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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

A Deacon’s Spiritual Toolbox for Troubled Times

Deacon Don Grossnickle served the Archdiocese of Chicago for many years as a Disability Outreach Coordinator. That job tied into his work as founder of the Gridiron Alliance, an organization that supports high school athletes who’ve suffered spinal cord injuries. The deacon would help these young people adjust to their new situations, and also develop in them spiritual resilience that would help them deal with their futures.

In May 2016, Deacon Don needed some spiritual resilience of his own after he was diagnosed with stage IV heart failure. So how did this man of God respond to the dire news? During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, he said, “I was shocked. I’m a regular guy that attends to my physician and all of the care that goes with that, so there was certainly a dark cloud that came over me from the get-go. But I look upon my relationship with the Lord as a dance, and there was never a question that the Lord was doing anything to me. So with optimism in the Lord’s help, my optimism is always going to carry the day.”

The years that Deacon Don spent mentoring young men through the Gridiron Alliance also gave him a solid foundation from which to deal with his own troubles. He said, “I became intimately involved with those with catastrophic injuries, and learned so very much about how attitude and a faith life can take us back from what I would call a Humpty Dumpty kind of great fall, to have the ability to respond and transform our life with the help of the Lord and the Holy Spirit. I think resilience is a toolbox that you begin practicing in earnest when the chips are down…It really comes down to perceiving life as a gift, and each of the boys taught me that every day can be a gift, if that’s what we choose to make it. And like The Christophers, it’s all a matter of lighting the candle and being realistic about the darkness. But being smart enough, wise enough, and gifted enough to move through it by lighting the candle.”

Deacon Don is lighting that candle for others by giving seminars to his fellow patients who may not have the family and friends that he has around him. He would also like to see the Church develop ministries for people who receive bad health news. “Folks tell me that as little as 40 percent of the people who are diagnosed with my kind of condition or cancer or others, reach out,” he explained. “The oppression that comes from bad news limits their verve, their strength, and they’re kind of lost. So I feel like that gap needs to be bridged. They probably won’t do it on their own. They probably need folks like me and others to press the opportunities that might be there to lift them up.”

Thankfully, Deacon Don’s story has a happier ending than he expected. Shortly after recording our interview, he shared the news that his Level IV heart failure had reversed to Level I. His doctor explained that this kind of reversal is extremely rare, and he even sent him for two consults to make sure the new diagnosis was accurate. It was. Deacon Don credits his doctors and better eating and exercise choices with improving his health. And, of course, he is grateful to God for listening to the prayers of all his loved ones who stormed heaven on his behalf. 


For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, THE GOD OF SECOND CHANCES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: