Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Anne DiBernardo - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Repositioned. That’s the term Barbara Groeber uses when referring to her retirement as educational coordinator for the archdiocese’s Respect Life Office — and her return to the ministry as a volunteer. Hence the collective sigh of relief among those in South Florida’s pro-life community.
“The main difference with retirement is having the administrative responsibilities lifted off my shoulders,” Groeber said, drawing a parallel to the switch from parent to grandparent. “I get to be the person that comes in with a smile on my face and says, ‘What can I do to help you?’ It’s such a wonderful place to be.”
The 66-year-old petite, soft-spoken woman is known for the gentleness and compassion with which she speaks about delicate, hotly-debated issues.
According to Joan Crown, archdiocesan respect life director, Groeber received a high compliment once from Bishop Emeritus Victor Galeone of St. Augustine. He praised her for giving the best presentation on God’s plan for human sexuality that he had ever heard from a lay person.
Over the years she has inspired and mentored countless others to go out and defend the sanctity of life, with truth and grace.
“Barbara is a gifted speaker who speaks from the heart on the critical life issues of our day. I was privileged to have her working by my side for 26 years,” Crown said. “Her deep spiritual convictions helped guide me and hold me up more than once over the years.”
Thankfully, she isn’t going too far.
“I really feel that what I will be doing in retirement is extremely important,” Groeber said. “We live in a world where at a relatively young age people will say it’s time to step aside. While the need for young people is critical, the value of older people who have been in the ministry for a lifetime is immeasurable.”
Groeber responded to the call to do pro-life work nearly four decades ago, after feeling the first of a series of nudges from God. It came when the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, although she did nothing at the time. She thought it wouldn’t last long and someone else would do something.
A second nudge led her to volunteer with the Respect Life Office, and a decade later yet another nudge led her to accept the position as educational coordinator. She remembers driving in her car and telling God, “Tell me what it is you want me to do for the unborn and I will do it.”
Her decision to retire was no different. “I asked God, ‘Can I step down from the position as educational coordinator and return to volunteer?’”
A few months into retirement, Groeber feels strongly that the hand of God continues to lead her.
“I was able to retire in total peace and confidence because Sandi was in place and works amazingly well with Joan,” Groeber said, referring to her successor, Sandi Le Bel.
She recalled how her role as educational coordinator evolved over time.
“Most people get involved in respect life because of their desire to save babies. But then you start working with the women and you realize you can’t save the babies without first nurturing their mothers,” Groeber said.
Her work with young mothers convinced her of the need to speak about the critical life issues in high schools, and promoting awareness through public speaking became a cornerstone of the ministry.
“My earliest memory of Barbara was of her coming into my high school class at Chaminade (now Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory) and talking to us about Respect Life,” said Deacon John Clarke, who is now assigned to the ministry. “I remember her humility the most and how much knowledge she had to share with all of us. She taught us the precepts of the Church regarding authentic love and marriage.”
Groeber began to identify other volunteers who could speak publicly about the life issues. Gradually she developed presentations on the value of life, fetal development, abortion, chastity, post-abortion, and euthanasia. The ministry expanded to the parishes, and Life Issues Seminars are now offered at churches throughout the archdiocese upon request.
“Understanding the ‘why’ opens up the bigger picture of who we are and how we have been created by God, giving us an appreciation for the mystery of God’s plan for the human race. It is so beautiful you wouldn’t want to live any other way,” Groeber said.
“I get such a high speaking to an audience,” she added. “It is the most amazing thing to impart the truth, especially when you start to see light bulbs going on, or people coming up to you at the end of the seminar asking how has this been going on for years and they didn’t know about it. People have the right to know the truth, and that is our job at respect life.”
Saints of tomorrow
Another group served by the respect life ministry, and very close to Groeber’s heart, are women (and men) who have procured abortions and gone through the Project Rachel post-abortion and reconciliation program.
“These people, who are truly humbled and have responded to the mercy of God, have so much love in their heart because so much has been forgiven. I believe these are the saints of tomorrow,” Groeber said.
She credits Crown’s hard work and “can-do” approach for building the ministry into what it is today. The two of them, who seem more like sisters than co-workers, go back 36 years when each of them served as director for the South Broward Pregnancy Help Center.
“Joan was the first director and I was the second. We always worked very well together. In 1990 I was hired by the archdiocese to be the educational coordinator and Joan became my boss,” Groeber said. “Joan is like family to me. I have got to have Joan in my life.”
In retirement, Groeber continues to speak and help out at respect life events such as the annual Chastity Days in February. She will continue working with Project Rachel. And she has begun teaching spirituality classes to the women served by the ministry, as well as the volunteers.
“I am excited to do that,” she said. “These spirituality classes are important for our volunteers to be anchored in an understanding of who we are, how we are being called to live, and how God is calling us to give of ourselves in this ministry, which can’t work if we do not have a strong spiritual life.”
Groeber’s daughters were 5 and 2 when she started in the ministry, and her youngest, a son, was 3 when she took on the job of educational coordinator. She and her husband have been married for 43 years.
“God calls each of us to do amazing things with our lives. As much as I want the perfect house, and to travel with my husband, that is not what God is calling me to do,” Groeber said of her “repositioning.”
“The value and sanctity of human life are so much bigger than we can ever imagine,” she noted. “Conversely, the other side, the destruction of human life, is bigger than we can take in.”