Brother Mark was born in Red Wing, Minnesota on October 16, 1946. He is the third child of Aloys Peter Gruenke and Barbara Ann Hallquist. He has an older brother and sister and a younger sister and two younger brothers. The family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota when Mark was two years old. He attended Nativity and St. Luke’s grade schools where he was taught by the St. Joseph of Carondelet Sisters. He graduated from Cretin High School which is run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers.
After graduation in 1964, Mark entered the Christian Brothers novitiate in Winona Minnesota. He took his first vows with the Christian Brothers in 1966. He majored in Biology at St. Mary’s University, Winona Minnesota. And he earned his secondary level teaching certificate as well.
During the summer of 1967 he did his practice teaching at the Christian Brothers School in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. This was his first introduction to missionary work. It was this experience that planted the seeds for his missionary vocation. Upon graduation in 1969 from St. Mary’s College, he was assigned to teach religion and science at Hill High School in St. Paul. In 1970 he received a fellowship to do graduate studies at the University of Minnesota in Biometrics. He was also assigned to teach religion and biology part-time at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis. During the summer of 1971 he participated in a training program for teachers conducted by the Outward Bound Survival Training School in the northern woods of Minnesota. In 1972 he was assigned to work at New City School Learning Center. This was a model integration program run by the St. Paul Public Schools designed to encourage voluntary integration among high school students by offering them attractive experiential educational courses. Racially diverse students from many high schools would sign up for the classes and they would be bused to the learning centers. Mark taught Environmental Studies and Wilderness Camping. He took groups of students on water quality research trips down the Mississippi River and on Wilderness canoeing, hiking and winter camping expeditions in northern Minnesota. In 1974 he was assigned to work on a retreat team at the Dunrovin Youth Retreat Center run by the Christian Brothers at Marine-on-the-St. Croix, Minnesota. In 1975 he was named program director for the retreat center. In 1976 he began his own experiential program for high school youth. It was called the “Wilderness Experience Program”. He offered semester long courses to students at three Christian Brothers High Schools in the Twin Cities and to youth at the Guadelupe Area Project, a high school equivalency program in St. Paul for high school dropouts.
In 1978 he worked as a nurse’s aid on a cancer ward at St. Joseph Catholic Hospital in St. Paul. In 1979 he was accepted into a training program for registered nurses at St. Catherine’s College in St. Paul. During the summer of 1980 while in the nursing program he worked as a volunteer in the health clinic of the San Lucas Toliman Mission in the highlands of Guatemala. It was after this experience that he became convinced that he was called to be a full time missionary. Upon finishing his nurse’s training in 1981, he began work as a registered nurse in a surgical ward at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.
He also applied to enter the Maryknoll Associate Program for diocesan priests and religious Brothers who want to make a five year commitment to work with Maryknoll overseas in mission. In 1982 Mark was accepted into the program. After a semester of study at the Maryknoll School of Theology he was sent to study Portuguese in the capitol of Brazil. After four months of language study he was assigned to coordinate church groups for poor working class youth in the huge industrial city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. At the end of his five year contract with Maryknoll he asked both Maryknoll and the Christian Brothers if he could transfer from the Christian Brothers and become a permanent member of the Maryknoll Society. His request was granted. In 1989, Brother Mark took his first oath with Maryknoll. He was sent to the State of Tocantins in Amazon Basin of Brazil to work with small Christian communities of poor farmers. For seven years he was part of an evangelization team that regularly visited 50 small communities scattered throughout the Amazon Jungle.
In 1997, Mark was called back to the USA to work in vocation ministry and to promote mission by speaking in schools and churches in Texas and Louisiana. In 2001 a special appeal was made by Maryknoll’s leadership for volunteers to go to Mozambique, Africa. Many missioners hesitated to go there because it meant learning two languages: Portuguese and the local dialect called, ChiNyanja.
Mark volunteered to join the team. Mark already knew Portuguese and he wanted to see if the very special warmth and vibrancy that he experienced in the Brazilian culture came from Africa. In 2002, Mark was assigned to the team in Mozambique. Mark developed a center for the translation of evangelization materials into the local language and he also established a computer school. In 2006 Mark was asked to set up a computer lab, prepare the curriculum, and to train an instructor at the Nyegezi Seminary in Mwanza, Tanzania. After he finished this project he was sent to Namibia.
Mark is presently at the Nyangana Mission in northern Namibia on the border with Angola. He has an office skills and a computer skills center where he prepares poor rural youth for entry level office jobs in government and private business.