Father J.P. Grenham loved God, his parishioners
Father John Patrick Grenham, who had served the Archdiocese of New Orleans since 1981, died March 6 at the age of 64. A funeral Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond on March 20 at St. Thomas Church in Pointe a la Hache in Plaquemines Parish, where Father Grenham had served as pastor since July 2013.
Father Grenham, who was born in Massachusetts, was the second youngest of seven children. He heard God’s call to be a priest at the young age of 2 1/2 or 3, announcing that “he was going to be a priest and sing on the altar,” a trait he inherited from his opera singer mother, Hazel Grenham, recalled his oldest sibling Hazel Grenham.
“He was dedicated to his vocation,” Hazel Grenham, 75, said. “His primary family was the church – not the church in the institutional sense, but in the people. John touched people’s lives. He cared deeply about people and wasn’t afraid of speaking out on behalf of a cause or people who didn’t have a voice for themselves. He could be frank and sometimes he didn’t have a filter, but it made him more interesting.”
A Dominican first
Before he became incardinated into the Archdiocese of New Orleans as a diocesan priest, Father Grenham had been ordained a Dominican priest. He met former Archbishop Philip Hannan in the early 1980s as the television ministry in the Archdiocese of New Orleans was being established. Having a great baritone voice and an interest in communications, he was tapped to come to New Orleans to help out.
“As much as he loved the Dominicans and loved preaching, he missed the helping people part – the more direct involvement,” Hazel Grenham surmised. “He decided he would prefer diocesan life.”
He gained priestly friendships while in New Orleans and was part of Jesu Caritas, a prayer and mutual support group with Father Walter Austin and Msgrs. John Cisewski and Henry Engelbrecht.
Msgr. Cisewski, pastor at St. Katharine Drexel Parish, knew Father Grenham for 40 years and mentioned his generosity, thoughtfulness, love of teaching, preaching and liturgies.
“John Patrick was an extremely loyal friend, and I always appreciated that,” Msgr. Cisewski said. “I was always impressed with his kind heart. ... When I think of John Patrick, I think of someone who appreciated God’s gifts that were given to him.”
Giving the homily at the funeral Mass was Father Austin, who shared a military background – Father Grenham, a Coast Guard and Navy Reserves chaplain and Navy active duty, and Father Austin with the Army and National Guard. He got to know Father Grenham while both
served the St. Bernard Deanery in the 1990s.
One aspect of Father Grenham, whom he called “J.P.,” stuck with Father Austin: his proclivity to be late. This mention of Father Grenham’s lack of punctuality elicited laughter at the funeral Mass.
“J.P. was supposed to die on a Monday but he was late for that and died on a Tuesday,” Father Austin joked.
Father Austin, pastor at Ascension of Our Lord in LaPlace, referenced the readings and the Gospel to generate thought about what brings happiness. “The whole idea of understanding that true happiness lies with God in heaven evolved over history,” he said.
The early Jews, he said, believed God blessed them with good health, lots of possessions and a large family; things they could touch or feel; or the hope of eternal peace.
“J.P. believed in the latter and put that belief into action,” Father Austin said. “He was a man of faith. He trusted. He believed. He obeyed, and we believe that he has found his reward.”
Loved the Gulf Coast
Father Grenham loved the Gulf Coast and had a second home in Pass Christian he often frequented, inviting friends and family. Hurricanes destroyed it but he painstakingly rebuilt it twice, against the best advice of his fellow priests.
“We said the next storm is just going to blow it over again,” Msgr. Cisewski said. “But, he was an architect in that respect and enjoyed rebuilding.”
“He wanted his family and friends to enjoy that home he built,” his sister said. “He also loved New Orleans. He loved the warmth of the people in New Orleans and Mississippi. This was his family for the last 40 years – his parishioners and friends in the community of priests, his neighborhood and parishes.”
Father Grenham was preceded in death by his parents and a sister.