GREEN BAY — “I’m the type of person who has a lot of varied interests,” said Deacon Paul Grimm, who will retire as diaconate director for the Diocese of Green Bay on June 30.
“So it’s been kind of a blessing to be able to experience a lot of different areas, to keep being challenged, to explore different areas of interest,” he added. “It has never been boring in my diocesan services, because I’ve been able to take on other challenges in various areas.”
While he is currently diaconate director, Deacon Grimm has served in many diocesan positions. He started within the diocese as director of social services for Our Lady of Charity Center, a residential treatment program for adolescent girls operated by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity in Green Bay. The program later merged with the St. Joseph Home for Children program operated by the diocese and became the Eudes Corporation. Deacon Grimm became executive director of the merged program.
Over the years, he also served as: supervisory clinical social worker and therapist for Catholic Social Services in various branch offices; assistant director and therapist at the Green Bay CSS office; clinical services program coordinator for CSS; executive director for CSS;director of community services; social concerns consultant; liaison with the Hmong/Lao Catholic community; liaison with the Rural Life Program; and pastoral music consultant.
Yet, in all those varied positions, over 36 years, one thing has remained constant and is the most important to him as he retires.
“When I was thinking about what I most enjoyed,” Deacon Grimm said, “it really came down to that idea of the diocese being a family. It wasn’t just a job to come to. People care about each other; they support one another; they are fellow companions on the journey and coworkers in the vineyard. That sense of all being on the same mission, the same goals, doing good work for the church and the people is what I most appreciate about having worked here.”
Deacon Grimm was raised in the Lutheran faith while growing up in Wautoma, and he credits his pastor with planting the seeds for his later vocation. Lutheran Rev. Richard Gildseth was both a pastor and a social worker, which gave the young Grimm the idea that someone could be both a minister and a social worker.
A second major influence came from his organ teacher. Deacon Grimm is now a skilled musician — both composing and playing music. He serves as choir director at his parish: St. John the Baptist, Seymour. He plays piano, organ, guitar and trombone.
It all started when he was in grade school and his piano/organ teacher, Ruth Olson, was also his church’s organist.
“She mentored me and got me started playing for church and accompanying the junior choir while still in grade school,” he said. “As she was dying of cancer, when I was entering high school, she asked me to take her place as the primary organist for our church, and I have been an active pastoral musician ever since.”
He also shared his talents at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Wautoma.
“A priest from St. Joseph (Fr. George Weix) had always been good to me as I was growing up,” Deacon Grimm recalled. “He had even invited me to play occasionally as organist at the church, since they were short of musicians at the time.”
Fr. Weix was also heavily involved in social ministry.
Deacon Grimm said his own family was “very ecumenically diverse.” That’s why, when he met his future wife, Deanna Walejko, and they married in 1971, his converting to her Catholic faith was easier when they “decided that we wished to be of one faith as we raised our children.”
Before he went to college — first majoring in music, but later switching to social work — he considered a religious vocation. Once he was married and became Catholic, he believed the road to ordination was forever blocked. However, the permanent diaconate was being revived in the 1970s and, during his time with OLC, Grimm met and worked with Deacon Glenn Teske.
“I noticed how kind and compassionate he was as a person and that he would bring his Christian prayer book with him to his office to pray the Liturgy of the Hours,” Deacon Grimm recalled. “He was also a social worker, and that got me thinking that maybe it might be possible, after all, to consider combining my social work vocation with the church ministry vocation of diaconate.”
After more discernment, he enrolled in diaconate formation. Family obligations and work requirements slowed, but never stopped, his progress. He now jokes about holding the record “as the person who took the longest time to go through the diaconate formation program in the diocese”: 15 years.
He was ordained on May 9, 1998. He now says his ministry “just boils down to having had the opportunity to be of service. And that service comes in so many forms. I’ve mentioned the servant leader role. First, we are servants and then we have other roles. But if you have that service mentality, in a sense you can’t go wrong in what you’re doing because you’re doing it for the right reasons.”
Deacon Grimm added that, while he is retiring from the diocesan staff, he is not retiring as a deacon. “I hope to continue serving in diaconal ministry at my parish of assignment and in the community for many more years.”
He will also continue teaching a course in the diocese’s formation program for deacons.
As far as why he chose to retire now, the 66-year-old replied: “I guess a person just knows when it’s time. It’s important, in leadership roles, to periodically change people because we all have certain gifts and some areas where we aren’t so strong. So, if you’re able to change the person in leadership roles periodically, you can maximize the gifts that people have and overall the program becomes stronger. You’re not limited to just one person’s strengths; you’re able to add other things into the program. I felt strongly that it was time to step aside for someone else to take it to another level so someone else can add their gifts to the role.”
He added that his family has been “very patient with my heavy schedule in my present position.” He and Deanna have three grown children and seven grandchildren, and Deacon Grimm looks forward to spending more time with them.
“I want to get to see their concerts and their sports things and spend time with them, so they know their grandpa rather than just hearing about him.”
He also hopes to devote more time to his music, some of which he will write for his parish and others for himself and his family. He and his brother, John, have had a years-long friendly competition in song-writing and he looks forward to having more time for that.
In fact, his brother recently made a music CD and included on it the song Deacon Grimm had written for his and Deanna’s wedding. With John, he has performed the song at each of his own children’s weddings. It is called “Love is a Giving Thing,” and he said the song sums up his life. Its refrain promises: “Today I give you everything, tomorrow … much more.”
He nodded and repeated that the song sums it up: “We are called to love one another, to give that out in abundance, to love each other as Jesus loves us.”