September 15, 2010

 Dear friends:

This is the final Stauros USA BLOG. You are free to leave messages as the BLOG will remain active until January 1.

Blessings to all: 

Deacon Don Grossnickle,  Executive Director, Stauros USA

Stauros USA Board of Directors Announce Decision to Adopt Inactive Status

 (Chicago) The Stauros USA Board of Directors and corporate members announce that, due to financial pressures, the Stauros U.S.A. Center for Compassion and Healing has adopted an inactive status for the indefinite future.  A decrease in both funding and benefactor support in the current economic climate were cited as reasons for the decision.

Stauros USA was founded in 1973 by Passionist priest Father Flavian Dougherty, C.P.  Since that time, Stauros USA had largely operated with funds obtained from Passionist subsidies.  Additional revenue was provided through donations and income generated from Stauros  publications.   Unfortunately, due to current financial constraints on the Passionists, Father Donald Webber, C.P., Provincial Superior, notified the Stauros Board of Directors in June that the Passionists of Holy Cross Province and St. Paul of the Cross Province would not be able to provide their annual subsidies for the upcoming fiscal year.

Stauros USA (Stauros means “cross” in Greek) is a non-profit organization committed to helping people find meaning, hope and peace in the midst of suffering. They seek to further educate and dialogue on issues of suffering, create opportunities for prayer, retreat and reflection, advocate with and give voice to persons with live with disabilities and suffering, and build bridges of compassion among all who suffer, their caregivers and the helping professions.

A centerpiece of Stauros USA was the pilgrimage to the Holy Land for persons with disabilities, a biblical study trip initiated by Reverend Dougherty and undertaken eight times, most recently in August of 2010. Another program hosted by Stauros USA in recent years was a conference on Suicide: its prevention and coping with loss when tragedy occurs. For many years Stauros USA published Suffering: The Stauros Notebook, which was available both in print and on CD. The current Executive Director of Stauros USA, Deacon Don Grossnickle, increased the internet presence of Stauros with its web-based “Seeds of Light” newsletter, along with the on-line Stauros Suffering Notebook, and the Stauros BLOG which all are available at no charge.

Stauros USA will suspend operations as of September 30, 2010. President of the Board, Alan Melkerson, says that, “It is the prayer of the entire Stauros USA community to celebrate the past and present, and ask the providence of God to continue the mission of attending to those who reach out in need for encouragement, healing and love.”

The corporate members of Stauros USA have taken steps to preserve the ministry with the hope that when economic conditions improve, the operations of Stauros USA could resume. For the present time, the Stauros USA web site: will be maintained, providing access to archived journal articles and other resources. The web site will carry the announcement of the inactivation of the ministry at this time.


“Tragedy often has a way of visiting those who can bear it least”

September 11, 2010

Rob and Rocky Rallying Help for Paralyzed


Reflection: “For it is in giving that we receive”…………..(Francis of Assisi)   

I recently picked up a nice brand spanking new book called: Time: Haiti-Tragedy and Hope (Time Inc 2010) The opening lines of the book jacket struck hard like a hammer to my head: Check out these words-that shake like an earthquake? “Tragedy often has a way of visiting those who can bear it least”….. ….”And on January 12, 2010, that is exactly what happened to Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere….. Immediately, the scale of the tragedy was apparent, a nation already so often on its knees had been knocked to the ground…….” Reflection: So often we hear the empty unreassuringly shallow words of well-meaning bystanders,–“God only gives a person as much suffering as he or she can bear”………….   

I have often heard a response by those who receive this advice shake their heads and wonder, “Can God really somehow help me sustain the strength I need to go on?” How can I go on? I really don’t know the way. So many ask,–“Can God give more than shares of tragedy to the weak”? Yes, I believe so, God gives Community, a spirit of solidarity with brothers and sisters. And more, God inspires some an ability for the embracing of misery with compassionate forbearance. The Holy Spirit is connected and reaches out in humble dignity from the despair to connect upwards with the wonderful and beautiful gift of hope upon hope. Beyond platitudes, beyond token gifts of a few dollars, solidarity of standing beside the struggling and suffering is the great gift that counsels more than words and gestures can offer. My lament in discovering the inner workings of tragedy of football catastrophic injury and paralysis is that–the deeper tragedy of the boys and families–who wallow in a position of poverty, disconnect from community…yes…..can bear it least…….is being alone!   

In fact for 11 years I have seen the tears, the struggle, of those who could bear it least, too often alone, distanced by safe- seeking others. We who take the time to witness the plight of the tragedy—deeply appreciate and admire how some mightily and quietly bear up…..(in their lives of quiet desperation) We notice the effects of refreshment like a drink of water for the thirsty living in the desert are boosted by small little rays of sunshine because a very few ones on occasion demonstrate some amount of care…..   

Who will rally from the comfort of apathy and complacency and cynicism and skepticism and hear the calling to move paralysis along? Who is not intimidated by overwhelming obstacles and sure and certain pathways of more despair without relief?   

“Tragedy often has a way of visiting those who can bear it least”……….   

Tragedy is being alone in the midst of a community.

Entering the final day of our journey…

August 25, 2010

"Access to the Land" Pilgrims, 2010, with Passionists Fr. Paul and Fr. Marita, who serve the Passionist Church in Bethany outside of Jerusalem

Dearest Friends,

Tomorrow we board our plane for home, anxious to return to our loved ones but with hearts that are full and grateful for all that we have seen and experienced together.

We gathered to share some feelings about the trip this evening, knowing that they will only deepen, change or reveal themselves in new ways over time. Person after person spoke of the power of this journey as we came together in friendship, faith, and as students and teachers of another. We have learned from and with each other. We wondered how we can take the learnings of this trip home and use them to serve others. We wonder where God will point our pilgrims’ feet next?

We are so truly grateful to Fr. Donald Senior for his incredible leadership, spiritual gifts, humor, patience and amazing good will no matter what the obstacle, human or divine. We cannot thank our bus driver, Riad, enough for caring for us so lovingly. He is a man of enormous heart.

This has been a transformative journey as we came to know more personally the place in which Jesus was born, lived, preached, loved, died and overcame death. We will never experience Scripture in the same way. A special thanks to Stauros USA and Don Grossnickle for his work in bringing together this wonderful group of pilgrims who opened their hearts and minds to the enormous power of this land, its history and people.

Finally, thanks to our loved ones who supported us from afar. You were never far from our thoughts and prayers. Please pray for us as we make our way home. See you soon! ~Nancy Nickel 

Here is the  final blog entry from Sr. Pat Connolly, written late Wednesday, 8/25:

On Tuesday, 8/24, we had another terrific day–awesome, breathtaking views on top of the mountain at Masada. After a cable car ride we climbed or were “pushed” further the mountain. We saw the remains of Herod, King of Judea’s, palatial fortress, theatre, hojuses, cistern and other objejcts of their self-contained enormous city. We all survived 110 degrees, plus humidity.

Susan and I skipped dinner and the optional gathering talk with the group. We slept from 7:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.

On Wednesday, 8/25, we had another “Can you top this day?” One of the many stops was a return to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We were able to see the slab that they laid Jesus on in the tomb. The exterior of this was 19th century but the resting place of Jesus was authentic. Awesome experience. I prayed for my family, friends and the Grey Nuns there. I placed my Grey Nun crucifix on the part of the stone where Jesus’ head laid.

Another highlight was Mass at the Church of the Dormition. It was built and staffed by the Benedictine Monks from Germany. They came there after WWII in reparation for the Holocaust, setting up a peace center. They have an annual peace concert which is well known and draws crowds of people from all over.

Fr. Don was the celebrant with many of us being ministers of the liturgy. One highlight was a very quiet, paraplegic Down’s syndrome teenager being the Eucharistic minister. He and his mother are part of our group.

I’m sure after reading this and the rest of this “blog” you would agree this was another “can you top this day.”

Barb K – I’m “going with the flow” and trying to absorb everything in.

 This trip has been worth it and I would definitely recommend it to others. I would say even for the able-bodied it is not for the “faint of heart.” The only reason I am doing so well is due to Susan Gibson and all the other able-bodied people in our group. Everyone pitches in to either relieve the attendants and/or come forth when 4 or 6 are needed for a wheelchair lift.

Tomorrow is our last day and then home on Friday.

Blessings and peace,

Love, Pat

P.S. Nancy Nickel has been telling me when anyone leaves me a message on the blog.

The Holy Land around and within us

August 24, 2010

 Please enjoy this wonderful reflection from pilgrim Martha Hennessy:

Our small group of 24, traveling through the Holy Land for the past eight days, has followed the footsteps of Jesus and His disciples on a journey of astounding beauty in this often stark landscape, and of a tortuous human history haunted by God. The timeline is mind boggling in its stretch into the distant past, times of antiquity and the beginnings of human culture. Jericho claims itself to be the oldest city at 10,000, when people began to settle down to cultivate the rich volcanic soil, provided with abundant spring waters.

We have seen where Jesus was conceived and born, where he walked, worked, gathered, encouraged, healed, suffered, died and was resurrected. I can now see and feel more clearly the Jewish world and the geography of mountains, rivers and sea (lake) that combined in His time to create the setting into which the Word was made flesh.

Our Mass at the Holy Sepulcher early on in the trip left me weeping in sorrow and gratitude. The reading described Mary Magdalene’s joy going to the tomb to tend the body of her beloved teacher. Her encounter with Him as he spoke the words, “Do not cling to me for I must go to my Father who is Your Father,” gave me incredible comfort and yet utter desolation. He was among us, we loved Him, he tried to teach us, we killed Him, yet He rose again.

            We visited the South Wall, the steps to the Temple Mount, where Jesus, His family and friends entered for prayer and offerings. As I walked up, the call to prayer began and we could still hear the celebration of the Bar Mitzvahs by the Western Wall. Horns and drums, droning recitations of prayers, the mixing of Hebrew and Arabic, “God is great,” all become a heady brew of religious fervor and celebration. I had to ground myself by focusing on the tiny sound of the doves cooing in a recessed arch above the bricked-up entrance to the Temple. So much history, so many players, the beauty and the horror overwhelm me.

I was able to swim in the Sea of Galilee as the group made its way to the Boat Museum near Caparnaum.  With six of us in wheelchairs, the on and off loading after our arrival on the boat took some time. I felt guilty taking the opportunity when the others could not, but what a lovely experience. The water was soft and warm with gentle waves that are known to rise up quickly without warning, causing fear and caution among fishermen of old and today. In Jesus’ time this was a very formidable body of water. “Oh you of little faith” came to my mind as I dodged the waves. As my eyes fell upon the cliffs called Arbel I couldn’t help but think how this was the beloved and familiar landscape of Jesus and His disciples. Their eyes looked upon these views! I recited the prayer “Star of the Sea” while swimming. “Mother, the Star of the Sea, pray for the wanderer, pray for me.”

            I can’t write about this trip to Israel without expressing my reflections on the State and the energy that I feel here. Empire continues to haunt us, taking large bites out of the earth for highways, new buildings, displaced peoples, creating huge cement walls that snake across the hilltops. The anxiety is felt everywhere, from ancient exiles, to the siege of Masada to the siege of Gaza, in the halls of the Holocaust Museum. We are a traumatized people on all sides, perpetrators and victims; an endless march of strong men and their armies, taking and storing up the gifts of the land. My refuge comes with the sharing of this experience with others, in the study of the Gospel teachings, in the love I feel that God has for all of His beloved people. Oh Jerusalem, He wept for your beauty and your ignorance!

 And more wonderful thoughts from pilgrim Marie Smith:

Capernaum Israel

August heat rises off dark stone ruins in this former fishing village near the Sea of Galilee. To the left are the remnants of an ancient synagog. To the right is the Church of the House of St. Peter, an octagonal building suspended over the crumbled house where Simon Peter lived.

            After looking at the stone walls for a while, I shut my eyes and listened intently as the centuries fell away. In the distance fisherman hauled their nets in for the night. They spoke to one another about their catches and the one that got away. A dark haired child laughed as he toddled to meet his father who scooped him up in one arm. Sandals scuffed along well worn trails. Cooking fires burned outside the houses and the smell of baking bread and cooking fish filled the air.

