A Q&A with Fr. Brian Gross, the newest priest set to join The Saint Paul Seminary staff

fr brian gross saint paul seminary speaking
“The opportunity to help men who are being formed for priesthood as it is and needs to be for the coming decades is really something that’s near and dear to my heart,” Gross said.

Fr. Brian Gross is set to join The Saint Paul Seminary priest staff as director of pastoral formation this summer. The Bismarck native and priest of the Diocese of Bismarck has spent the past 12 years as pastor of Epiphany Parish in Watford City, North Dakota and Our Lady of Consolation Parish in the nearby town of Alexander.

Ordained in 2010 after attending the Pontifical College Josephinum seminary in Columbus, Ohio, Gross will be responsible for leading The Saint Paul Seminary’s efforts in forming priests who effectively minister to their parishioners.

In this conversation, Gross shares some insights from his own journey he hopes to share with seminarians in his new role.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Tell us about where you’ve been and the pastoral experience you’ll be bringing to The Saint Paul Seminary.

“Well, it’s super unique, because the oil boom hit Watford City starting around 2011. It was a town of 1,700 people, and in two years it went to a town of over 10,000 people — many of them with no place to live, people living in storage units or campers built for Florida. So there was a massive transition in the parish in the last 12 years. It’s about half Hispanic now; when I came there were no Hispanics.

“I’ve also been deeply involved in Encounter Ministries since 2018. I do a lot with Fr. John Riccardo and Acts XXIX, and I’ve led healing services all over the Diocese of Bismarck in the past two years. I’m also the bishop’s delegate for the National Eucharistic Congress and dean of the Williston deanery (a governing body of parishes in a particular diocese).”

How have all these experiences prepared you to be director of pastoral formation at a seminary?

“The opportunities the Lord has given me to serve people in the parishes of Epiphany and Our Lady of Consolation are opportunities I never would’ve expected to ever have in the Diocese of Bismarck. I’ve been able to encounter extraordinary diversity of people from all over the country and all over the world. I would put my parish in diversity up against most parishes in the region that we serve. If you’d have told me 12 years ago when I was assigned to Watford City, or even four years ago, that I’d be celebrating Mass in Spanish, I’d tell you, ‘You’re out of your mind; I don’t know the language,’ and I still don’t, but I can pronounce the words well enough to say it twice a month.”

What are you most looking forward to about working and living at The Saint Paul Seminary?

“I’ve always had a desire to live in community with other priests, and it’s been very interesting, because in Watford City, I haven’t had an associate and the nearest priest to me is 50 miles away. That’s always kind of been a part of my desire in the priesthood is to live in some kind of community. The opportunity to live in community, as a seminary presents it, personally that’s a good thing.

“I’d also say the opportunities I’ve had to serve people in varied ways the past 12 years that I never thought I would have experienced … are going to be valuable in communicating with seminarians. The Lord has given me the capacity to be able to teach; it’s part of the nature of the priesthood. I’ve always had a deep love for the priesthood and other priests. The opportunity to help men who are being formed for priesthood as it is and needs to be for the coming decades is really something that’s near and dear to my heart.”

“The opportunity to help men who are being formed for priesthood as it is and needs to be for the coming decades is really something that’s near and dear to my heart.” — Fr. Brian Gross

In your point of view, what are some of the key needs of today’s seminarians when it comes to preparing to minister in and lead a parish?

“One of my favorite quotes comes from a biography by Evelyn Waugh about St. Edmund Campion, who was an English Jesuit at the time of King Henry VIII. So this is from 16th-century England where Catholics are being martyred, priests are being killed:

‘In my time in seminary, I was not being formed to be a gentleman and a scholar, but a missionary and a martyr.’

“That’s my vision for seminary as it should be. Guys need to understand they’re going into a mission field and they’re going to have to suffer. The mission field is now inside your own walls amidst your own people. I’m deeply convicted of that truth. I’ve been living it. People need more than just the Catechism spoken at them. They need real encounters with the living God through the priest acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). … That’s a heart-to-heart experience, not just a brain experience.”

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