Dr. David Grambow knows telling patients facing surgery that he will pray for them tends to be taboo in the medical field.

Deacon David Grambow, a cardiologist, poses with his wife Ann and their four sons, Matthew, Daniel, Jonathan and Stephen, at his ordination to the diaconate on Sept. 6, 2014 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee. (Submitted photo courtesy the Grambow family)But the 55-year-old cardiologist from Bayside makes praying with and for patients a regular practice.

“After being in cardiology 15 years, I came to realize pure satisfaction could not be realized solely through secular means,” Grambow said. “I saw in medical practice there was a disconnect between treating patients’ physical well-being and their spiritual well-being. In cardiology, in particular, there tends to be an elderly population. In my practice we do everything we can to treat a patient but eventually there comes a time when no other medical approach can extend their days of living. I experienced feelings of emptiness at those times.”

Faith fills emptiness

Grambow, a cardiologist at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospitals, turned to religion to try to erase that emptiness.

A long-time member of Lumen Christi Parish in Mequon, and ordained in September 2014, his emptiness became filled with the flame of his Catholic faith.

In the early 2000s, Deacon Grambow felt God’s calling to not only treat his patients physically but to pursue their spiritual well being.

Like many Catholics, he attended church every Sunday and helped out periodically at church.

Deacon recruitment campaign bearing fruit

ST. FRANCIS — Applicants are “coming out of the walls” expressing interest in becoming deacons in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said Deacon John Ebel, director of the office of diaconate formation for the archdiocese

Deacon Ebel said the surge in interest is largely due to a unique campaign, now winding down, to create an awareness of what it means to become a deacon.

The awareness campaign focuses on a series of posters showing current deacons half-dressed in their work garb, from a doctor to a police officer, and their other half dressed in the vestments of a deacon.

“Many people think of a deacon as a seminarian getting ready to move into priesthood. That is not the case. A deacon wants to be a deacon,” Deacon Ebel said.
Deacon candidates being sought through the archdiocese campaign are known as permanent deacons who balance church life and responsibilities with their family and work responsibilities, Deacon Ebel said. Deacons seeking to become priests are known as transitional deacons.

Deacon Ebel said the archdiocese has 140-plus active deacons and another 40 in retirement status but available to fulfill their duties as deacons.

“We have a shortage of deacons. Not every parish in the archdiocese has a deacon,” Deacon Ebel said.

Nationally, there are about 8,000 deacons assisting parish priests.

“By 2025, the church is forecast to have more deacons than priests,” Deacon Ebel said, noting the archdiocese is winding down a period for prospective candidates to sign up for the four-year training program.

“We sign up people every two years,” he said.

Deacon Ebel said deacons, who perform several ministerial and sacramental functions, represent servitude to their parish, much as Christ served the Father.

“Our awareness recruitment campaign has resonated with a lot of men. Deacons are kind of invisible. We are not required to wear collars,” Deacon Ebel said.

Among a deacon’s most visible role is at the end of Mass when he calls out to parishioners to,

“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

“He is sending the community out to determine who is not here and why they are not here,” Deacon Ebel said.

But his work as a cardiologist and compassion for his patients led Deacon Grambow to more completely address not only the physical needs but the spiritual needs of his patients.

He began helping out more at church, becoming a lector and an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.

“I taught RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and did other work in the church to become more involved and see if God’s calling was real,” Deacon Grambow said.

What was God asking?

The memories of working with so many patients also led him to more prayer and involvement in Lumen Christi’s eucharistic adoration program.

Deacon Grambow said his discernment involved a summation of his experience with many patients.

“What was God asking me to do at that point in my life to make me a better cardiologist?” he wondered.

A graduate of Cudahy High School, Deacon Grambow earned his bachelor of science degree at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 1982 and his medical degree at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1986. He enrolled in masters-level classes at Cardinal Stritch University seeking to further his knowledge of the Catholic faith.

“After my studies, I began to feel the call was real,” he said.

Deacon Grambow, who has been married to his wife Ann for 31 years and is the father of four grown sons, contacted the archdiocese and expressed his desire to enter the diaconate.

“I really see the diaconate as a calling and when you have a calling you need to follow it,” said Ann. “All four of our sons are proud of their father and I am proud of him for following his calling.”

She noted wives attend deacon training sessions with their husbands.

“All the wives are very supportive,” she said.

“I believe God was calling me to serve his church in my workplace,” Deacon Grambow said.

He compared his ordination day to his wedding day.

“When I was walking down the aisle as a new deacon it felt very much like walking down the aisle following my wedding. As a deacon, I have two vocations. One vocation is my marriage and my other vocation is my ordination to the diaconate,” Deacon Grambow said.

Raising awareness about diaconate

He is one of six deacons pictured on posters the archdiocese is using to raise awareness of the diaconate and to support its recruiting efforts.

The campaign, organized by Deacon John A. Ebel, director of the archdiocese’s office for diaconate formation, involves ads that show men dressed for their profession on one side, and as a deacon on the other.

The ads’ subjects include a doctor, philanthropic adventurer, teacher, construction mechanic and police officer.

Deacon Grambow said his work as a deacon has significantly impacted his professional life.

“People often tell me when I pray for them that they are very appreciative that their health care provider will do that. Their response is surprising to me,” he said.

Deacon Grambow said when someone is facing a critical illness, thoughts of their faith, no matter what their faith, determine their health care outcomes.

He devotes 36 hours per month to his diaconal ministry, including one third for liturgical activities, such as preparing and delivering homilies, another third as a spiritual advisor, including as an advisor for St. Vincent de Paul, and one third in community work such as hospice.

“Meeting with dying patients and their families in my hospice work has strengthened my faith to a degree I’ve never felt before. People with days and hours to live and their families have tremendous faith I’ve never appreciated before,” he said.

Deacon Grambow said his deacon training taught him to maintain a balance in his life led first by family, then his work as a cardiologist and then the diaconate.

He said failing to maintain a balance could threaten the success of maintaining any of those three priorities.