            Simon looked up from repairing his cousin’s net as he noticed a familiar figure leave the synagog. The man walked toward him with a gentle amused look on his face that always captivated Simon. The Teacher greeted Simon’s neighbor Leah with a wave, and clapped Joseph on the shoulder. A kitten wandered past his feet, followed by a swift moving child who wasn’t watching where she was going. Rachel tripped on a rock and almost tumbled into a tree. Instead she landed in the Teacher’s arms. The Teacher laughed as he lifted her up. Though he couldn’t hear it, Simon could tell The Teacher asked if she was all right. Rachel nodded. The Teacher tapped her nose and she laughed. He reached in his satchel, found something and nodded. What was it? Oh, a date. The Teacher handed the sweet fruit to Rachel. While the little girl nibbled the date, he carried her back to her mother and set her down. Spying Simon, he grinned and quickened his pace.

            After a warm greeting, The Teacher sat beside Simon and helped him repair the net. When he first met The Teacher, he said Simon would be a fisher of men. And he had been. Simon thought about this while he tied a small stone weight on the net. He had seen such wonders since his travels with Jesus. His mother-in-law looked over from the bread she was baking and saw The Teacher. She smiled at him and invited him to supper. The Teacher accepted her offer. He also accepted her scolding that he needed to eat more. He gave Simon a look that made them all laugh.

            Simon’s cousin came by, carrying his newborn son. David retrieved his net, grateful for the repairs. The Teacher stood and blessed the baby before following Simon inside the house. They sat together and enjoyed their evening meal. Together they shared smoked fish and wine, bread and dates, and a calm peace that centuries cannot erase from the tiny house in Capernaum.

Disability and the Dead Sea 

My disability, myasthenia gravis, is a rare neuromuscular disease. I could give you a long winded medical explanation, but I will spare us both. The end result is what matters. The words myasthenia gravis mean “grave muscle weakness” in Greek and Latin. It is an apt description for a disease that has weakened every skeletal muscle in my body, from the muscles that control my eyelids, to the muscles that control my toes. I can feel my body. I cannot always make my body move. All 244 skeletal muscles do not work as they should. The disease is thankfully painless. The medications to treat it cause uncontrollable muscle spasms leaving me in chronic pain. When I move I feel as if invisible weights are tied to my body. The longer I move, the heavier the invisible weights get, until I simply cannot move. 

            On this trip I have alternated between walking and using a wheelchair. Walking wears out muscles involved in walking. Sitting weakens muscles involved in sitting upright. When you have myasthenia gravis you learn quickly you’re fighting a battle you cannot win.         Hauling around a weak, floppy, cramping myasthenic body makes me feel like I come from a planet with three times the gravity of earth — a planet where a fork feels like a cast iron frying pan and a toothbrush feels like a bowling ball. I have felt this way for years.

            Then I came to the Dead Sea. Having heard warnings about not splashing and not getting the water in my eyes, I was a little nervous as I waded into the warm water. The mosquito bites on my legs burned for a moment as I sloshed forward. Then I tripped in a hole on the sea floor and fell. Only instead of falling, I was suspended. I was caught by the water and lifted off my feet. Suddenly I was weightless. It was like being an astronaut on a space walk. My feet rose up and I leaned back, stretching out fully for the first time in my life. My arms were held up, my spine lifted. For a moment, nothing hurt, nothing struggled to stretch. The water simply held me in a warm salty embrace.

            As I drifted on my back, I was amazed by how effortlessly I floated. I stretched out my arms and rested in the water. All the strenuous effort to move my body evaporated. Freed from my body for a few blessed moments, I rejoiced under the blazing Israeli sun. It is said there is no life in the Dead Sea. This is not true. There is much life in the Dead Sea because as I floated in the water I never felt more completely alive.


The gifts of this land — Masada, Qumran, the Dead Sea

August 24, 2010

With each passing day, we seem to become more aware of the power of this land, the history of the extraordinary people who have lived here for centuries, the faith that has sustained it and sometimes ravaged it, the faithfulness that abides here still, and the reality that the richness of this trip may take quite awhile to fully make itself known to us. We are already aware on so many levels of what a profound experience we are having, individually and as a group, but we also know that deeper truths take some time to settle into our very bones so that we can finally put into words all that we have seen and felt.

The sharing of Fr. Don Senior each day brings a historical and spiritual insight that is unparalleled. It is truly a gift to be gazing at one of Israel’s stark or lush vistas, steeped in history, and listen to a Bible passage that speaks of the place we are in or hear Fr. Don’s historical overview which brings the power of the place even more into focus.

Today we visited Masada, Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, and many of us ended the day with a float in the Dead Sea. These are amazing tourist and pilgrimage sites and experiences to be sure, but in visiting these places we are also participating in a  wonderful community of thoughtful, caring, insightful, faith-filled pilgrims. We drink in each experience like the bottles of water we are replenishing our bodies with, and we continue to support and look out for one another in ways we hadn’t even thought of before we came on this trip.

We are getting toward the end of our trip with just a few days left. A blog is a wonderful way to stay in touch but in so many ways cannot communicate the depth of this magnficent experience. Please continue to keep us in your prayers and know that you are loved and thought of often throughout the day.

Peace, Nancy


Richard and street musician: When the Saints Go Marching In

Amazing art abounds:Church of the Primacy

Jesus went into the desert to pray

Merchants abound in the Holy Land-even in the desert

"Politics and borders" Grafiti on the border wall on the West bank

Jericho: Oldest City on earth

Church at Cana in Galilee-Miracle Jars of Water into Wine-Alleluia

Zachias Sycamore Tree He climbed to see Jesus

Masada Lecture: Sad Story of Jewish Courage at the Hands of Roman Army

Dead Sea: Delightful (Strange) dip to escape 105+ heat

Bet Shean (Byzantine City) Amazing Archeological Find

Qumran Caves: Site of Dead Sea Scripture Verifying Scrolls

“The only way to know what this experience is like is to be here.” ~Pilgrim George Bettinger

August 23, 2010

Hi Friends,

A quick travel update before hearing more from our pilgrims. Each day brings new challenges, new triumphs, new insights, many highs and some lows when our energy flags. But that doesn’t last long. We continue to be amazed by the beauty and richness of this land we are encountering. We are truly in a rhythm with one another and continue to form a wonderful spiritual community.

Today we began the day by wending our way through a narrow covered market in the town of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. We visited the Church of the Annunciation. Covering the Church walls were beautiful mosaics donated from countries around the world depicting the Blessed Mother. The church is quite modern unlike other churches in the Holy Land but has a very impressive design.

Next we visited Bet Alpha where archaeologists have uncovered an intact mosaic floor from the town’s synagogue dating to the 6th century. We have learned that with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, synagogues became more prevalent – people could worship locally rather than traveling long distances. After a brief video about the mosaic floor, we travelled for lunch which provided a view of the Bet Shean site, where there are extensive ruins of a Greco-Roman city. The heat requires that we make adjustments to the schedule at times, but be assured that we are looking out for one another and pacing ourselves. Currently we are headed to Jericho and then on to our hotel in Jerusalem.

Now read posts from pilgrims Sr. Pat Connolly and Ramona Gillette:


Happy Foundation Day! August 24th is my 44th anniversary of my first profession. Oh happy day!! I will be remembering all of you in my prayers and possibly Mass if we are able to have it. We have had Mass at many historic religious sites. They have been moving experiences.  We have been taking turns being lectors, Eucharistic ministers and song leaders. Sunday evening, while at the Kibbutz Lavi, we had an optional talk on the life of a kibbutz. The presenter was a young middle-aged family man from England. It was an excellent talk. Many of the principles that they live and operate by are the same as our community way of life and governing.  So we have a good ecumenical connection with the religious people of a kibbutz. I shared our similarities with Morris, our presenter.

Hope and pray all are well.

Shalom, Pat

And from Ramona:

Mazel tov from Israel! You could cook biscuits and eggs today on the sidewalk in Jericho. The interpretations of the Blessed Mother in the Church of the Annunciation intrigued me, especially the USA. But you have to see it to believe it! Another falafel for lunch. It’s the hamburger of Israel. Well, that’s it for now. We’re on a hot journey back to Jerusalem, sweating all the way. It’s water in and water out. 

Shalom and peace,

Ramona Gillette

Amazing Grace-Stauros In Action:Holy Land Reflection

August 22, 2010

Greetings to all from Deacon Don:

Amazing Grace: No Limits-God for All Sea of Galilee Preparing to Accept all Persons to Enjoy Access to the Land of the Bible

Our journey is now about half over, and the community that has been built during this time is so beautiful. Teamwork is joyful, and when we work together and help persons using wheelchairs transfer into tough places we all clap and feel a great sense of solidarity, love and accomplishment. For me, I thank God for each of the phone inquiries that led to this marvelous group of 24 strangers from all over the United States bonded together now in this challenging and remarkable pilgrimage. Stauros Board of Director: Alan Melkerson encouraged and prodded and guided this journey all the way to Israel. (Thank You Alan-we owe this trip to your vigorous encouragment and support)

The love that we feel for each of us walking and rolling in the footsteps of Jesus moves us often to tears. Each day we encounter 105 degree heat  and go up against many inacessible stairways that are obstacles we have had to overcome. We have become quite fearless and it can be said, “nothing can stop this group when we set our mind to it-wow! Father Don’s brilliant daily lectures deepen our understanding and appreciation for the Bible and the context for Christianity coming to life in the early days of our Lord. Sharing Communion together each day at Holy Places allows each of us to reflect on the Gospel and the challenges to pray for one another and use God’s gifts to “love one another” and change the world for better. Today on the Sea of Galilee the wind picked up a bit as we crossed.  I refelected on the Gospel story where the disciples awakened Jesus because the were afraid because of a storm there at sea. This group is not afraid as we are bonded together in faith. We turn to God in prayer and offer thanksgiving for this enriching experience.

In Capernaum today we saw the Holy place where the four friends and a man paralyzed was lowered to the feet of Jesus seeking a miracle. This is most certainly one of my most favorite passages of the bible. The story  can create miracles. Teamwork undertaken collaboratively by friends on behalf of those in need of healing, overcoming obstacles via entrepeneurial efforts and faith in God can change the world one person at a time. We learn lessons from the bible and by looking around see that by trusting in God and forming a strong and supportive community of encouragment miracles come to life. This is Amazing Grace.

Our group has learned to sing this beautiful Gospel acclaimation which becomes the cornerstone of our mission ahead:

“God has spoken to His people: Alleluia” And His words are words of wisdom: Alleluia”

We pray each day for all who have asked for prayers in joyful hope.

Shalom: God’s Blessings to all touched by Stauros and this wonderful journey. Deacon Don Grossnickle-Executive Director: Stauros USA

August 22, 2010

Hi Friends,

Couldn’t post last night — due to Shabbat (Sabbath), we weren’t able to check into our hotel in Galilee until 8 p.m., after sundown. Please know that we are all well — if dealing with some pretty hot temps. Yesterday we visited the magnificent ruins of Caesarea Maritima, where Herod the Great built an impressive seaside palace which includes a hippodrome and theatre, still in use.  We loved our lunch! — at a local restaurant in Dalyiat Karmiel where we got to make our way through lots of local merchant life (aka shopping), and then had Mass at Mt. Carmel. We had dinner at a seaside restaurant in Tiberias and were pretty pooped by the time we got to Kibbutz Lavi Hotel.

Today, a bit weary around the edges, we were restored by a beautiful boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, which included hoisting the American flag as we belted out the National Anthem, a demonstration of how fishermen traditionally cast their nets, and then a bit more singing of traditional Israeli folk songs. That was followed by a trip to the spiritually serene Mount of Beatitudes, outdoor Mass at the Church of the Primacy of Peter where Peter was asked to lead the future church, and a visit after lunch to Capernaum, the site of many of Jesus’ miracles and the intact foundation of Peter’s home. Our journey is tiring, exhilarating, fascinating, jovial and reflective; we are indeed on a spiritual journey in so many personal and collective ways.

But enough from me. It’s been tough to pass around the laptop, but what follows is a blog from Sr. Pat Connolly. Enjoy!

Hi! Family, Friends,  and the Grey Nuns,

I’m typing on the bus on a very small laptop(first time experience). This is an amazing experience. Each day I say this is the best yet but then our experience of the following day seems to top that one. Fr. Don Senior is fantastic.  He has so much to share.  Everyone is so helpful. It’s teamwork,  especially when lifting wheelchairs and transferring people to a sling in order to lower them into the cave of Jesus’ birth or to ascend the steps of the Temple  Mount.

We were able to walk on the ruins that revealed the same road that Jesus walked on, and ascend and pray at the Temple steps, where we are sure Jesus also walked.  When we had Mass at each different site, I prayed for you—my family, my friends and all the GNSHs. I could have never accomplished this trip without Susan Gibson, my assistant, and the help of all the others. Susan and I pinch each other every day because we can hardly believe we’re here.

