Tony Rossi, Director of Communications, The Christophers
A Deacon Follows a Star Over Uganda
“I’m feeling fit and ready to do God’s work.” So says Deacon Don Grossnickle, who received a
diagnosis of acute congestive heart failure a few years ago that had him facing the potential of imminent
death. But the deacon, from the Archdiocese of Chicago, has responded well to rehab
(he credits “the grace of God”) and is still going strong, so he is committed to using his remaining years to serve God in any way possible. And right now, that way involves cows and pigs.
During a recent interview with me on “Christopher Closeup,” Deacon Don recalled becoming good friends with a Ugandan seminarian who was studying at his Chicago parish, St. Mary of the Lake. When that seminarian was ready to be ordained back in Uganda, he invited Deacon Don to concelebrate his first Mass with him. The trip was eye-opening for the deacon, who visited orphanages and one day, St. Luke Clinic, run by a nurse named Teophista. There, he saw six mothers and babies slowly dying from malaria fever. Malaria is preventable and treatable, but the people of Uganda had no money to afford those resources in many cases. The deacon broke down in tears and said, “God, help me do something to help those people who are too poor to afford medicine.”
The solution that Deacon Don came upon involved microfinancing. He explained, “That means people in the United States are sponsors or donors, and my job is to go to Africa and develop projects that the people can use in order to produce funds for medicine. So essentially what I do is I loan them cows.”
The idea was adapted from the Heifer International model, which had been adopted years earlier by the bishop of the Masaka diocese. Deacon Don began his project with cows for 18 individuals and families who own at least two acres of land: “We loan them each one cow, then they care for the cow, milk the cow, and sell the milk. Ten percent of the milk that they get, they are supposed to give to the clinic to buy medicine…And when a baby cow is born, if it’s a female, they pass it on to another person….The monies are generated in order to fund a clinic. Then the clinic can serve the farmers themselves and the entire village.” The program has now expanded to include a pig farm as well.
The good that we do in God’s name often comes back to us in unexpected ways, and that is certainly the case with Deacon Don, who has found his own faith greatly increased. He said, “We’re saving lives, we’re helping people gain their own integrity, their own worth. And it’s contagious! There are hundreds now that have been participating in our organization. Our real strength is to form alliances, bridges with others so that this can grow.”
Deacon Don continues to hope that more people will join him in his mission. He concluded, “I listened to God call out to me, and I found an epiphany. There was a star over Uganda for me. I went there. I’m laying down my gifts at the feet of other people, where the presence of God is so alive. And I encourage everyone to have this experience...The people [of Uganda] are very hopeful, hope filled, but they also are suffering greatly. And our presence amazes them. To work together, side by side, with them and walk in their shoes, it’s a beautiful experience.”
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