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Tony Rossi, Director of Communications                                        

May 9, 2021 

Deacon Recalls His Grandmother’s Gumption 


You can be sure that Deacon Don Grossnickle of Chicago will be thinking about his late grandmother

Maja this Mother’s Day. While he was growing up, he loved visiting her and listening to stories about

her childhood in Sweden. But as Deacon Don researched his grandmother’s life in recent years in

order to write a book about her, he discovered several family secrets that shed new light on the struggles she endured in the U.S. during the Great Depression. He shares those secrets in the book “My Maja,” and we discussed it on “Christopher Closeup.”  


Growing up in her home country resulted in Maja developing resilience and “gritty Swedish gumption,” as Deacon Don describes her most prominent traits. That resilience became necessary for her survival here in the states after her husband died at age 35, leaving her a widow with three children. Maja had been trained as a night nurse in Sweden, but had focused on raising her children once she became a mother. After her husband’s death, which occurred during the Great Depression, Maja was forced to return to work to survive. 


Deacon Don explained, “Maja went to work 12-hour shifts taking care of wealthy people…She also converted the upper floors of her house into a boarding house, so she had three tenants upstairs…There were many long hours of being a nurse, leaving at maybe 4:00 in the afternoon and getting home at 8:00 the next day. And then getting the kids ready for school, taking care of the tenants, the stress and strain were terrible.” 


Though Maja relied on her faith in God to sustain her, there were also times when she would exasperatedly pray, “What are you asking of me, Lord?” 


“Maja suffered greatly,” said Deacon Don about several revelations he only discovered during his research into her life. “She became depressed. The stress and strain [led to] a nervous breakdown. Her children were taken away from her…Maja never spoke about those incidents to me. My relationship was such that her focus was on what the Lord was asking her to do all the time. She didn’t look back necessarily on how tough it was, how she spent some time in this Chicago insane asylum, and she did the treatments necessary to get out, so she could rejoin her children. As far as I’m concerned, that’s about as gritty a gumption as any person would ever imagine.” 


As a result of learning about his grandmother’s struggles – and with knowledge of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness – Deacon Don notes that his compassion has been deepened: “Every person that I see who is struggling with depression or with suicide tendencies, I can see the face of Maja in each of them, and know that with the Lord’s help, they can be strong.” 


In closing, Deacon Don had these hopes for people who read his book: “’My Maja’ tells the story of a forgotten immigrant Swede widow. There are a lot of forgotten people in the world, and now that the book is global and the reviews are coming in, she’s no longer forgotten. The men of the world were well documented during the Great Depression. Well, forgotten women also need to be mentioned – heroes like Maja, who had valor, and yet, were broken and healed. Her story needs to be told, so I’m receiving great feedback from people that they’re becoming inspired. We all have family secrets, but we move beyond them with God’s help.”  

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