The countryside has been magnificent, the food delicious, the weather hot but fun, and all participants wonderful. This trip will be something for me to treasure for the rest of my life. Enjoying everything. Will be in touch again either on the blog or when I’m home.

Be sure to read the blog for each day’s update.

 Shalom, y’all,


Deacon Don: Mount of Beatitudes-Loving the Trip/Group

Sea of Galilee: 24 Pilgrims Become Fishers of Men and Women

Jesus asks: "Do You Love Me?" Site of Seaside Breakfast Offered by Jesus

Capernaum: Peter The Fisherman's House-("Amazing to Experience!)

Baptism of Jesus-John the Baptizer: Jordan River

Bethlehem-Birthplace of Jesus-Photos To Enjoy

August 20, 2010


Some great photos to help you come along  on the Stauros journey to the Holy Land.  

Enjoy: Shepherd’s Field Mass, Site of the birthplace of Jesus and the Dome of the Rock back in Jerusalem. We are offering prayers for loved ones and concerns for the world.  

Deacon Don,Nancy and the 24. Enjoy  

Church of All Nations-Site of the Agony in the Garden


Dome of the Rock-We Share our Pilgrimmage


Bethlehem:Site of the Shepher's Watching Their Flock-Mass in a Cave


Bethlehem: Birthplace of Jesus-Moved to Tears


Praying at the Western Wall for Loved Ones and Hope for the World to Come as Pilgrims On a Journey


David and Deacon Don Praying for the Mission of Stauros USA and for Many Intentions and Prayers Requested

Pilgrims are we!

August 20, 2010

Hi friends,

We are at the end of another glorious–if very hot!–day in which we have seen our faith and our teamwork fully alive. We began with a beautiful Mass in an ancient cave at Shepherd’s Field in the city of Bethlehem, located in the West Bank. Our entrance hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” never seemed so fitting! In Fr. Don’s homily, he shared how the shepherds were considered very lowly members of their contemporary society, and yet they have so much to teach us about caring for one another and the compassion that is central to our Christianity.  We are living witnesses to that truth.

We drove past the newly discovered site where Herod’s tomb has recently been discovered, Herodium, nestled on the side of the hillside. During the afternoon we visited the oldest Christian church in Bethlehem, the Basilica of the Nativity, dating to the 6th century. To access the site within the church where the birth of Jesus is venerated means negotiating a very steep and narrow flight of steps in which it is necessary to carry those pilgrims who cannot walk. It was an effort of great devotion, friendship and spiritual power to be one of a group that makes sure all teammates share the experience. This is our faith made real and made personal. It was a gift to all of us to partner with one another, whatever the obstacles. A special note of gratitude to Fr. Don who was an advocate extraordinaire for our group! He would be embarrassed by this mention, so keep it a secret…

Hugs to our loved ones. Keep us in your prayers.  Tomorrow we are on to Galilee and Caesarea Maritima!

Visiting the Western Wall and other sites

August 19, 2010
A few of the intrepid souls at the Southern Wall

Dear Friends,

We began our day with a visit to the Dome of the Rock, which is an Islamic shine located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  It stands, it’s golden dome gleaming in the sun with thousands of beautiful blue hand-painted tiles, on what is believed to be the sacred rock where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and where Mohammed is said to have ascended into heaven. It is also believed to be directly over the site where the Holy of Holies and Herod’s temple once stood. It is sacred ground indeed, for the people of many faiths.

Then we visited the Western Wall (or the “Wailing Wall”), men on one side of a divide, women on the other, and said a prayer or placed our prayer request on a tiny piece of paper which is traditionally wedged between the stones of the great and sole remaining Wall of the ancient temple complex. Strangely, the atmosphere is prayerful near the Wall, but also chaotic, with joyful groups arriving who are chanting jubilantly, hundreds of people milling around, bar mitzvahs being celebrated, children crying, and a great sense of humanity coming and going.

We then walked to the Southern Wall where steps remain that once led to the temple and upon which we can surely say that Jesus climbed. The heat was blistering but many of the group made the trek to this site, wheelchairs bumping over the ancient stones so we could get to the place where we could confidently say, “Yes, Jesus was here!” And so were we. It’s a reality that was both exciting and pretty unbelievable.

After lunch we celebrated Mass at the Church of All Nations, a  church built in the area where scholars feel confident that the Garden of Gethsemane was situated and where Jesus prayed before he was taken into custody.  Group by group of pilgrims files in, to pray or celebrate Mass. It is an international spiritual gathering place!

We continue to meld as a group — beginning to get into a rhythm and intuit one another’s needs. And we’re laughing a lot! Always a good sign on a journey of this sort…

We are praying for our loved ones back home. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Hopefully we can get the laptop passed around and other pilgrims will be able to post their blog regarding their experiences. Please don’t hesitate to leave your comment! You are missed.

Stauros Holy Land Photos Day 2

August 18, 2010

Please enjoy our photos that correspond to our latest blog:

Community Teamwork In Action on the Journey

Jerusalem Holocaust Museum

Studying Scale Model of the Land of the Bible

Stations of the Cross at the Tomb of Jesus

Tremendous Moving Mass at Jesus's Tomb (Holy Seplecher)

Holocaust Museum Memorial (Very Moving)

First Full Day in Jerusalem

August 18, 2010

Hi Friends,
We are weary but very, very satisfied after a day of wondrous sights and shared spiritual experience.

We started the morning at Yad Vashem, the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It was a quiet and sobering experience, one beyond words really. The Children’s Memorial was especially moving, with thousands of tiny lights appearing out of the darkness as the names of the young victims were read.

Next we visited the Israeli Museum which hosts an amazing scale model replica of what Jerusalem looked like in the 1st centuryAD. This was the perfect way to get a historical sense of what the old city, which still exists in part in the modern city, would have looked like.

In the afternoon we toured the old city in Jerusalem, a covered market filled with stalls where vendors are selling clothing, household items, tourist knick knacks, meats, fruits, vegetables and every imaginable item used by humans, with the smells of spices, soaps, leather and food hanging in the air and wafting all around us.

We ended the day at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where scholars feel very confident the site of Calvary is located and the burial of Jesus took place.  Fr. Don Senior celebrated Mass at the altar of Mary Magdalene. It was beautiful and truly touching.

Most important, already we feel like a group, a team. We are learning how to get the wheelchairs on and off the bus in minutes; we are all looking out for another and so appreciative of one another’s presence and the personal journeys that we made to get to the journey we are now on as pilgrims. We are blessed. Keep us in your prayers.

Stauros Pilgrims: Footsteps of Jesus

August 17, 2010

A new post:

Deacon Don’s Favorite moment thus far:

This is the scene of the temple excavation in Jerusalem. Fr Don pointed out that this excavation reveals the footsteps on the stairs that Jesus walked as he entered the temple. I am moved spiritually and deeply prayerful to feel the energy of our Lord rising to bring GOOD NEWS to the world. May our pilgrims bring this message home is my prayer.

Look carefully in the middle to see the stairs leading to the temple where God helps the world know a new way to live through Christ.

Sights and Sounds Stauros Pilgrims-Day 1

August 17, 2010

Greeting and love from the 24:

I will attempt to post a few pictures of this marvelous and wonderful spiritual adventure.

The pilgrims have arrived!

August 17, 2010

Dear friends,

This will only be a quick blog for now to let you know that we all arrived safe and sound. There were a few tense moments at the gate in Newark as we waited anxiously for all to arrive from connecting flights, but everyone made it in time and we boarded with no problems.

It is quite hot today and we are acclimating. We are going into an orientation session tonight after a wonderful bus tour overview of Jerusalem, followed by a delicious lunch and some rest.

Keep us in your prayers! More to come…

Deacon Don and Nancy Nickel

Greetings Stauros Holy Land Tour BLOGG

August 13, 2010

Greetings to all and a warm welcome to those who will be following our progress to the trip to the land of the Bible. Access to the Land is a non-academic program of Bible study made accessible to persons living with physical disabilities. It is the realization of a dream by Fr. Donald Senior, CP, New Testament professor and current President of Catholic Theological Union, and Stauros U.S.A. founder, the late Fr. Flavian Dougherty, CP. In the words of Fr. Senior, “For many people with disabilities, their suffering is not their disability itself but, rather, the barriers and negative attitudes society puts in their way. We named our program ‘Access to the Land’ because we want to demonstrate that people with disabilities should have the same access to the sources of our faith as anyone else.”

Nancy Nickel and I will provide updates to keep everyone connected to our tour progress. We look forward to sharing the sights and sounds and experiences of this journey with you our readers.

We leave at 4 PM on August 16th from Newark flying to Tel Aviv. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

May God Bless Us Everyone

Deacon Don

Can there be:Good Suffering? and Good Grief?

May 3, 2010
What a strange combination of words I selected for my title of this brief essay. I suspect that the words do not seem comfortable together. Creative and good are compatible, but they seem to be hardly at peace with suffering? Hmmm let’s explore this challenging thought for a moment.  The message of creative good suffering seems so filled with possibilities. The words together seem to portray my deep hope. Yes, I hope that somewhere deep within each of us we possess the transformative power, gumption and resilience to be so optimistic to think that we can create a mindset that can turn suffering into something good for ourselves and others. I suppose that this challenge comes from deep within my heart, spirit and soul and perhaps had its profound origin in 1988 when Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, the Archbishop of Chicago, laid hands on me and bestowed the gift of Deacon Holy Orders. He challenged me to be a herald of good news. For the best part of some twenty years I have truly enjoyed creating good news in the face of happy times which is easy, and I worked hard at creatively finding the elusive silver lining when the dark clouds of storms and life’s disasters loom heavy all about.
In worse case scenario situations I have seen death and near death and in the midst of the suffering I have also seen never failing seeds of light, hope and redemption. Yes, I truly believe the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete visits our hearts when invited, when we call out in agony, or pleading intercession. I admit, sometimes it takes creativity to see a pathway out of misery, dark valleys and the shadows of death and pain pressing down on our soul. Creativity can truly bring us out of despair. I find it so uplifting and true: “Suffering may be inevitable, but misery is optional.” Creativity is a gift, an antidote to the toxic poison of suffering in despair alone with no place to go.  Most recently I walked the creative suffering journey of hope with my younger brother who bravely struggled with five cancer locations that wracked his body with agony. The Holy Spirit embraced us until a week ago when this valiant warrior with amazing holy gumption proclaimed creative good suffering news: “I think I am dying, and it is OK.” Our creative good suffering strategy he and I crafted was to pray for a miracle, trust God, embrace each other until the pain goes away, and hope for the best. Creativity helped us develop the strategy: “Either way we win.” His heavenly Easter was a winning homecoming celebration because he creatively invented that reality. His funeral mass was good suffering because God helped us make it that way. His gumption and faith inspire me onward to keep creatively passing on hope.
Five boys who became my friends and teachers broke their necks playing high school football. Now young men, they continue to teach me profound insights and lessons about gumption, resilience and creative good suffering. One quadriplegic boy told me tearfully that once he had wanted to be a car mechanic when he grew up. With a smile and peace that is beyond all human understanding he told me; “Now, with God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit I am content and delighted to be a mechanic of the mind, heart, spirit and soul.” He laughed when he said, “Being this kind of mechanic is truly a sufficiently demanding, creative, full-time job.” He went on to share, “It takes real creativity and talent to restore the wreck of a totally paralyzed body that must breathe assisted by a mechanical ventilator. It is hard facing the suffering reality that I can do almost nothing for myself.”  Yes, I am confident in knowing that there is good news: creative good suffering is possible.  I have seen miracle transformations fueled by holy gumption faith, and resilience overpower ordinary suffering.
In her very creative and popular book: “Eat, Pray,Love,” author Elizabeth Gilbert takes the reader on a whirlwind, global journey as she attempts to transform an emergent life of painful suffering into something better. Her book gives another witness to the elusive and holy power of transforming pain into creative good suffering. Check out Gilbert’s lecture on the Internet: TED, She gives a powerful witness and a good solid lesson on how to be resilient when faced with suffering that threatens to break your heart and soul. Yes, I am convinced that holy gumption and bounce come from the Holy Spirit. We each have the opportunity to use it, or lose it. Deacons need it, everybody needs it. Pass on the good news, won’t you?

Cancer Brings Out Prayerfulness

February 18, 2010

So many persons of all ages know and love the song: “Jesus Loves Me This I know”. In our childhood, five brothers in our home each sang this song with our mother at sleep-prayer time. The prayer is powerfully affirming and reassuring.

