New Bismarck chaplain sees how world longs for God
‘RELENTLESS’ CALL TO PRIESTHOOD BECKONED HIM AWAY FROM MEDICINE
Father Thomas Grafsgaard, 33, is the chaplain of Legatus’ Bismarck Chapter, which was just chartered in October. Father Grafsgaard, ordained on June 13, 2013, is pastor of Saint Joseph Church in Beulah and Saint Martin Church in Hazen, North Dakota. He grew up in Bismarck and dreamed of becoming a doctor before he heard the call to the priesthood. He recently spoke with Legatus magazine.
I’d always wanted to be a doctor, so I went to St. John’s University in Minnesota and got a biology degree. But during my junior year, I couldn’t stop thinking about the priesthood. I didn’t know why. I didn’t want to be a priest. I wanted a wife, a family, kids, and to be a doctor, but that call was relentless.
I studied abroad in Ireland in 2006, and it became pretty clear over there that God was calling me to the seminary. I’d say the call didn’t originate with me — it was definitely a call that God gave to me. I couldn’t imagine not being a priest now.
What is it about the priesthood that most brings you joy?
I certainly enjoy celebrating Mass. In hearing confessions, I am deeply edified and humbled by that. With the ministry of giving Christ’s mercy to people, it’s overwhelming, it’s such a gift that He left to His Church. I also enjoy being with people in every step of life. I could have a baptism followed by a funeral, wedding, or teaching in the classroom. Every day is different, and I love that. I’m learning new stuff every day, as far as what it means to be a priest and what it means to be a pastor.
What are some things you’ve learned in your six years as a priest?
I’ve learned the importance of simple kindness and charity, and also I’ve learned quickly how much the world longs for God. Being out in public, wearing the Roman collar, you see how much people are thirsting for God. To be a public witness to the reality of God and God’s presence in the world, it’s overwhelming and it’s very beautiful.
How did you get acquainted with Legatus?
Bishop David Kagan [of Bismarck] had contacted me, saying that there was going to be a meeting for people interested in an organization called Legatus. I knew nothing about Legatus and had never heard of it. But the bishop asked if I would be open to being the chaplain for our Chapter. From there, it just grew. I’ve come to really enjoy the Legates in Bismarck, and am very grateful to Bishop Kagan for having asked me.
What have been some of your impressions about the Legates?
I am edified by how much they desire to live their faith in the workplace, by being that leaven in society in living the Gospels and upholding Catholic social teaching. The Legates here in Bismarck have a tremendous desire to share, not necessarily by overt evangelization in the workplace, but in very subtle ways, to live the Gospel in a culture that is not always easy to do, especially in the workplace.
Who are your spiritual heroes?
Certainly, John Paul II. I was able to see him when I was a young high school student on a retreat-pilgrimage after my senior year in high school. Also, Pope Benedict XVI for his humility and his tremendous knowledge of history. I wrote my master’s thesis on Pope Benedict and the New Evangelization, so I’ve had a deep admiration for him for a long time.
What kind of spiritual impact did that retreat have on you?
You think the Church is big, but when you’re in North Dakota, you forget how universal the Church is, especially with the languages that are spoken, the cultures that Catholics live in around the world. I think that retreat helped me to understand more fully what it means to be Catholic.