Dr. Mark Ginter is the President of St. Joseph’s Holy Family, Inc. located in southern Indiana.  He has over thirty years of teaching experience, has authored dozens of articles, produced hundreds of CD’s and DVD’s, and addressed thousands of Catholics.  He works at St. Joseph’s Holy Family to bring about a renewal of Catholic family life and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Could you tell us a little bit about your story?  I just finished up reading your Missionary Disciples handbook and I thought your three minute testimony would be great to hear.

I have felt ever since I was sixteen years old that God had given me a story to share and so I’d like to share that with you.  My dad’s name is Joseph, and my mom’s name is Mary. We lived in Illinois, and my dad belonged to the Illinois State Police.  He started out as a trooper, and whenever he was promoted we moved to a different part of Illinois.  Eventually we settled in southern Illinois in a town called Sesser.  My mom was, for the most part, a home-maker with a little bit of crafting on the side.  Of us kids, there was my older brother, Matthew, my younger brother, Dan, and my younger sister, Kathy.

We were active members of our church, and it became rather common on Sunday afternoons for us to spend our time with our pastor, Fr. Fred, out on his pontoon boat on Rend Lake in southern Illinois.  On this one particular Sunday afternoon – August 7th, 1977 – the four of us children decided to go out with Fr. Fred on the boat as we often did. Mom and Dad were invited to a barbecue a few miles away, and they had decided to go there.  I was sixteen at the time and my brother Matt was 17 – we were born on the same day one year apart.  Matt had been training himself for the upcoming football season.  He was going to be a senior at Sesser-Valier H.S. on the football team, and he had been conditioning himself by running, weight-lifting, etc.  I was actually attending St. Henry Prep Seminary in Belleville, IL at the time, but I was home for the summer and had a summer job.  We went out this Sunday afternoon on the lake, and we were waiting for Monsignor Angelo who was going to join us in about an hour.  We were drifting out on the lake, and Fr. Fred says, flippantly, “Hey Dan, why don’t you take a swim?”

Well now, none of us could really swim.  We hadn’t had any formal swimming lessons and we all knew that Fr. Fred was jesting.  But my brother, Matt, actually took it as a personal challenge because he had been trying to teach himself how to swim, so he actually jumped in.  It was shocking to all of us, and we could see immediately that he was in trouble.

What I and Fr. Fred started to do was to try to get him back on board, back on the boat.  Fr. Fred was trying to maneuver the boat around different places to get close to Matt because the waves were really very choppy.  He was moving further and further away from the boat and he did not have a life preserver on at the time.  I knew that he was in trouble, so I was praying my Our Father’s, and Hail Mary’s, and Glory Be’s.  Strangely, at a certain point even though Fr. Fred had the boat motor full speed, we weren’t moving.  I’m standing on the edge of the boat, and my pray changes and now I’m praying from the heart.  I’ve got my hands lifted up into the sky.  I say to the Lord, “Lord, I believe that if You wanted me to walk on the water right now to save my brother, I could.” I hear in my heart from Him – the first time I’ve heard God – I heard, “Not now, Mark, not this way.  It will bring me greater glory later on.” And I watched as my brother went down for the last time.

Fr. Fred was devastated; my younger sister and brother were devastated. I’m standing on the edge of the boat to get the attention of another ski boat further away in order to get me back to shore.  They eventually came over and I told them what had occurred and I said, “You have to get me back to the shore so I can call the State police headquarters to get hold of my dad” (who was the Captain of the Illinois State Police District 13 at the time.)  About a half hour later, my parents showed up, and I told them what had happened.  My mom fell apart emotionally.  My Dad was very matter-of-fact about it at the time because that’s just the way he had to deal with tragedy.  Eventually he told a trooper to take us home which was about two miles away.  When we got home, my Dad said to us, “Children, people will be arriving soon. Please go change your clothes.”