Now as one of our brothers deals with cancer the song comes to mind for our prayer.

I took some liberty and added some new lyrics to the familiar tune as we pray for God’s blessings in the presence of the fight against cancer and the journey ahead. I am glad to share it with the readers of the Stauros BLOG:

Adaptation version by Deacon Don Grossnickle
Dedicated to my brother: Roger K. Grossnickle
 “Jesus loves me this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
we are weak but He is strong…..
Yes, Jesus loves me….
The Bible tells me so.”
…………………..New Updated Version
Jesus loves me this I know,
through the cancer, I must go.
Little ones to Him belong
We are weak, but he is strong
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me this I know
Rough days of faith-testing, I must go
Days of struggle, I must be strong
Jesus, helps me all day, and all night, long
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me this I know
Some day to heaven, I eventually seek to go
I get weak, but my Spirit growing strong
From Him, I came, and always belong.
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me this I know
Seeing family love me, tells me so
I am weak and they keep me strong
We will always be one, all our live’s long
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me this I know
No tears can change that, If I must go
Little ones to Him belong
I get ready, and keep being strong
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me this I know
Every day is thanksgiving, loving life so
Little gifts I truly, truly love
Come in abundance, from above
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me this I know
Filled with joy, I tell you so
Little ones to Him belong
Hope springs eternal and ends this song.

Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.


The Gifts of Native American Spirituality and Grief Rituals that Help

December 22, 2009

In her book, Broken Open, How Difficult Times Can Help us Grow, Elizabeth Lesser describes a beautiful ritual for those that face grieving, suffering and broken heart. (pp 214-215)

She describes: Ed Benedict a Native American leader from the Mohawk Nation once leading a condolence ritual at the Omega institute-and gave her a doeskin pouch, dove feather, and a clay bowl used for the ceremony:

“Some of you have suffered the loss of a loved one. Perhaps it is something else that has caused you pain. It may be that your eyes have been clouded over by tears that you can no longer see the beauty of the creator. Perhaps the soreness of the grief that you have suffered through your eyes now blocks your vision. If this is the case, I offer you in symbolism a white doeskin that I take from the sky of the Creator. The skin of the doe is soft and comforting and with it wipe the tears of soreness of old wounds from your eyes, so that you may see clearly once again.

(Touch the doeskin to your eyes)

I fear that you have suffered the loss of a loved one. Perhaps you may have suffered many losses. It may be that the cries of grief now echo in your ears so that you no longer hear properly. If this is the case, I offer a white feather—a gift from the Creator—that I take from the sky. I take this feather and in symbolism I will clear the cries of grief from your ears, that the silence may rest and comfort you and that you have hear properly once again.

(Touch the feather to your ears)

It may be that you have suffered the loss of a loved one, perhaps something else caused you pain. If this is the case, perhaps you have uttered many cries of grief and done much weeping and a great sob has become lodged in your throat. This may be keeping you from speaking the truth of the Creator. If this is the case, I will reach into the sky and take for you a bowl of pure water. This water is sweet and pure and comes from the Creator. It will wash the lump of grief from your throat so that once again you may speak clearly and properly.

(Hold the bowl to the mouth and drink the water)

All of these things are offered to you in symbolism that you may be relieved of the pain of whatever losses you have suffered, that once again we may join hands and with open hearts and minds offer gratitude for this day to the Creator.


The Spirituality of Rejection and Dejection: Navigating Back from “Poor Me”

November 27, 2009

Passsion of the Cross

I just heard the news that a grant that we had applied for to help us in our ministry to bring the “good news” to those who are deaf was rejected. I am working through feelings of disappointment and suffering. Two books that I am reading give me strength and resolve to help conquer the feelings of hurt, pain, rejection and dejection. I want to share some insights that are part of my spirituality and prayer process in search of resilience. I have a hunch that so many of us have dark periods of rejection and face situations that require an adjustment.

In healthy moments, ideally, we seek a pathway to right ourselves when life takes a turn toward, “topsy turvey.” I enter into prayer, listening for God to speak to my heart. This is the message I heard: ” Yes, that’s life, that’s what the people say..”You just dust yourself off and get back in the race-that’s life, -that’s what the people say”….. (Frank Sinatra style motivation)

After a fall, when our hearts are broken and we are ready for healing, we must, “dust ourselves off and get back in the race.. But how? How can we find the strength?

Today, the central message of two books offer a compass and fire to help me navigate through my suffering troubled waters. I will briefly share how these tools assist my recovery. The first book is:  Teresa’s Secret Fire by, Joseph Langford. The second is Perseverance: True Voices of Cancer Survivors by, Carolyn Rubenstein. The books seem to provide good medicine for my woundedness. I hope they can offer an uplifting message to my readers of this humble blog.

We are each called to be, “leaders”. Essentially, we must first attend to and lead our own decisions, hopes and dreams. At the end of the day, we must recognize our responsibility to take charge of our lives-take a stand. In the book by Langford about Mother Teresa, he describes a poignant  epiphany that helped guide and define her life. I will recollect here and recount an episode shared that takes place on the train  when,–then young Sister Teresa and God had a conversation. In this exchange it was discerned that she was to turn away from her role as nun in a school and her current context. Teresa was nudged to turn and become, no longer sister Teresa . She was being called to enter into a new role, to invent the new-mother—Mother Teresa. “Leader Teresa.”

Apparently, God called her and offered a message. Mother Teresa heard God’s desire to be close to His people and love them. She heard God say….”I thirst”—God thirsts. Mother interpreted that Jesus’s words in the cross-“I thirst”,  reflected the Divine.  Mother Teresa heard the message addressed to her. She perceived that her task was to discern–What to do about God’s thirst?- This pathway to find that response, became her new vocation. She was driven to explore the fire and drive, her motivation and direction for her life as one called to be helping God, –a God who thirsted for his people.

Today as a tradition of the order, appearing on all of the walls of the living quarters of the Sisters of Charity is inscribed the words, “I thirst”. This short message became an important and defining spiritual tool. Those who know God’s thirst go out and bring  about something to help and address that thirst. Mother went out to the dying of Calcutta and brought those who were hopeless towards quenching the thirst of God. In this act of love, Mother understood her mission was to connect the thirsty humanity, thirsting for love and for meaning in life and more, and connect them with a God thirsty to offer compassion healing, peace harmony and more.

Turning back to my need to find a way out of my suffering, I can see that I too am called to be a leader. God thirsts, and I am called to bring God’s ‘little ones’ to Him. There is no time for distraction I reason. God is telling me that it is time to move on and get on with finding my way. I have been given the compass of right soul’s direction. I thank Mother Teresa, God and author: Father Langford for this message that energizes my recovery.

The second book I want to share with readers is written by Rubenstein. It is is an anthology of stories that offers a jolt that helps shape my daily walk. Rubenstein’s biographical sketches describe the tactics used by cancer survivors to endure and transcend the tortures. These stories  inspire me greatly. Reading about the personal strength it requires to squarely face the realities of a cancer diagnosis and squarely face tortuous surgery, radiation and chemo,– touch me deeply. In the telling of the stories, I perceive the hand of God extended so graciously to touch and love the afflicted.

Transformation of the heart and adjustment to adversity requires clear thinking and faith. Spirituality and perseverance seems to be sufficient to help carry the day. The book and the stories in tandem with Mother Teresa’s Fire, help turn my head away from, looking back–and behind…pondering yesterday’s bad news. Now, with the grace of God  I get on the pathway and walk in faith and in solidarity—toward the light–toward the fire–toward life.

We are not meant to suffer alone. The authors have helped provide a community of wisdom available to me. God,  can transcend the hurt, and help me move on, “dusting myself off and get back in the race. Yes, rejection and momentary defeat– “that’s life, that’s what the people say…….

Most importantly you and I know what Mother Teresa lived out in her unique and wonderful way:—-God thirsts for the broken to be healed. You and I have work to do?

Can Damien, Mother Marianne and Brother Joseph Inspire Saintly Work from Us?

October 12, 2009
OK, the ceremony is complete, the world now has affirmed the work of Saint Damien. Now, what is the rest of the story? Who is ready to step up and accept the Spiritual boost the Saints offer us toward action? The posting above is offered as a reality check. We in Chicago, we in Stauros USA know some things that Saint Damien knew. We both know God is asking each one of us to pursue a destiny. For now, Stauros USA and local celebrity Wayne Messmer are on a mission. We want Saint Damien to come alive and touch people. We want Saint Damien via the play: Damien by Aldyth Morris to awaken the story of Damien in Hawaii. More importantly, we want the play to inspire, invigorate, provoke, and otherwise move people to live in the light that brings hope to the hopeless. Who are the lepers who need our touch? Look around, and it is easy to see. Damien took care of 8000 men women and children, all abandoned and left to die. Are there 8000 more that are destined to be without God, unless–, we act? We must act now.
Wayne Messmer as Saint Damien

Wayne Messmer as Saint Damien

Check out this video about Wayne:

Wayne Messmer was shot in the neck by a robber. The bullet ripped and tore his throat. Wayne is well known for his reputation for being one of the greatest singer of our country’s national anthem. God healed Wayne to once again sing after his brush with death. Wayne is inspired to use his gifts reaching out to the “anawim”, those on the margins and the fringe. Wayne is teamed up with Stauros USA to tell the Father Damien story. Wayne knows deeply the frustration that can come when nobody cares. His gradndaughter suffers from a food allergy that forces her to adapt her life. Quietly, she suffers. Quietly behind the scenes researchers are trying to find a way for the struggle she endures to be cured. Wayne accepts the pain and struggle and uses the struggle and the suffering to empower a sense of action. THIS IS THE ESSENCE OF DAMIEN-GET BUSY FOR OTHERS–WHY? BECAUSE WE CAN, WE SHOULD, WE MUST–WHY? BECAUSE GOD LOVES US AND SENT US ON A MISSION TO SHARE LOVE, AND HOPE AND LIGHT.

Yes, We must study Damien and try to understand what made him tick. However, the studying must give way to action, get busy, get inspired, get motivated, get ready to tocuh even the lepers who are “unclean”  Damien refused to become a victim to the “system” Damien refused to give in to oppression from; government, from the powerful and strong prisoners in Molokai that were preying on the weak and vulnerable, from the Church and Chruch leaders that were apparently, not yet ready to step up and serve with him. Damien stood alone and with God’s Spirit and his mission and Holy Orders-that was sufficient to fuel his passion.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Gandhi and you and I internalize the gift that Damien gives in whispering to us now:

“will you help me touch the “little ones”, the broken children of God….those with AIDS, those who have cancer…those who are sick and dying,  those who are considering suicide, those depressed and those abandoned with no one to love them?

Check out the mission of Stauros:

We pray: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and we shall be recreated and renew the face of the earth.”

Hugs, and thanks, now let us give God the glory. Saint Damien, pray for us.

Amen. Deacon Don

Saint Damien is Alive and Spirited

October 9, 2009
Saint Damien is Alive and Spirited

Saint Damien is Alive and Spirited

Click below to watch a video that should change our lives

Anawim Damien-Saint Damien is Alive

Saint Damien is Alive: Celebrate!

October 8, 2009


Damien's Spirit is Alive

Damien's Spirit is Alive

Nearly thirty years ago Robin Pendergrast, current owner of RFP Photography Inc. (Crystal Lake, Ill.) ventured into the rare and unchartered world of a modern day Leper colony. He crossed beyond the stigma and barriers of Leprosy and built a lasting bridge leading to ongoing contacts with the resident-patients located in remote Kalaupapa, Hawaii. Pendergast reached out and touched his friends and they embraced him to the extent that deep personal relationships grew. In particular, Pendergrast befriended Richard Marks, Alice Kumaka, Sister Richard Marie, and Ruth Friedman. As friendships grew, Pendergrast discovered an uncommon, hidden power tucked away in Molokai. Walking the journey over the years, he experienced the joy, pain and hardship stories that were a part of life in this extraordinary community. His kinship with these people illuminated the presence of a Spirit of Father Damien that is all about offering one another unconditional love and acceptance. Pendergrast discovered the universal truth that there is great life-fulfilling power in choosing to “get involved.”

