Is there life after active priesthood ministry?
The recent news about Father Dean McFalls’ decision to give up his active ministry in the priesthood brought to mind another priest of the Stockton Diocese who went through similar circumstances in the mid-1980s.
His name was Father Cornelius Peter “Case” de Groot. I knew his story because I interviewed him when he was appointed pastor of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Ripon. Shortly after his appointment, he gave up the priesthood to marry the woman he loved, a parishioner at St. Anne’s Church in Lodi where he was pastor immediately prior to being transferred to St. Patrick’s. When he and wife Jane were married in 1987, the year before he stepped down as pastor, de Groot became the stepfather of nine children – seven sons and two daughters. His wife was a member of the Lodi church’s school board, a Eucharistic minister, as well as an ER nurse.
I did not have any other opportunity to interview him for a story, but I saw him several times after that as a lay person in his new profession as an attorney. I was on the city beat covering Lathrop. City offices were still located in one of the buildings at J.R. Simplot on Howland Road. This was before Lathrop started bursting at the seams as the town’s population exploded triggered by the housing boom, and the temporary City Hall that was being leased from Simplot still had space that was not in use. These were sub-let by the city and to other local businesses. One of them became the law office of Cornelius de Groot. I used to see him come in and out of his office while doing business errands at city hall such as picking up copies of the council agenda. This was before agendas were available online.
I knew a little bit of him and his family through my acquaintance with some members of his large family at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Manteca. His late mother and I were members of the Legion of Mary and I used to pick her up to go and visit homebound seniors including those at nearby Palm Haven Nursing Home, now St. Jude Care Center. Through my involvement at St. Anthony’s, I also came to know the other two de Groot brothers who were priests – Father James and Father Ignatius. Unlike Father James who was a diocesan priest, Father Ignatius was a Franciscan priest. Mother de Groot, as she was fondly called by parishioners who knew the family well, used to tell me stories about her summer visits to Father Ignatius’ church in Arizona where she did volunteer work at the Indian reservations there. When one of her granddaughters got married at St. Anthony’s, Father Ignatius was the presider and I was the wedding singer.
Father Cornelius later proved that there’s an equally productive life after priesthood, besides being a loving spouse and step-father. After he left the priesthood, he went to law school and, after passing the bar, set up his law office. He practiced for 11 years, with part of that time conducted in the rented office at the Simplot building that was being used as Lathrop City Hall. He was also a counselor for inmates at San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp. He held a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling which he received while he was still a priest.
De Groot, who was born in the Netherlands, was ordained in 1956 in the San Francisco Archdiocese. He joined the Stockton Diocese when it was established as a separate diocese from the San Francisco and Sacramento dioceses. He completed his seminary studies at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park. In addition to St. Patrick’s he also served at parishes in Escalon, Modesto, and Sonora.
He passed away in September 2009 at the age of 78.