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Column: Grandfather’s example one of creativity — and persistence

 Archbishop Naumann

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

When I was a young boy, my grandfather wa the manager of one of the Wonder Bread bakeries in St. Louis.

We (my mother, brother and I) lived in the upstairs of a two family flat with my grandparents dwelling downstairs. Almost every evening, we ate supper with my grandparents. My brother and I always looked forward to my grandfather’s arrival home, because he would often have Hostess CupCakes or Twinkies for us.

Because my father died before I was born, my grandfather was a significant male role model in my life. Unfortunately, he also died when I was only eight years old. After my grandfather’s death, I enjoyed hearing stories about him.

My grandfather was a natural salesman. He did not get discouraged when he failed to make a sale. He did not consider “no” a final answer. He loved the challenge of overcoming whatever the obstacles might be to close a sale.

I remember some of my relatives and his co-workers talking about how persistent and determined my grandfather was to get Wonder Bread on the shelves of some of the first supermarkets in St. Louis.

Initially, he was turned down by the manager of one of the supermarkets. According to the legend, having made several follow-up calls with the same negative results and the manager telling him not to pester him anymore, my grandfather was not discouraged but en- ergized by this challenge.

On more than one occasion he wore Groucho Marx glasses, or some other equal- ly ridiculous disguise, to get his foot in the door one more time to keep his product in the minds of the relevant supermarket executives and no doubt providing them with
a little entertainment on an otherwise dull day.

Eventually, he went into a full-court press, even sending flowers to the manager’s wife, motivating her to intercede with her husband on behalf of Wonder Bread.

Eventually, his persistence paid off and he got the account. Like the nagging widow in the Gospel (Lk 18: 1-8) or the neighbor who comes in the middle of the night to borrow some bread (no doubt Wonder Bread) (Lk 11: 5-8), the manager agreed to stock Wonder Bread. Of course, once one of the major supermarkets provided a particular brand, this placed pressure on their competitors to follow suit.

As I reflect more and more on the new evangelization, the call of the church to find new ways to present Jesus Christ and his Gospel in the context of an increasingly secular culture, I think of my grandfather. With a quality product to sell, my grandfather was convinced that he could make a sale to anyone.

Part of the responsibility of a priest and a bishop is to present (sell, if you will) Jesus Christ and his Gospel to those who have not yet accepted Our Lord and em- braced his bride, the church. What better “product” could one have to sell?

Though Jesus tells potential followers that they must take up their cross in order to follow him, ultimately Our Lord promises his disciple abandoned life in this world and a share in his eternal life.

The commission to make disciples is not just responsibility of bishops, priests and religious Sisters or Brothers. It is the work of the entire church. In fact, it is the laity that has access to those we need to reach with the Gospel. It is the responsibility of every baptized, confirmed Catholic not only to get to heaven, but to bring many others.

This is accomplished, in part, through the family. Christian parents are the first and most important teachers of the faith to their children. The Catholic family is called to be a school of faith and virtue.

However, the responsibility to bring others to Christ does not end with the family. Each of us is called to be prepared to introduce others to Jesus Christ and to the beauty of our Catholic faith. As St. Peter counsels the early Christians: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3: 15).

The memories of my grandfather challenge me in striving to make disciples for Our Lord to be as persistent and creative as he was in selling bread to supermarkets. If my grandfather was able to sell Wonder Bread so successfully, then I should be able to “sell” people on Jesus and the real Wonder Bread — the Eucharist.


About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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