 Pendergast now wants people of all ages to experience important lessons similar to the ones he has learned. He desires for every person to find individual ways to move beyond existing marginalizing stigmas that keep people apart. Pendergrast has assembled a team initiating a photojournalism and curriculum project that seeks to unravel and share the hidden mysteries and the amazing, sordid history and stories of over 8,000 persons with Leprosy who were harshly exiled and left to live and painfully die in cruel isolation.  The eye of the camera wants to reveal what really happened in Molokai. What catalytic actions by a few managed to reverse vile rejection and hatred of Lepers toward eventually forming a solid healing community? Who and what created the avalanche impact that morphed the paradise-gone-wrong-situation into a now classic case study which demonstrates how unconditional love in action can impact and transform even the most terrible disease and social catastrophe?. Can the Spirit of Saint Damien and the people of Molokai be a catalyst of goodness in the world today?

 This is the emerging story of how photographer/videographer, Robin Pendergrast came to know Kalaupapa and its people. His is an amazing tale of serendipity, tenacity and caring. Through a series of more than 15 visits stretching over 30 years, Pendergrast compiled a body of photographic work with more than 2,000 images that honor Kalaupapa’s thousands of residents, all living with leprosy. The photographic works juxtapose the beauty of the lush, secluded peninsula with the stark pain and separation of its past and present inhabitants.

All across the globe the fascinating story of Father Damien and the exiled Lepers of Molokai is already very well known. It has been over a hundred and fifty years since Damien’s heroics came to the rescue for those banished because of their incurable disease forced them to die alone on the remote isolated villages of Molokai. However, renewed interest in this miracle-making story offers fresh opportunity to increase awareness and invite selfless, giving lifestyle.

Just exactly how Damien and the partnering leaders of Molokai transformed a horrific circumstance of fear, epidemic and  chaos, into a grand miracle story of caring and love is a fascinating and captivating saga. The epic drama offers many important contemporary lessons worth learning for the ages. Well- known literary figures like Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, Mark Twain and a number of others have already immortalized Damien’s legacy. They leave behind a great body of literature chronicling the virtues of martyred self sacrifice. The canonization of Father Damien by the Roman Catholic Church on October 11, 2009 shines new light on an important story inspiring new hope for addressing suffering in the world.

 In Chicago, the Spirit of Damien is coming alive and catching fire once again awakening humanitarian action. Calling themselves “The Damien Project Team,” four individuals have grasped the powerful and compelling message and spirit of Father Damien. The project will produce an innovative documentary film and create and disseminate a curriculum that be used by schools to enliven volunteerism. The film will tell the great story of how Father Damien and his astounding humanitarian efforts countered and dealt with the hysteria and fear associated with the leprosy epidemic.

The details of the current story of the Father Damien Project begin in 1981.  Robin Pendergrast was a public relations executive and a volunteer firefighter/paramedic with the Northfield, Ill., Fire and Rescue. One day, he read an article in the Los Angeles Times that told of the Kalaupapa volunteer firefighters’ broken down fire engine. The island residents couldn’t get the old fire truck started, so they often had to push-start it with the colony’s garbage truck. They were unable to purchase a new truck; and because of the constant, strong trade winds, residents were highly vulnerable to fire. Pendergrast learned about the hardships of the modern-day Kalaupapa Settlement residents — who now reside in the area because they choose to, not because they are forced — through one of life’s odd coincidences. Many volunteers helped him restore the used fire truck to working order. Once the truck was operational, Pendergrast helped to procure transportation for it from Chicago to San Francisco via cargo plane courtesy of Flying Tiger Airlines.

The truck was then freighted to Honolulu and then barged to Molokai. On the morning of July 10, 1981, Pendergrast and others delivered the “new” fire truck to Kalaupapa. Living in the Spirit of Damien, a small but significant accomplishment continued the work of Father Damien caring for those isolated and cast aside. Pendergrast recalls, “The morning we delivered the fire truck was almost more than I could bear. I found that the event nearly broke my heart. I was happy for the accomplishment but so sad for the ongoing struggle of the people of Molokai. I sensed the pain that so few know about or care for people on the fringe.” Pendergast drove this fire truck off of the barge with great fanfare; and the people were stunned and amazed that this stranger from Chicago would do all of this for them. They felt, on some level, that something magnificent had happened. After the fire truck was delivered and the volunteers were trained to use it, Pendergrast continued to visit Kalaupapa residents and found other means by which to help them live more comfortably.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Pendergrast was able to bring Kalaupapa residents smoke detectors, CB radios, videotapes, VCRs and food. Many of these items were donated by corporations or bought through private donations. In addition, he established the Kalaupapa Fund, which was partially supported by the proceeds of a play, entitled “Damien, the Leper Priest of Molokai.” This one- man play, a soliloquy by Father Damien about his life and times, was produced and performed in several locations. Pendergrast is involved in producing the play and incorporating the photographic images within the story sequence. Through his work, Pendergrast asserts his belief that the inhumanities of yesterday’s leper colony mirrors, in principle and practice, the stigmatization and victimization of today’s AIDS patients.

Pendergrast will not admit that his small actions quantify his experiences at Kalaupapa with the many newspaper article clippings, stacks of letters from federal and state senators and representatives, a story on NBC’s Nightly News, and segment on the 1987 television show “Heroes: Made in the USA.” Pendergast says, “I will not be satisfied until I do my part to get people to get it. I desire for people all across the globe in this great world of ours to get in touch with the power of “The Spirit of Damien.” I believe that each of us has the ability to repair the world and make a difference…right now. It is not somebody else’s job.

“It is, no big deal, we must get off our comfortable spot and get busy. Most importantly we must design and teach a curriculum that helps young people seize the opportunities they have for changing themselves and the world and making needed improvements. Isn’t that why we are here in life in the first place?” Pendergrast continues. Perhaps, we must all learn lessons from Damien, lessons we learn in school and make selfless service our “lifestyle,” simply because it is the right thing to do.

What would the world be like today if hundreds or thousands of individuals were drawn to be aware of the epic story of the people and leader, Father Damien of Molokai, and like him, became empowered to seize personal opportunities in their own back yard attempting to make a lasting difference in the life of others? What kinds of catalysts would it take to be inspired by the historical biographical life of a saint and capitalize on those heroic tales of accomplishment to find a way to mobilize one’s own imagination and take personal steps to invest in selfless service?  What can ordinary citizens do today to overcome evil, disease and bring forth goodness and love? Who, like the iconic Father Damien might be ready to hear the inner call and be ready to step up and reach beyond the obstacles and barriers to touch those who need a bridge over life’s troubled waters?  

Today, who will care for those starving? Who attends to those dealing with HIV and other circumstances that have caused them to be cast aside, called, unclean, untouchable and more? Father Damien’s remarkable life and story shines exemplary light on what one extraordinary person can do. However, going beyond a history lesson about a special saint and his legacy today invites each person to examine what he or she might do to make a positive difference. Father Damien alone did not conquer the catastrophic conditions that affected over 8,000 banished persons with Hansen’s disease (Leperosy). Father Damien led by example. He formed a community among those who sought relief from their physical and spiritual pain. Damien rolled up his sleeves and met the problem he saw and set about to get beyond the fear of disease and death. Damien openly confronted the much stigmatized ancient disease most call a fate worse than death. Damien’s one-person-at-a-time strategy worked. He gained solid ground as his reputation and mission caught on.

Looking back, Damien’s determined, persistent and sometimes irritating calls for help did not go unheard. Damien overcame his own depression, overwork, frustration, toil, exhaustion, and sense of futility. Somehow he stood tall and awakened each day, with documented attributions pointing to the power of his faith and conviction. From the time Damien left his home, seeing his family for the final time at age 23 — he accepted a religious calling deep within his soul to offer the gift of God’s abundant comforting grace to every person, Catholic, or agnostic. Damien’s biographies reveal that his mother was a great teacher having the wisdom to teach Damien and all her children about the lives of the Saints. Reading their stories Damien obviously internalized her lessons and put them into practice.

In the remote villages of Kalaupapa and Kalawao, Damien formed a magnificent caring community. Damien somehow transformed anarchy and chaos and so that each of the inhabitants lived with a revived hope. Damien was somehow able to bring to life a spirit of caring, an environment of song, and a place of peace, coexisting with the reality and agony of disease, loneliness and often painful death. After Damien’s death in 1888, some willing souls carried on the traditions he began in Molokai. They bonded together living and sharing in Damien’s Spirit. The legacy of Father Damien, the Leper Priest of Molokai, stands as a great illustrative example of what just one person can accomplish making a difference. Now the proud Church honors and calls him a “Saint.” The Roman Catholic Church and the world acknowledge the many miracles attributed to this rare individual. Tourists flock to the isolated land of Damien to get in touch with the spirit residing there noted with over 8,000 marked and unmarked graves of those sadly lost to leprosy.

Damien’s legacy is an ongoing lesson of tragedy turned to triumph. Religious educators  and civic- minded individuals must analyze what happened in Molokai and offer students an opportunity to see the power of the sleeping giant lying within every person:  the ability to respond to a call coming from without and within to repair the world, with small or large actions, never giving in to malaise, apathy, self absorption, or personal greed. The Damien Documentary Project Team accepts the important challenge of helping to reawaken the Spirit of Damien. The team envisions an awakening of a “sleeping giant” to give energy to birth a new flurry of volunteerism, vocation and caring about others.

Pendergast and the Damien Project Team plan to have the documentary and accompanying curriculum design ready to release in time for the Catholic Church canonization ceremonies in the Vatican by Pope Benedict VI. The hope is that a viable curriculum can be used by students and teachers to raise awareness to the opportunities that exist when people of all ages can live like Damien. The documentary seeks to be a fitting tribute to Father Damien, while casting light on lesser known key leadership figures: Mother Marianne Cope and Brother Joseph Dutton.

In his book, Saints: A Closer Look, Thomas Dubay, S.M. attempts to summarize and describe the constitution of saints. Saints, he says, “are men and women on fire, totally self-giving even to enemies, alive and vivacious, thoroughly honest and authentic, profoundly happy even in suffering, heroic in patience, humility, chastity and love. They surpass our human capabilities, which are why they are miracles of goodness and moral miracles.” Following the great acts of love demonstrated by saints each person is called to the stage platform of life called to be fires of love and beauty alive in an often deeply troubled and suffering world. Each person is called to live as Mother Teresa of Calcutta challenges, “Not to do Great things, but to freely give of themselves humbly doing small  things with great love. When asked if she could use some help by volunteers coming to aid her, Mother Teresa said, “Don’t come to Calcutta, find your own Calcutta and make your own kind of difference there.”


See the “trailer”:

Jesus-Teaches About Status and the “Little Ones”

September 21, 2009

Mk 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”: 30-37


Last week-I got an email from a very proud grandpa and grandma-It was a extra nice birth announcement. Obviously, they were popping their buttons with happiness. The note started like so many: “Parents: Bill and Mary; Grandparents; Ed and Sue,– proudly announce that little Johnny came bouncing into the world at 11:31 September 16, at 7 pounds,1 ounce–a beautiful baby boy. Mom and baby are doing well. Dad too!

The E-mail went on to a surprise ending….”We offer prayers of thanksgiving.  Can we ask a favor? We invite prayers for the family. Johnny was born with Down’s syndrome. They close with….”We all eagerly can’t wait to discover the gifts that Johnny will bring our way.”

These pretty smart Christian Grandparents seem to really, deep down, get the heart Jesus’ gospel message: To meet life’s challenges it will take prayer and focus to keep the game of life simple enough to what to know, and do. Simple, innocent, al about optimism, focus on the “other”

Living the so-called game of living a “good Christian life” can be very daunting. We are taught and reminded the virtues of loving our enemies, forgive the unforgivable, avoid status and power, and be selfless like Jesus. How can you and I avoid the trap that the disciples described in today’s Gospel fell into,- as they argued about who deserved the title of being the greatest?

Jesus in Mark’s very familiar Gospel passage today points to the ideal of the innocence surrounding “little ones”. Jesus tries to help his disciples avoid the too tempting practice of human pride and personal aggression.  Jesus states the rules of the Christian game of life is to live for the other,- as he does. Jesus’ disciples aren’t immune to the sin of pride.

Many of today’s Kids seem to be taught by the global culture to be #1 in everything: first in the class; most likely to succeed; best job; most beautiful or handsome, best clothes, best toys, become the best mom and dad; compete to be the best and the brightest at everything. As Vince Lombardi preaches in the Gospel ethic of sports proclamation, “winning is not everything-winning is the only thing.” Wow!

How do we catch ourselves, in a fiercely competitive and, “status is everything” world of ours?, where lust for power and fear of the other and coveting what the other has, or imposing one’s beliefs- causes constant wars, over and over? How do we like a little child be innocent?

