Father John Grathwohl, of Kalamazoo

Published 9:11am Wednesday, April 2, 2014

June 6, 1929 — March 30, 2014

Father John, of Kalamazoo, died Sunday March 30, 2014, at Upjohn Nursing Home. He was born in Niles, Mich. on July 6, 1929, the son of John Marshall and Eva (Rayfuse) Grathwohl.

He graduated from Loras Academy, Debuque, Iowa, attended St. John’s Seminary, Plymouth, Mich. and Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa.

John Grathwohl
John Grathwohl

He was ordained a Catholic Priest on June 7, 1955, and served as assistant pastor at St. Charles of Borromeo, Coldwater, Mich. St. Augustine, Kalamazoo and St. Paul, Owosso. He was Pastor at St. Mary, Morrice, Mich.; St. Monica, (Assistant Pastor), Kalamazoo; St. Therese, Lansing; St. Peter, Eaton Rapids; St. Catherine of Siena, Portage; St. Ambrose, Parchment; Immaculate Conception, Hartford and St. Thomas More, Kalamazoo.

Father John was a brother, cousin, uncle and special friend to many here and around the world.

He was a very generous person, readily recognizing when someone was in need and doing what he could to alleviate the need, no matter how small or large or what the cost may have been to him.

Clearly, his ministry reflects his love for people. He had a love for nature and spent a lot of time with friends and family camping, hiking, canoeing, skiing and sitting around a campfire at his cabin, singing songs and telling stories. Throughout his life he carried a competitive spirit of playfulness that enabled him to connect with children and adults alike.

His family and friends who challenged him to a game of racket or basketball or even a game of scrabble would tell you how he hated to lose. He would bring every ounce of skill he had to game and in the end, if it meant he had to put one over on another to win, he was not above doing so, hoping he would not get caught. He loved a challenge and perhaps it was the challenge that led him to serve others in so many ways.

In August of 1967, he entered the army as a United States Army Chaplain because a young man in his parish who was in Viet Nam at the time had written that there was no one there to celebrate the mass.

Father John recognized the sacrifices these young men and their families were making and he enlisted to serve as army chaplain. While in Viet Nam, Father John not only addressed the spiritual needs of the service men in his platoon.

On his days off he joined a physician and entered local villages to minister to the needs of the Vietnamese people who were suffering the ravages of war.

He always had a drive to do what he could to promote compassion, peace and justice for all in an effort to make the world a safer place, especially for the children who would become the mothers, fathers and leaders of tomorrow. Perhaps it was his experiences in Viet Nam that propelled him forward to dedicate his life to promoting peace.

He was an unofficial ambassador for peace to many countries on the continent of Africa, Iraq, Haiti, Latin America and throughout the United States.

In addition to his parish ministry, he conducted retreats and seminars on peace and justice issues as well as joining others engaged in peaceful demonstrations at nuclear test sights and military bases. Out of concern for those who were physically challenged, Fr. John Actively involved himself in the Bold Program, which is dedicated to helping the blind learn to ski with the support of a sighted companion.

In many of the parishes he pushed to involve parishioners in the development of programs designed to meet the spiritual and social needs of children with special needs. One of his greatest legacies is his overriding concern for all children throughout the world living in poverty, often without parents to care for them and in poor health, encouraging us as Christians to do what we could to relieve their suffering.

Father John is survived by his sisters, Mary Ann Drury of Traverse City and Elizabeth VanDerbeck, brother Victor (Bette Warnke), sister-in-law, Mary Lou Grathwohl of Niles, and many nieces and nephews, their children and the children of their children throughout the United States.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his sister Margaret Bohner of Lansing, Brother Joseph of Niles, and brothers-in-law, Richard Drury of Traverse City and William VanDerbeck of Niles.

Friends are being received Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. with a rosary at 7 p.m. at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, Portage, Mich., and Saturday from 9:30 to 11 a.m. where a mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Saturday at 11 a.m.

Memorial contributions may be made to Peace House, Casa Amparo Girls Orphanage, Sister Parish — Madres de los (Mother of the Poor) or Doctors Without Borders. Interment will be in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Niles, Mich.

Arrangements by Redmond Funeral Home, 4100 S. Westnedge Ave. Kalamazoo, MI 49008, (269) 343-6156. www.redmondfuneralhomes.net

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