I remember going up to my bedroom and as I was changing out of my swimming trunks, I said a prayer.  I said, “Lord, I need Your Holy Spirit now so that I can be a rock of faith for my family.” Because you see, Zane, this is where it had happened. This was a Sunday afternoon, and on Sunday morning we had actually helped Fr. Fred celebrate a campers’ Mass.  We had permission from the bishop of the Diocese of Belleville to celebrate a special campers’ Mass out at Rend Lake, and that Sunday morning, August 7th, I remember very distinctly what the Sunday readings were about and what the Gospel was about.  The Gospel was John 6, and in John 6, as you know, Jesus promises us that whoever eats His Body and drinks His Blood shall not die forever, but shall have eternal life.

That morning my brother, Matt, received Holy Communion, and I pray and hope that he did so with a clear conscience.  And we believe – based on the Word of Jesus and the signs and wonders which He worked while He was among us and the Resurrection which He experienced by the power of the Holy Spirit – that my brother, Matt, received the promise that Jesus had made that whoever would eat His Body and drink His Blood would not die forever, but would be raised up on the last day.  And that is exactly the good news that I shared with all of the classmates that came to the funeral home a couple of days later and also with the seniors in H.S. and my classmates. Many of them, not being Catholic, were confused by how we Catholics would have joy.  They didn’t understand why we had this hope in the resurrection because they were overwhelmed by the sadness and the possibility – that many of them were unfortunately taught by their pastors – that because we were Catholic we were not saved. So many of them were sad that my brother died unsaved.  Well in fact, Jesus had promised us that He would save us by His holy sacraments.

So what I would like to do, Zane, is to have you and everyone else I meet, come and meet our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacraments in the Catholic Church – to receive His precious Body and sacred Blood.  And, Zane, we’ll be going to 8:30 Mass this Sunday at Holy Family Parish in Jasper, do you think you can meet us there, or do you want me to pick you up?

Thank you for sharing, Dr. Mark and that is a very powerful testimony.  How well have you seen that received? 

There are just so many stories that have surrounded that story and what God has done.  When I heard Him speak to me, I never had any anticipation exactly how His plan was going to unfold. And immediately after that prayer to the Holy Spirit, I do believe that I received an extraordinary charism of faith, and I try to share that with as many people as possible. I’ll give you the most recent fruit of that story and what has happened.

I was speaking in August to the faculty of Mater Dei High School in Evansville, IN. I have taught over thirty years – all the way from grade school to graduate school.  I loved teaching High School, and I did so in Mater Dei High School in Breese Illinois back in the early ’80’s.  My teaching changed; I first began with a very intellectual perspective, but as I began to walk with the Lord more deeply, I realized that I needed to change my teaching style, and I added in class my testimony that I just shared. This past August, when I had the chance to address the entire faculty at Mater Dei H.S. in Evansville, IN, I thought to myself, “If I never had the chance to breath another word in my entire life and I could impact these faculty and all the students they will touch, what is the word that I wanted to make sure they heard?” That testimony was part of the message that I wanted them to hear and the message that I wanted them to hear was that they, as the faculty, can create a community of personal encounter with Jesus Christ in their high school and that is essential for saving their souls and the souls of their students.

I got a wonderful endorsement from the president of Mater Dei H.S. after my presentation.  Several of the faculty were just blown away by my presentation; they had never heard a Catholic who evangelized so convincingly, and they have been teaching for years!  It was the most compelling presentation they had ever heard.  And with Pope Francis leading us into the New Evangelization as missionary disciples, I wanted to do the best I could in about forty-five minutes to equip them to be missionary disciples.  That was the route I took using that testimony, and that is just a very recent fruit of that story.

We’ve talked about parish missions that might be upcoming in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.  Could you explain a little bit about that plan?

Let me give you just a little bit about the genesis first.  Having been in southern Illinois and being there at my brother’s tragic drowning – it was a tragedy and the Lord says, in Romans 8:28-29, that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His plan.  So even in the midst of the unexpected tragedy, the Lord was able to bring victory out of it.

That was 1977 and if you remember, in 1978 there was a very, very powerful American evangelist named Billy Graham, and he had been on the speaking circuit for about twenty years at that point doing what were called Crusades.  I was living in a place that was very much influenced by the Bible belt, very much influenced by Billy Graham. I had experienced this strong zeal for the Lord in the Catholic Church, but most of my friends had experienced it in Baptist revivals or even Pentecostal revivals.  So I was trying to ask myself, “How can I get more of these Baptist and Pentecostal friends to come to the Catholic Church?” I saw someone like Billy Graham and I thought, “Wow, he is powerful!” He was more powerful than any Catholic I had seen evangelizing at the time.  I thought to myself, “I’d love to have his zeal, but able to bring people into the Catholic Church.”