Perhaps we need the invention and aid of a spiritual mechanized Tom Tom Spiritual GPS to guide us and keep us on track?- How do we avoid getting into the rat race game where the ethic is:” He or she that accumulates and dies with the most toys,— wins?  Like a diabetic checks blood sugar level toward health we must find a way to keep on the proper path we seek.

 “A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.” The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. “What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!” Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters from the clever barber instead of the dollar bill?” The boy licked his cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”

 Yes, I think the parents and grandparents who sent the announcement of good news point the light toward the innocence and hope of the little ones-Assuredly their beautiful attitude and sticking together in prayer points to an optimistic way for all.

 Deacon Don Grossnickle

What game are we grown ups—choosing to play?

Julie-Julia:Inspirational Message

August 27, 2009

Just returned from the fantastic film:  Julie and Julia”: A tale of two cooks‎ . What a wonderful boost to the heart, spirit, and soul.  I found it absolutely heartwarming. I love it!

Suffering and struggle take such a toll on our outlook in life. When the going gets tough, so often we want to hide, get down and depressed and wallow in the fact that the whole world seems against us.

The deeper message in this film is that everybody faces suffering. Everybody faces oppression, and the ‘system’ seems so big and powerful, and so darn good at beating us down.

Julia and Julie qualify as what I call, ” New Humpty Dumpty Souls”. The two personalities are so different, yet so alike in refusing to be beaten down. They each find a way to captivate the positive energy of friends and family to bounce back when the forces beat them into submission and despair.

They remind me of Damien the Leper priest of Molokai. The have fearless resilience to keep bouncing back against the wind.

My wife encouraged me to attend what from all appearances is billed as a “chick flick”. Wow, am I glad I went.

Each day I find myself fighting against the wind.

Right now, I am trying to form a new organization that reaches out to broken neck high school football players. It seems so futile, the subject is so depressing nobody wants to help me. (Poor me?)

Right now, I am trying to work on a documentary film that recruits young and old to get on the bandwagon to do volunteering as a means of helping others rise in the face of adversity (no helpers, no money-poor me?)

Right now, I am trying to boost the spirits of  those with cancer struggles. It is hard to keep praying for miracles. (Poor me)

Stop it. We each must find the depth of character to persevere-Like Julie and Julia.

I encourage everybody to enjoy the film, study it, learn what entrepenurial spirit is all about.

I pray that every person can be  a , “New Humpty Dumpty” person-refusing to give in, and always be open to reach out for loved ones and community to help raise you out of the quicksand of self pity.

Yes, friends, God works through people. Believe it.

Wishing you the blessings of cooking yourself a positive and optimistic attitude-no matter what!

Deacon Don

Never Alone:Never Suffering Without Resources

August 27, 2009
Stauros USA

Stauros USA

This is my shortest BLOG ever:

Please review my assembly of books I have found to be helpful on the topic of exploring the world of “good suffering”

Enjoy the browse.

I am interested in your feedback.

Thanks to Mr. Jim Ludwig for the assistance in making this annotated bibliography .

Deacon Don
Executive Director Stauros USA

Commitment’s New Horizons

August 22, 2009

Owing to the life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver the founder of Special Olympics and much more: the world knows a little more about how commitment to others works, and how one’s beliefs and actions can have an impact far beyond anything of which we can dream,. Ideally full commitment requires not, 50 or 75% involvement, it seeks the whole heart and soul. Shriver was said to often be, “ a lone voice in a sea of misunderstanding.”  When others saw children with challenges, she always visualized and invested herself in possibilities.

 Eunice Kennedy Shrive knew deeply about personal challenge as her sister Rosemary was profoundly disabled. Perceiving her own gifts and freedom from limitations, Shriver was known to be tenacious and a true warrior for the cause.

Each of our three scripture readings today deals with the subject of commitment.

The first reading deals with the commitment of the people of Israel to God and the difficulty they found in living it out. The gospel points to the difficulty the disciples had in meeting the challenge by what Jesus said earlier about giving them his body to eat. The second reading shines a light on the commitment of two people in marriage. Jesus invites all of us to face our commitments and not to break them.

In preparing young folks for marriage today, I cannot help but offer them the guidance that marriage doesn’t so much cost a commitment, as it so often pays! Following Christ’s ways of selfless love sometimes requires husbands and wives through love and commitment to be a care giver, to comfort and carry the other at tough times. The mystery of married love grows and grows if nurtured in goodness.

 What is so hard about commitment? What do you find hard about commitment?

When I was a youngster, each of us 4 boys in the family had a job to do to help with mealtimes. Today, I can vividly recall the toil of peeling a mountain of potatoes, nicking my fingers with that darned peeler, and noisily grumbling about the easier lot the other boys had in only having to set the table, or clear the table or wash or dry the dishes. It was only in the youthful too-rare moments of insight when I could see my commitment of time, sweat and blood, was a big help gift, and was a love payback to my mom and more. My mom used to say, Donnie boy, the Lord loves a cheerful giver! Today, I wish I could peel a huge endless mountain of potatoes for my mom and take some of the heavy load from her once again.

 In personal ministry confronting that moment of tension of grumbling, or full giving commitment,  is the picture I hold dear.  How can I meet the challenge of Cheerful giving?

Today, like Eunice Kennedy Shriver we each can see unique personal opportunities for commitment in front of our eyes and are offered a decision to take action, invest ourselves, or, like the saddened faint hearted followers of Jesus in the gospel, head for the easy chair.

 I will close with yet another example mosaic of the kind of commitment Jesus invites us to in eating his body and being connected to God the father, in challenging times and others.

 In this beautiful commitment mosaic: I see the love of moms, dads and families, who care for disabled or paralyzed youngsters. I see husbands care for wives with Alzheimer’s. I see coaches cheer on Down’s syndrome persons and award them with a winning hug. I see youngsters, moms and dads cook, and clean, peel potatoes when no one notices, or is there to offer a little help for them. I see volunteers of so many kinds, I see Eunice Kennedy Shriver as great role model, as a relentless advocate to those that cannot advocate for themselves.

You have made a commitment to be here, and I have a hunch this assembly will not be the ones that run away when asked to peel potatoes, umpire, teach, or pitch in. I am convinced in the long run, commitment doesn’t so much cost, it pays!

Deacon Don Grossnickle

Father Damien is Alive and Well

August 20, 2009

Check out the documentary film trailer the Damien Project has lauched:

I have the great opportunity to help build the documentary which seeks to enliven the Spriti of Damien to reach out to the Anawim-God’s “little ones” and touch them-no matter what!

We are looking for funding for the film that seeks to unleash a new viral spirit of caring and volunteerism.

We are working on creating a school curriculum design that will carry the Spirit of Saint Damien to today’s world via the youth and retired boomers.

(Canonization of October 11, 2009)

Damien enlisted the help of Mother Marianne  and Brother Dutton and so many others. News about Damien’s willingness to reach out and touch the 8000 exiled leper prisoners  of Molokai was a epidmeic of goodness on fire.

What can you and I do to sustain the Spriti of Damien?


More to follow.

Coping, Faith and Suffering: Lessons from Stormy Seas

June 22, 2009


Mk 4:35-41

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet!  Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

“Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

 The disciples in Mark’s Gospel are frantic. They awaken Jesus asking him to save them. The patient teacher reminds them that they already have been given tools to help them cope with situations like this. In the end, Jesus hears their pleas and blesses their request.

 “It is easier for ME, IF, YOU do it”. Youngsters might say this to get mom or dad to SHOW them, again and again. Kids so often reveal insecurities, not yet ready to stand on their own two feet. Perhaps Jesus was suggesting to his disciples –  that before they ask the master to calm the seas, the aspiring and learning faithful should at least try some things to cope on their own. Jesus wants us today to call upon him and be a team working together to address life’s joys and challenges. Jesus helps those faithfully-willing to pitch in and help themselves!

 Yes, It is Father’s Day today. We celebrate the gifts of fatherly: kindness, devotion and love. As a young boy, I fondly remember fascinating times of exploring my dad’s several toolboxes. You see, he was a carpenter by profession. “What’s this one for daddy? I pestered. What’s that one for? I like this one, how do you use this one? I asked.  Reflecting back, perhaps what I really cherished most was spending personal teaching and learning time with my father. I tenderly remember the lessons. Thanks dad! 

 The “coping saw”(hold up)  was one of my favorite tools of my father. For me, it has great emblematic meaning and significance. I can almost remember the day he began teaching me about the use of the coping saw. “The coping saw, Donny is a master carpenter’s fine tool he uses to make delicate saw cuts in tricky places. The master carpenter uses it to make everything fit together-just right—Repeat: “to make everything fit together, just right.” Today, I cherish the gift and legacy of owning his saw, and moreover, cherish his demonstration teaching lessons about coping in life.

 Each of us faces tough challenges of health issues and so many others. May our faith tools help us cope and make everything fit together-just right.

 Let us be reminded, Jesus invites us to be in the same boat close at hand with him. Jesus promises to tenderly hold us and reassure us and save us with his power. Jesus gives us the gift and tools of the Eucharist to strengthen us, empower us, and guide us spiritually to cope.

 Today, we celebrate the ideal role model of unconditional love of earthly and heavenly father’s and mothers. They teach us to use our faith and power to cope and journey toward heaven.

 We have been given life saving and life giving tools. Our job is to know when, and how to use them!

Stauros USA: Happy to announce that Stauros is linked closely with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability-US Bishop’s Conference

June 5, 2009
Please check out their web site

Stauros Ministries Invitation: Access to the Land of the Bible

Stauros Ministries Invitation: Access to the Land of the Bible, August 17-28, 2010 is a trip for people with disability. Access to the Land of the Bible is a non-academic program of Bible study made accessible to persons living with disabilities. It is the realization of a dream by Fr. Donald Senior, CP, New Testament scholar, and Stauros U.S.A. founder, the late Fr. Flavian Dougherty, CP.   In the words of Fr. Senior, “For many people with disabilities, their suffering is not their disability itself but, rather, the barriers and negative attitudes society puts in their way. 

We named our program ‘Access to the Land of the Bible’ because we want to demonstrate that people with disabilities should have the same access to the sources of our faith as anyone else.” 

Stauros is launching a campaign to recruit 25 leaders in the disability “no limits” movement who have disability themselves and desire to attend a fantastic study tour of the Holy Land with one of the world’s foremost experts on the bible and New Testament:  Fr Don Senior, the current President of the Catholic Theological Union.

Diocesan/Partner News

What is CUSA?  CUSA is an organization that provides a way for people with chronic illness or disability to care for others like themselves through an online or postal service Christian support group. To see seven video clips from 47 seconds to 7 ½ minutes in length on different topics related to disability by Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, Administrator of CUSA, go to the website at and click on CUSA Videos in the left column.

Stauros has a new free online Journal: Hope and Suffering Notebook.  See a preview at: 
Stauros U.S.A. is a non-profit organization committed to helping people find meaning, hope and peace in the midst of suffering. Their mission is: to further education and dialogue on issues of suffering; to create opportunities for prayer, retreat, and reflection; to advocate with and give voice to persons who live with disabilities and suffering; and to build bridges of compassion among all who suffer, their caregivers, and the helping professions.

Entrepreneurs of Hope

May 22, 2009
I am immersed in many aspects of the world of suffering. I have come to be on the constant lookout for signs that signal hope. Hope is that great elixir and often elusive advantage that offers the spiritual strength one needs to strive beyond oppression. I am a “prospector” of hope. I set out to mine authentic hope so that I can pass along the “golden gifts” to those ready to accept them.
Springtime each season sees the dormant buds of shrubs and trees awaken back to life. Nature shows lessons about rising after death. Redemptive suffering envisions a reward coming with faithful hope. I wonder: Does Hope sometimes require an entrepreneur ready to creatively and persistently find and apply ways to unleash its power? Yes, I believe that to be true!
When the dark clouds of suffering dampen our spirits, what antidote can we apply that might shift the mood? Prospectors of hope become enlivened entrepreneurs who assemble resources and invent options. As if we are an alchemist each of us must reach into the apothecary of our hearts to match the spiritual symptoms of malady with some dosage that brings relief and hope through faith.
Each day I encounter and learn from inspiring human stories. Entrepreneurs of Hope look for signs and illustrations in the lives of others.  Today, I notice an exemplary young man diagnosed with cancer. He refuses to resign himself to despair and pledges to wage a battle he intends to fight. He implores God to be by his side.
I notice the divine strength and the entrepreneurial hope demonstrated by the role model of Jesus. Jesus proclaims with his martyr’s passion a stubborn defiance against the sting of human death. Yes, even when we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, a place that tests our fears, we can be consoled.
Friends, Entrepreneurs of Hope are resourceful, inventive, creative, and artistic and refuse to be mastered by obstacles. Entrepreneurs of Hope see options and alternatives, transmutations, modifications, transitions, and portals that offer positive change. Entrepreneurs refuse to accept slammed doors in their face, rejection, isolation, marginalization, and ostracism.  
Entrepreneurs of Hope know just when to call out for help and are adept at working in isolation or by forging teams.
I pray for those needing strength and love for the journey. 

