Catholic identity and become incubators for our future saints. Then, vocations will erupt to the priesthood, religious/consecrated life, and strong and committed marriages.
Thanks to close collaboration with Catholic teachers, catechists, and youth ministers, discernment is normalized. After years of good instruction and inspiration, a second-grader, who thinks she may be called to be a religious sister, will eventually be ready to participate in a discernment group at her Catholic high school. The goal is to help her realize her pathway to heaven—her vocation.
CWR: Any final thoughts?
Rhonda Gruenewald: When this fertile soil is tended and watered with prayer, over time, adults and children in these schools find that the concept of “vocation” becomes second nature.
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