Around that time, I hear about Catholics falling away and then, much to my sadness, in 1978, I hear Bill Graham going to Poland to evangelize, to have this Crusade! Catholic Poland of all places!  I got very depressed and I thought, “Oh, this is so sad.  Here is the most effective American evangelist, but he is Protestant, going to Catholic Poland. He is going to take them all away!”

Okay, that is 1978. Please fast-forward to 2010.  In 2010, I come across a book, and this book is about the life of Pope John Paul II.  I’m a big fan of Pope John Paul II; I actually met him on January 5th, 2005.  I’ve immersed myself in his thought, but something was revealed to me in 2010 that I did not know before.  The book had a forward written by Billy Graham!  He writes in the forward that he was invited to Poland by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in 1978 to teach the priests of the Archdiocese of Krakow how to evangelize.  So Bill Graham said, “Yes, sure I’ll come.”  And, as a matter of fact, while Bill Graham was in Poland, the conclave had to convene again and elect a pope just thirty-three days after Pope John Paul I was elected.  During the conclave Pope John Paul II was elected! So, Billy Graham returns on an airplane from Krakow, Poland to New York, and he is mobbed by the media because they want to know who this Polish Pope is since nobody in the United States had any clue.  Billy Graham gives this fantastic interview about how he was in Poland at Wojtyla’s invitation to teach priests how to evangelize.  So in 2010, I had this amazing insight that if Wojtyla learned from Billy Graham how to evangelize, then we’ve got to imitate Wojtyla’s way of evangelizing here in the United States.

What I did was develop a process – a parish evangelization process – that would essentially take place over a one year time-frame. In this process, having studied a little bit of Billy Graham’s style, I realized that parishes have to undergo a similar process.  There are four phases and I have done a few parish missions with this.  The first phase really needs to be a self-assessment and examination of conscience if you will; some people would use the term “audit”.  It is used to find out where the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the parish are (it is called SWOT); the whole parish needs to undergo this.  A great time for that, of course, is Lent.  We do a lot of examining of consciences during Lent. We look at our failures and our strengths, weaknesses, and we move forward.  That is the first phase.

The second phase – which could be done coming out of Lent – is in fact a time of prayer and fasting so that we find ourselves receptive to the Holy Spirit to become missionary disciples.  Third phase is when we invite people to come to a week-long parish mission.  Our evangelical, Pentecostal friends call it a revival.  If anyone has studied the history of parish missions, they’ll have found that parish missions in the 19th century were the reply to the evangelical revivals, we just had to give it a different name. We still continue to use the name, but I’m afraid that most people have forgotten the history of where a parish mission came from.

During first and second phases, the parish has been taught to reach out to their neighbors and how to invite specifically for the crescendo, which is the parish mission.  This is what Billy Graham’s Crusade does.  Billy Graham doesn’t come into a town until he has had his lead team working for almost six to eight months beforehand.  He comes in after all the churches have been stirred up, after people have been reached out to personally, and have been invited to attend the Crusade. Then the Crusade happens for about a week and every night, there is a so called “altar call.”  Of course, we do it Catholic style because we really do have an altar, we really do have the sacraments of reconciliation and we really do have the Holy Eucharist.  So what we do is have people touch Christ and Christ touch people through the sacraments of the Church.

The fourth phase is actually the phase where we plug them into the parish.  Ideally, this should be a RCIA program that is going 12 months of the year and people can be immediately connected right away to the parish and become formed in catechesis to be initiated into the Church.  So that is the general schema of what we want to do with our parish evangelization process.

By the way, the name of the process is called “Faith’s New Way of Seeing Things.”

You said it takes about a year and the first three phases are done in a six-nine month range.  The fourth phase doesn’t really have an “end” date, but is the out-flowing of all that?

That’s right. An out-flowing and integration of those who come; the “fruit” of it, if you will.