Suffering and Joy: Solving Puzzles of Life

May 13, 2009



Guest BLOG-By: “The Cello Bard”–Marie Smith

Been playing with my Rubik’s Cube lately. Yeah, that old puzzle box toy from the 1980’s that drove so many people crazy. Twist it around and around just a few times and none of the colors line up anymore. Solving it seems impossible. Sometimes my life feels like a mixed up Rubik’s Cube. Like no matter how I try I can’t get things to line up anymore. When so many different things in my life get messed up, I feel overwhelmed by it all. I look at the pile of unpaid bills, listen to my phone ringing all day long, and I wonder if I’ll ever get out from under all of this. But, working on solving my Rubik’s Cube has taught me a few things.

If I’m gonna solve my Rubik’s Cube the first thing I need to do is figure out which way is up. I usually solve it blue side up, so I look for side with the blue square in the center and tilt the cube so the blue square is on top. When my life is out of sorts, I know I need to take a few deep breaths and remember to look up. Doesn’t matter how messed up things are, I can always look up and center myself.

Interestingly enough, the steps to solving a Rubik’s Cube, and the steps to calming down when all is going wrong, are the same.  To solve a Rubik’s Cube, the next thing I do is build a cross. Link up the red and blue, orange and blue, yellow and blue, and white and blue edge pieces and form a blue cross on the top of my cube. One the cross is on top, the rest of the pieces fall into place.

When I remember to look at the cross, I remember Jesus taught us not to worry.

            Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink;
            or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food,
            and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds in the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more  valuable than they? 
            Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

                                    Matthew 6:25-27

Somehow all I have to do is remember that, and then trust that all the pieces in my life  will somehow fall into place. I don’t have to live in fear and worry.  It doesn’t add to my life.  One step at a time things will get better. I’m learning to celebrate every step in the right direction. Living in celebration feels a lot better than living in fear.

Visit Marie’s Web site:


Images of the Good Shepherd Support the Suffering

May 3, 2009


 Deacon Don Grossnickle Executive Dirctor Stauros USA

Jn 10:11-18

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”This is a homily I delivered at Our lady of the Wayside Catholic Church where I serve as a permanent deacon. I wish to share it on this Stauros BLOG in the hopes that it will strenthen the support necessary to deal with suffering.

This the second time this week I have had the opportunity to share the good news message contained in this homily.

 The first occasion was a session I had with a family member who just 2 days ago shared his diagnosis and pathology of an apparent  inoperable lung cancer. 

This week confronting the cancer and the uncertain days ahead we talked about the images we have about God. He and I discussed the power and reassurance of today’s gospel: The Good Shepherd.  We discussed and analyzed-What picture of God and the divine will be most helpful to him as he faces this fearsome life-crisis and test of his faith. What role will he allow God to play?

 One pastoral image you and I often view in our art galleries depictions of the Good Shepherd is a Jesus with a sheep worn around his neck, or, a sheep cuddled safely in the arms of the Shepherd. This soft picture of Jesus is a good one especially if we are looking for image of a kind and compassionate forgiving God who can comfort, reconcile sins, forgive and welcome one into heaven-even one who has been imperfect.

 An alternative picture is Jesus the aggressive defender of his flock-I invite you to imagine this picture: In the background are flocks of sheep grazing at peace on rolling green hills. But in the foreground a thief is attacking. The shepherd has pounced on the thief and is holding his shepherd’s staff across the thief’s throat, pinning him to the ground and slowly choking off his air, but the gasping thief is reaching up to grab the shepherd. It’s a horrifying, violent sight, and yet, the whole time, there in the background, blissfully oblivious to the whole thing, the sheep continue to safely graze. You get the picture-the good shepherd is fighting and looking out for us.

For my family member: what is really important is the great message of the gospel that says: I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.

The Easter story clearly demonstrates a Jesus divine God who endures horrific torture on the cross so that he can be our good shepherd in good times and bad. This is the fighter the warrior that stands with us in times like fighting the wicked cancer, an evil thief that threatens to take our lives, our soul, our spirit. 

Friends: chemotherapy, radiation, and the horrors of suffering and all the trials you and I face–cannot separate us from the good shepherd. We receive the Sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick for strength and assurance of the power we have in standing with the Good Shepherd.

Jesus promises: “there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.

“We are in the arms of the Good Shepherd-


Thanks be to God.

American Idols: Damien; Cope; Dutton-Talents Given to the Lepers of Hawaii

April 23, 2009
Father Damien and Mother Mairianne Cope

Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope

I love the whole concept of a talent search. The excitment of each week’s American Idol contest keeps me watching. At the same time my interests focus on others who merit the title: American Idol.

At the moment I am deeply engaged in reading about the drama that took place in Hawaii as Fr Damien, Mother Marianne Cope and Brother Joseph Dutton immersed themselves in giving their talents fully to those banished lepers in the settlement on Molokai. They too deserve MY title of being American Idols.

I am just finishing reading the excellent resource about these talented heroes as told by John Tayman in The Colony. I am so inspired that I have set out to forge a team of curriculum writers to prepare materials students and teachers can use in learning about the important contribution of these three and more. The “idols”  tended to the more than 8,000 poor souls quietly banished to this paradise location to suffer without the reality of a known cure for their cursed affliction. Life was impossible there, hositle, lawless, despair, much suffering and isolation leading to hopeless agony. God forsaken? God becomes present in these three and others who are unafraid to fully give of themselves with no reward or personal gain promised.

Father Damien: The Leper Priest of Molokai will be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church on October, 11, 2009 in Rome. Mother Marianne’s cause is being considered by the Vatican.

Damien’s fascinating story points me to learn about what I call the “Hawaii Holocaust’. This little known Holocaust is rich with American Idol Heroes, talented missionaries of love and caring. The “Idols” now can be remembered for the self sacrifice they gave overlooking the peril that could come their way in contracting leporosy. Damien becomes a martyr for the cause of bringing more that religion to the thousands of lives he touched.

Damien brought hope to all. He brought spirituality for Catholics. He reached out to all the people looking for some meaning to explain the horrific circumstance that qualified them to be called, “unclean, outcasts” -all because some bacteria invaded their bodies.

My prayer today is thanksgiving for the times we are living in when we are open to exploring stories and circumstances that are “strange” “uncomfortable” and such. There is much suffering in the world. We might be temped to withdraw. Yet, so much deep understanding and wisdom awaits those willing to engage in the journey. Look for the American and World “Idols” who give their talents to entertain and transform the world.

Father Damien Wished He Knew: Leprosy Facts

April 20, 2009
Today's Damien Society Battles The Disease

Today's Damien Society Battles The Disease



Q. What is leprosy, or hansen’s disease?  A. It is a chronic disease, mainly affecting the skin and nerves. Untreated, it can permanently damage the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. It is caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae, which incubates in the human body for two to four years. The microbe was discovered by Norwegian physician Armauer Hansen in 1873.

Q. What are the symptoms? A. Early symptoms include reddish or pale colored skin patches that may have a loss of feeling; bumps and thickening of the skin; loss of feeling of the hands or feet.

Q. Does leprosy make fingers and toes fall off? A. No. The bacillus attacks nerve endings and destroys the body’s ability to feel pain and injury. Without feeling pain, people can easily injure themselves. Injuries become infected and result in tissue loss. Fingers and toes become shortened and deformed as the bone is absorbed into the body.

Q. How is leprosy transmitted? A. The disease is not highly infectious. It is believed that M. leprae is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated, infected persons. More than 95 percent of the population has a natural immunity to the disease. People having completed treatment are considered free of active infection.

Q. How is it treated? A. Leprosy is curable, and treatment during the early stages averts disability. A multi-drug therapy – consisting of three drugs (dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine) – kills the pathogen. Relapses are rare for patients in the United States who receive multi-drug therapy, which can take six months to two years.

Q. How many people have leprosy? A. In 2000, 738,284 cases of leprosy were identified worldwide; 91 in the United States. Between 1 million and 2 million people are believed permanently disabled by the disease. Ten countries account for 90 percent of cases: Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo,Guinea, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal and Tanzania.

Courtesy of CBS:

Fr. Damien: More Than Saint-More than Prophet- More than Martyr

April 18, 2009

Honoring the contributions of Father Joseph Damien de Veuster for his service to humanity, and for other purposes. (Agreed to by Senate)

 104th CONGRESS 

1st Session 

S. RES. 125Honoring the contributions of Father Joseph Damien de Veuster for his service to humanity, and for other purposes.


May 25 (legislative day, MAY 15), 1995

Mr. AKAKA (for himself, Mr. INOUYE, Mr. DASCHLE, Mr. KENNEDY, Mr. SIMON, Mr. MURKOWSKI, and Mr. LEAHY) submitted the following resolution; which was considered and agreed to

 RESOLUTIONHonoring the contributions of Father Joseph Damien de Veuster for his service to humanity, and for other purposes.

Whereas Father Joseph Damien de Veuster was born in Tremeloo, Belgium, on January 3, 1840;

Whereas Father Damien entered the Sacred Hearts Order at Louvain, Belgium, as a postulant in January 1859 and took his final vows in Paris on October 7, 1860;

Whereas, after arriving in Honolulu on March 19, 1864, to join the Sacred Hearts Mission in Hawaii, Father Damien was ordained to the priesthood in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace on May 21, 1864;

Whereas Father Damien was sent to the Puna, Kohala, and Hamakua districts on the island of Hawaii, where Father Damien served people in isolated communities for 9 years;

Whereas the alarming spread of Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, for which there was no known cure, prompted the Hawaiian Legislature to pass an Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy in 1865;

Whereas the Act required segregating those afflicted with leprosy to the isolated peninsula of Kalaupapa, Molokai, where those afflicted by leprosy were virtually imprisoned by steep cliffs and open seas;

Whereas those afflicted by leprosy were forced to separate from their families, had meager medical care and supplies, and had poor living and social conditions;

Whereas in July 1872, Father Damien wrote to the Father General that many of his parishioners had been sent to the settlement on Molokai and lamented that he should join them;

Whereas on May 12, 1873, Father Damien petitioned Bishop Maigret, having received a request earlier for a resident priest at Kalaupapa, to allow Father Damien to stay on Molokai and devote his life to leprosy patients;

Whereas for 16 years, from 1873 to 1889, Father Damien labored to bring material and spiritual comfort to the leprosy patients of Kalaupapa, building chapels, water cisterns, and boys and girls homes;

Whereas on April 15, 1889, at the age of 49, Father Damien died of leprosy contracted a few years earlier;

Whereas the Roman Catholic Church began the consideration of beatification of Father Damien in February 1955, and Father Damien will be beatified on June 4, 1995, by Pope John Paul II in Brussels, Belgium;

Whereas Father Damien was selected by the State of Hawaii in 1965 as one of the distinguished citizens of the State whose statue would be installed in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol;

Whereas the life of Father Damien continues to be a profound example of selfless devotion to others and remains an inspiration for all mankind;

Whereas common use of sulfone drugs in the 1940’s removed the dreaded sentence of disfigurement and death imposed by leprosy, and the 1969 repeal of the isolation law allowed greater mobility for former Hansen’s disease patients;

Whereas in the mid-1970’s, the community of former leprosy patients at Molokai recommended the establishment of a United States National Park at Kalaupapa, out of a strong sense of stewardship of the legacy left by Father Damien and the rich history of Kalaupapa;

Whereas the Kalaupapa National Historical Park was established in 1980 with a provision that former Hansen’s disease patients may remain in the park as long as they wish; and

Whereas the remaining patients at Kalaupapa, many of whom were exiled as children or young adults and who have endured immeasurable hardships and untold sorrows, are a special legacy for America, exemplifying the dignity and strength of the human spirit: Now, therefore, be it

 Resolved, That the Senate of the United States recognizes Father Damien for his service to humanity and takes this occasion to– 

      (1) celebrate achievements of modern medicine in combating the once-dreaded leprosy disease; 
      (2) remember that victims of leprosy still suffer social banishment in many parts of the world; and 
    • (3) honor the people of Kalaupapa as a living American legacy of human spirit and dignity.

