NEENAH — “It’s a real privilege to be in this circumstance where I can bring other people to Christ,” said newly ordained Deacon Tom Gritton.
He has been assigned to his home parish of St. Gabriel the Archangel, Neenah, where he has been an acolyte, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, RCIA director and past president of the parish council.
Deacon Gritton and his wife, Lori, are natives of Kimberly. After graduating from UW-Stevens Point with a bachelor’s degree in political science, public administration and psychology, Deacon Gritton completed a law degree at Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn. He was in private law practice for a year and half in Reedsburg before joining the Winnebago County District Attorney’s office in 1990. He was an assistant district attorney and deputy district attorney before becoming a circuit court judge in 2000.
His wife, who is by his side in much of his ministry, is a nurse for Outagamie County, working with the mental health division. They married in 1988 and have two grown children, Melissa and Thomas Jr. They also are host to a Global Outreach student, Rado from Slovakia, who is attending St. Mary Catholic High School. Their household also includes two cats, Lori added with a smile. Today, the couple lives in the Village of Fox Crossing (formerly the Town of Menasha).
Before 2002, the Grittons attended Mass and participated in their Neenah parish, but also were busy raising their children and attending their school and extracurricular activities — just your typical Catholic parents, the couple said.
In 2002, things changed. Deacon Gritton said, “I ‘lived’ a Cursillo and it caused me to think about a deeper involvement. People started asking, why not become a deacon? It was a long process for me.”
One of the things that gave him pause was thinking about what would happen if something happened to his wife and he wouldn’t be able to remarry. He talked with other deacons during his discernment and in 2009 decided to apply for the diaconate.
“I was accepted and started the process. It has been ongoing since that point,” though he took a year off when his son was a senior at St. Norbert College, De Pere.
“The Cursillo was the first time I’d done something like that and it deepened my involvement in church,” he said. “It was a significant event – the event in my life that brought me back to full participation in the church.
“One thing I learned through Cursillo is that everyone of us is given a gift from God,” he added. “It is our obligation to use it. I figured I’d best be able to use my gifts through the diaconate.”
Those gifts, he said, include leadership skills, which he honed as a captain with the Town of Menasha Fire Department, where he conducted training. “Those leadership skills are needed in the church.”
He said he also has the ability to read people and address their needs. These are the same skills he uses in his employment, first as an attorney and now as a judge. “I have a way of relating with people, especially groups of people.”
Sometimes, he continued, people think he is either grumpy or really serious because he doesn’t smile often. “People who know me know that is nowhere near the truth.”
“It’s been a long process, but it is good that it is. We make sure this is the right thing for us. I’m at the point where I’m ready for ordination and the next step,” he said.
Looking at the difference between being a deacon rather than an acolyte or a lay minister, he said, “At one point, I realized you can actually bless people; you do baptisms. I can assist people who’ve lost a loved one. I’ve dealt with people dealing with crises at the district attorney’s office and the fire department.” And, he loves being able to participate in the Mass.
His family is supportive of his new life as a deacon, said Lori. “Our children are grown and we’ve always been very active. I was fortunate to go through everything (in the diaconate process) with him. Now, I go and participate in the services he does.”
Deacon Gritton added, “Our skills complement one another.”
He said the diaconate process has also impacted him in the way he does his work as a judge. “The formation process impacted me as much as anything in my life,” he said. “I find I am much more understanding of people and where they are at.
“I believe God has made a plan for all of us,” he added, and he has found a new exciting challenge in being a deacon. “It is exciting,” he said, “a little scary too, but good.”