I’ve read through that document, I know that you tie in a number of resources from St. Joseph’s Holy Family (SJHF).  Could you describe a couple of those resources and how they fit in with that week long parish mission?

SJHF’s primary mission is the renewal of Catholic family life.  We do that through three goals: 1) by helping those who are already pursuing the vocation as the domestic church, that is families themselves; 2) those who are pursuing their vocation to service in communion, especially young people; 3) and all of Christ’s disciples who have a common vocation to holiness and to the mission of evangelizing the world.

In our apostolate – which is the renewal of Catholic family life – we realize that creating missionary disciples happens in the family and to be made missionary disciples, we need tools that help us to be missionary.  What we are focused on is creating those tools – such as, prayers, traditional devotions like the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet – and giving them a missionary twist.  So, for example, the main prayer that guides the mission is the prayer of the Handmaids and Servants of the Gardener through a New Springtime of the Church through a New Evangelization.  This was a prayer that I composed about three years ago, and I did so reflecting upon Pope John Paul II’s call for a New Evangelization and Pope Benedict’s work Lumen Fidei (He was really the primary impetus behind the encyclical which Pope Francis promulgated soon after he became pope, but most all of it was written by Pope Benedict).  That is the inspiration for the title for the parish evangelization process; “Faith’s New Way of Seeing Things” comes from Lumen Fidei, 20.  Then, in addition to that, Pope Francis wrote Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, which further propelled me to ask myself, “How can we connect an authentically Catholic spirituality – what we believe, what we celebrate, how we live, how we pray – with this missionary zeal?” I don’t want to just take a Protestant Evangelical perspective and throw over top of it a veneer of Catholicism.  It has got to be authentically Catholic, through and through.  So that is where the prayer of the Handmaids and Servants of the Gardener comes from.  It connects all seven sacraments to all five senses, JPII’s theology of the Holy Spirit with the Eucharist and the baptism in the Holy Spirit through the Eucharist.

That is the main piece.  If you can kind of imagine a pyramid, that sits at the top; let’s go underneath and look at the next level.  What we want to do is support this process also with a devotional life that people can touch readily, but that for many people has become stale.  So we look especially at the Marian Rosary. One of the things we’ve done here at God’s Country is built Rosary trails and we take families on the trails.  For each Hail Mary, we stop, we have a sign, and we pray.  We are in pilgrimage, and it is a great kinesthetic, full body, holistic way of honoring the request of Our Lady of Fatima to pray the Rosary everyday and to keep the First Saturday devotions.  “To meditate,” as JPII said, “is to actually contemplate Christ with the gaze of Mary.” Well, what I found out was I can’t take God’s Country with me when I’m on the road; it is way too big as it’s 32 acres! So how am I going to be able to take it with me?

Having been a state finalist in speech when I was in high school, a speech coach and a play director, I used something called Reader’s Theater Rosary which we Catholics developed in the Middle-Ages which were called Passion Plays.  It just got repackaged in the 20th century as Readers Theater.  So I created twenty different scripts for the twenty mysteries of the Rosary in a Readers Theater format and it is fantastic! It is engaging – young people have used it in high schools, in middle schools, when they come out here for retreats and sometimes they use it instead of the Rosary trails.  It’s not your grandma’s rosary…God bless your Grandma’s rosary, but it’s not your grandma’s rosary.  You are actually engaged as a particular character in the scenes from the Scriptures.  The reason for doing that is because as we put on one of the roles from one of these devotions – namely the Rosary – we actually can see ourselves as missionary, as having good news that we carry into every other aspect of our lives.

We have other tools that serve as the bottom layer. One of the prayers that I really like to use is a prayer that Pope John Paul II composed at the end of his apostolic exhortation Ecclessia in America.  He really wrote it for families to be engaged in the New Evangelization.  As far as I know, we are the only ones who actually put it together in a prayer card and we have a nice little pamphlet with Our Lady of Guadalupe on the front since she is the star of the New Evangelization.  We want families to be able to do this kind of prayer regularly.  I recommend this to families especially on the anniversary of their baptism; wedding anniversaries are a great idea; if you don’t remember your baptism, do it on your birthday.  All of this is so that the family realizes as the domestic church that they are engaged at home in activities that imitate that which goes on in the parish.

