Jeff Grant is just an Illinois farm boy who finds himself shepherding a different kind of flock. The pastor of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church is known for his stirring homilies and pastoral demeanor. But mostly he's known for his gentleness.
"Every day when Blessed Sacrament school lets out, he stands at the door and waves and speaks to the students as they leave the building," principal Nicole Kuhlman said.
The Highland, Illinois, native has been a priest for 39 years, the last 10 of which have been as pastor of Blessed Sacrament.
"I knew I wanted a career where I could serve people, and the advantage of being a priest is that you can serve the spiritual lives of people," Grant said. "It's not easy, but it's certainly a rewarding life."
Blessed Sacrament is one of the largest parishes in the Springfield area, serving 1,400 to 1,500 families. Before the pandemic, average weekend Mass attendance was about 1,200 people.
"Father Jeff is the most caring and compassionate person I have ever met," said parishioner Scott Reimers of Springfield. "He really serves the souls of his congregation. He gets calls day and night from people needing him to come to the hospital to serve a sick person. He is a humble man."
Five years ago, Grant worked for six months as a missionary to Kenya where he volunteered as a parish priest at the Kakuma Refugee Camp, located approximately 600 miles north of Nairobi.
He said he found that experience to be fulfilling, much like his work in Springfield.
"I would do the sacraments there just as I do within the walls of Blessed Sacrament," he said. "I usually traveled with an interpreter. Of course, when I heard confessions, an interpreter couldn't be present. Sometimes their English would be broken, and I'd have trouble understanding them. But I take the view, God understands them."
Reimers added, "Every action, every explanation, every decision from Father Jeff comes first from compassion. He leads both our parish and our school so well because of his consideration and understanding of everyone. He truly lives the calling of serving others and helps each of us to be a better person just by his example."