Published Jan 1, 2011 8:00 AM
You'd never suspect that the new head of the Lithuanian diocese for military services, Bishop Gintaras Grusas '83, was once a typical Southern California boy.
Yet Grusas — "Gint" to his friends — was a blond-haired, blue-eyed Agoura kid who, like many of his friends, went to UCLA, where he majored in math/computer science. After graduating, he worked as a technical consultant for marketing at IBM.
Grusas belonged to the tight-knit Lithuanian-American community, where he was active in church life and served as president of the Lithuanian World Youth Association. Given his involvement with the church, it wasn't a total shock to his friends when, at the age of 28, Grusas decided to chuck it all and enter the priesthood.
"I went back and forth, interested in the priesthood and a whole lot of other things for about 10 years," Grusas says. "At that point, I was up for a promotion at IBM, and as I was preparing for the interviews, I put together a list of things I wanted to do with my life. All of a sudden, I looked at the list and realized that the very wide variety of things I had put down all had something to do with the priesthood."
Within two weeks, Grusas had left IBM and begun preparation for seminary studies.
His decision to serve the Lithuanian diaspora honored his father and mother, who were physically separated for a 16-year span that began during World War II and ended in 1960, when Grusas' mother and sister were finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union and join his father in the United States. A year later, Grusas was born.
The young seminarian attended the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, before moving to Rome to complete his studies. In 1992, he went to Lithuania for summer pastoral practice but was recruited by then-Archbishop Audrys Backis of Vilnius to help prepare for Pope John Paul II's historic visit in September 1993 — the first time a pope had ever visited the country.
Grusas was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1994, and became general secretary of the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference, a job he still holds even in his new capacity as bishop of the Lithuanian diocese for military services.
Newly ordained as a bishop in September, Grusas' ordinariate includes 14 priests and about 10,000 Lithuanian troops and their dependents.
"The troops that are fighting closer to the front lines in the South are fighting so that the terrorist groups do not do more damage to innocent people in Afghanistan or Europe or the United States," Grusas says. "So the preaching comes naturally, as they are all in one way or another working to assist others and keep them out of harm's way."