Could you tell us a little bit more about God’s Country?

I would love to!  We are situated in southern Indiana halfway between Evansville, IN and Louisville, KY, close to Interstate 64.  We’re about 1 hour away from Evansville and 1 hour away from Louisville, and we’re very close to Hoosier National Forest which is very large in southern Indiana.  Searching Hoosier National Forest is the easiest way to find us on the map.  We are located about 12 miles east of Saint Meinard Archabbey.

We have beautiful sandstone ridges and hardwood forests.  The 32 acres that is legally tendered God’s Country was part of Joseph Ubelhor’s 200 acres farm.  Joseph was born here, but unfortunately his mother died when he was three weeks old and he never knew his father.  He was adopted by his uncle since his father had a nervous breakdown when Joseph was born because was Joseph was the ninth child.  His father couldn’t handle it, so Joseph moved in with John’s other brother, George, who adopted Joseph.  From George and Teresa Ubelhor, Joseph learned building trades, and he discovered that he was very good at stone masonry.  He started to build churches – which he did all throughout southern Indiana and western Kentucky.  He inherited this land in Perry County, Indiana, and he wanted to make it a retreat for his family.  He invited other families to come here for retreat as well

Joseph appealed to the Archabbot  of Saint Meinard’s in 1996 for help to turn his farm into a retreat center, but the Archabbot didn’t seem to have any interest at the time.  So Joseph and his grandson Gregg Haas, who worked very closely with him, built rosary trails, stations of the cross, a 14’x14′ Ten Commandments, outdoor grottoes at each of the mysteries of the Rosary – not all finished, but 7 are in place – and an outdoor waterfall.  There is a special place called the Gardner’s house or Gardner’s Hut which is a chapel for the sacraments of penance and reconciliation.  We have another large outdoor chapel with a Gothic arch for the celebration of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and the Haas family started first Saturday devotions here after Joseph died in about 2000.  They also started a non-profit call St. Joseph’s Holy Family, Inc. in 2001.

On these first Saturdays in May through August, I was invited to speak. At the time I was teaching at Saint Meinard Seminary and I came out in the first Saturday of August for several years.  Eventually in 2009, God closed the door at Saint Meinard, and Greg Haas asked me take over here at St. Joseph’s Holy Family.  After some discernment, I said, “Yes!” Since then, we’ve been doing First Saturday Devotions and offering family friendly experiences at God’s Country.  For example, as far as I know, we have the only annual Catholic music festival which is held the last Sunday in April.  We call it the Mercy Music Festival, and this year we are planning to have the Third Annual Mercy Music Festival.  We have an All Saints’ Day party and Fall Family Fest the last Sunday in October; our fifth annual is coming up.  We have an annual men’s retreat and annual women’s retreat.  We are looking to put into place a couples’ retreat and an engaged retreat as well. We have a lot more desire and plan to do more things to reach out and renew Catholic family life.  We believe that we are the stewards of Americas most blessed 32 acres! A lot of people have had conversion experiences and a lot of healing has taken place here.  We’d like to reach out and touch a lot more people with the good news of God’s Country.

Is there anything else you’d like to share that you think would be important for people to know?

Thank you, I really appreciate that opportunity.  What I didn’t say is that I am married to a beautiful wife.  We have been married almost thirty years, and our thirtieth anniversary is in 2016.  We are blessed with 7 children and that includes two sets of twins.  We now have two grandchildren that are just wonderful blessings from God.  We hope and pray that in some respects the joy of the Gospel is reflected in our lives and that others can see it.  We pray we are faithful Handmaids and Servants of the Gardener so that through our service, others can come to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  I have a great desire to be a fool for the Lord, and I do not think that He will turn away my desire to serve Him.  I want to be able to touch as many people as possible with the good news of Jesus Christ through His Holy Catholic Church, and I look for every opportunity to do so.  There are so many more things that I’d like to share so I look forward to working and partnering with SPES to fan into flame the New Evangelization that is so essential in the Church today.

Thank you Dr. Mark!