Interest in Fr. Damien Film Documentary?

April 17, 2009
Let Us Tell The Story of a Wounded Healer and Prophet

Let Us Tell The Story of a Wounded Healer and Prophet

There is growing interest in producing a documentary film that tells the deeper story about Fr Damien and Mother Marianne in Molokai.

I am in touch with a group that is moving ahead to tell the great powerful  story of the people and the community life from the “inside.”

Much more is known about the: triumphs and struggle, spirituality, humanity, suffering, compassion, discrimination, isolation, despair, and hope and so much more. The inpiring story needs to be told right now as the time is right and so many are open to hear and respond to challenges for changing the world for the better.

People of all ages can benefit from looking deeply into what really happened in that time and progressed to the present in that tiny geographically isolated piece of paradise.

The story of Father Damien and others is an ongoing drama played out in a world where suffering healers, servants, and prophets are much needed among all God’s people.

Please Pass on the word, The Father Damien Celebration Alliance is seeking sponsors for creating and distributing a documentary film. This film will proclaim the good news of suffering for the people of this world now, and serve to create the kind of world where Leprosy, discrimiation, suffering is embraced with a whole new attitude of compassion and love.

Let the river  that brings healing water to the world begin to flow outward today. Please  join your prayers and connections to enliven this project.

May God bring to life a revelation and story beautifully told that will transform the world for the glory.

You may contact me via the Stauros USA web site:

Deacon Don

Father Damien Of Molokai-Suffering Saint

April 16, 2009
Father Damien Canonization: October 11, 2009

Father Damien Canonization: October 11, 2009

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  John 15:13

Stauros USA  is most pleased to celebrate the life of Father Damien. Father Damien’s efforts, his vocation, his dedication to a life of selfless service is very much aligned with the mission of Stauros USA and International.

We share a great message: What Would Fr Damien be Doing Today…..

From the Hawaii Catholic Herald  (With Permission)

 Journey to a Canonization: April 3, 2009

This is one of an ongoing series of articles related to Blessed Damien who will reach the ranks of sainthood on Oct. 11 Damien’s work continues in India By Patrick Downes | Hawaii Catholic Herald Question: If Father Damien were alive today, where would he be? Answer: Perhaps in India, where Hansen’s disease has stubbornly stepped into the 21st century despite the drugs that should have halted it decades ago. The saint-to-be actually does reside in spirit in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar at the Damien Social Development Institute. There leprosy and its savage effects are combated with standing and mobile medical clinics, rehabilitation programs, nutrition programs, housing projects, vocational training and education. The institute’s stated vision is “To eliminate human sufferings in order to revive and enhance the spirit of equality and dignity.” It also participates in the worldwide campaign to eliminate Hansen’s disease. The institute was opened as the “Damien Institute” in 1979 by Sacred Hearts Father William Petrie, an American whose priestly vocation was inspired by a biography of Father Damien he read as a boy. Father Petrie came to India in 1975 to work with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity at a Hansen’s disease facility in Shantinagar, west of Bengal. Mother Teresa asked the priest to turn his attention to those with the disease, particularly the impoverished, in Bhubaneswar where he started his program. The Damien Clinic, the institute’s main medical clinic, treats hundreds with a team of doctors, a pharmacist, a lab technician and others. Mobile clinics two or three times a month bring services to a number of leprosy communities and houses, and to dozens of slum areas. Rehabilitation programs deliver wheelchairs, crutches, hearing aids, and walking sticks for the blind to those that need them in surrounding villages. A nutrition program provides school children in one leprosy community, many whose parents provide for their families by begging, one balanced, nutritious meal a day. The Damien Social Development Institute helps young men and women gain vocational training as tailors, mechanics, paramedicals, drivers, weavers and electricians and also runs an interfaith hostel which provides food and board for male students attending a local college. The institute is a project of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, Father Damien’s congregation, and many of its department supervisors are priests of that order.

Suffering and Discipline-Guest Blog Marie Smith The Cello Bard

March 12, 2009


On Discipline and Suffering:

A Perspective-Body:Mind:Spirit:Soul


Discipline. I’m a cellist. I didn’t get to be a cellist by magically waking up one day able to play Dvorak. I started with Twinkle Twinkle when I was nine and kept going. Every day. When my friends wanted to go out to play, I practiced. When my friends wanted to go to a movie, I practiced. I had a single minded devotion to the cello at an early age. I loved the way it sounded and felt to play. I still love the way it sounds and feels to play. Practicing was, and is, the best part of my day. I learned to defer immediate gratification for something bigger. I played the cello because it pleased me to do it. Wasn’t about the applause. It was because it brought me joy. Thirty years later, I still get a huge kick of joy in my practice room when I nail a high D with my third finger and feel my spine tingle in it.  No one forced me to practice, in fact I got told to stop by my parents. Do your homework, Marie! Go to bed!


Irish Proverb: There is no luck, except where there is discipline. 


I was in the Chicago Civic Orchestra — Training Orchestra for the Chicago Symphony, as a kid. I got to play under Sir Georg Solti on stage at Orchestra Hall. How did I get there? Did I walk in and audition? Yes. However… 


This was my life in freshman year of high school at age 14


5:30  AM Wake up. Practice scales for 20 minutes. Practice etudes (Study pieces)

6:30  AM  Practice Bach

7:00  AM Shower, dress, eat breakfast, hop on school bus with cello. Finish homework.

8:00  AM orchestra rehearsal

9:00  AM English Class

10:00 AM Study Hall. Study? No. Practice Sonata in practice room? Yes.

11:00 AM return to school 

3:45   PM eat snack

4:00   PM Practice concerto

6:00   PM wolf down dinner

6:15   PM practice concerto

9:00   PM practice orchestra parts

10:00 PM Parents tell me to stop practicing. “DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK!” Oh No! Oh No! English paper is due. Oh no! Set down cello. Do homework.

11:00  PM Fake together some stuff for school. Read Hamlet? To do or not to do? Not to do! Skip algebra, too. Do that on the bus…

12:00 AM Fall asleep


Next day, wake up and do the same thing.




5:30 AM wake up. Practice for next 12 hours.

8:00  PM Attend concert with buddies in Chicago. Can’t believe we got tickets to see U2!!!!  Sing along! (“One man come in the name of love..”)

11:30 PM Curfew? Ummm, no. Dance and scream at concert! YAY! U2! This is so cool! (“Sunday Bloody Sunday!”)

1:45 AM Come home to angry parents!  “CURFEW! YOU ARE GROUNDED!”  So? I saw U2! That was worth getting grounded for a month! Coolest concert ever!

2:00 AM Snooze.




5:30 AM wake up. Practice for next 12 hours


Every… single… day… didn’t matter if the moon was full, half full, blue, or harvest. This was what I did. I practiced nine hours a day on weekdays, 24 hours on weekends. 


THEN I auditioned for the Chicago Civic–Training Orchestra for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That’s how I got to sit under Sir Georg Solti’s baton, an experience I will never forget. Solti was way cooler than that U2 concert! It’s also how I got to attend a high school for the performing arts. “There is no luck, except where there is discipline.” 


Intense self discipline does make it possible to survive tough situations, because I know how to keep going even when I want to quit. I have no idea why those NFL players took off their life vests. I don’t know what was running through their minds. I haven’t been tested in open ocean. I do know that I’ve been tested in other ways and discipline helps a ton. It really does.


Speaking of discipline, it’s Monday. That means I need to take my chemo pre meds, cram some food in my gut, and hope and pray that chemo doesn’t knock me on my butt until Friday like it did last week. I suffered a ton with it last week and right now I’m afraid to enter into the tunnel of chaos again. But I will because my life demands that I do this. My cello likes when I play him, and my novel just got a whole new plot twist added to it, and.. and I got hired to do some freelance writing, and I’ve got pamphlets I need to get moving on, and… and I have shows coming up in April and.. and I have a life that’s worth chemo tolls for!  


So, I will pay the chemo toll.


Hopefully without too many tears. I’ll wake up tomorrow around 5:30 PM. That’s Tuesdays. I hate Tuesdays. But, I love Wednesdays – Mondays, so it’s worth dark Tuesday. I’m heading into a cave now. Ten minutes from now, my brain will evaporate from anti nausea drugs blurring my thinking and I’ll be in a fog. Sigh. I’m off to do what I gotta do.

Alone and Suffering

March 7, 2009

Yesterday, I experienced a new version of what it means to be alone. It was horrible. I particpated in the funeral of one of my best friend’s from high school.

With my friend’s sister standing shaking next to me, we stood alone looking at Tony’s open casket. The Ukrainian Orthodox Priest chanted mystical prayers and waved incense. Tony was only a young 62. The room was so big and we were so alone.

Thankfully, eight members of Tony’s church choir stood there at the mass joining the chants and songs of the priest. Today, the Church was his family and friends combined. I was deeply sad that there were so few attending.. Stark aloneness. Pitiful.

Later,we stood alone at the grave as his coffin was lowered into the earth.

I offered prayers of thanksgiving for the church, and the priest and the choir members that were there being family for the homecoming celebration and Christian Mass of the Resurrection.

My friend Tony and I had experienced a great  four years in high school. That was way back in 1962-1966. We grew up in Chicago. Over the years a annual phone call bridged the distance and communication gap and brought us back together for a few moments of happy reminiscing. Lately now, acute diabetes ravaged his poor suffering body with no mercy.  Tony was alone to suffer. Tony was alone to die.

Looking back 25 years or more, I recall carrying his mom and dad’s casket to the cemetery as a pall bearer. What an honor. Now, I did the same. Friends do that service, tearfully on a mission.

I write this blog as a way of praying for Tony and his sister. I want them to never have to be so alone. Where were the friends and neighbors? What happened along the way that Tony became so isolated? Tony was a good and kind person, gregarious, and fun loving. How did he become so alone? His sister assured me, “Tony was just shy.”

I conclude this tribute to Tony praying a re-dedication to the mission of Stauros USA–

1) No one should ever suffer alone,–

2) No one should suffer without access to resources that might help in bring hope and meaning to difficult circumstances.

May God continue to guide and inspire Stauros. May we serve all with compassion and be Seeds of Light for all.

-Discovering Wisdom to Unlock the Mysteries of Suffering

February 25, 2009
Role Models? Bees Gather Nectar to Make Honey

Role Models? Bees Gather Nectar to Make Honey

What if when suffering circumstances come our way we had ready access to practical wisdom to assist in formulating our response?

What if we had a helpful and compassionate guide, a reliable compass, a map to help us negotiate the jungle of information and mis-information available on the expansive topic of human suffering?

What if when hopelessly stuck in paralyzing quicksand we could call out and a friendly voice would offer advice to assist in a timely escape from our imminent peril?

When despair threatens to overwhelm  the last bit of optimism left after battles to cope with suffering’s grip leaves us spent…..,who can you call?

My prayer is that no person should face the tough challenges of suffering alone.

Further, nobody should have to formulate a personal response to the presence of suffering without access to good resources.

Are there good resources out there that can make a difference in building a person’s ability to bounce back after a fall?

Are there keys that alone, or in combination, can unlock the pathway one might aspire to accomplish: “good suffering”?

Who are the experts that have refined pearls of wisdom from the ages that point light on suffering’s dark side?

What authoritative libraries exist from psychology? philosophy? spirituality, theology? and healing technologies including medicine and pharmacology?

What if there were a community dedicated to the study of creatively forging avenues on which to travel the rocky roads of suffering?

Who are the leaders of good thinking?

What does the bible and holy writing have to offer those who suffer?

May the word go forth throughout the land: If anyone has wisdom to share about “good” suffering…Please bring it to our attention at Stauros USA.


We will share the good news via our E-magazine-Stauros Hope and Suffering Seeds of Light, and or via our new Stauros Hope and Suffering Notebook.


Unemployment and Suffering

January 25, 2009


This blog is contributed by Bill Smith, a great friend of Stauros.

Thank you Bill for offering hope for those suffering the heart rending challenges of unemplyment.

Deacon Don Executive Director Stauros USA

I wanted to write something about my experience being out of work.  The trials of unemployment and dodging collection calls, the fear of eviction and shame of not being able to meet one’s obligations or take care of one’s family.  It’s horrible.  I asked myself ‘How did I get here in such a horrific mess.’  The tears…fear…anxiety.  An almost hopeless sense of despair that seems to grip my every waking and even dreaming moments.  It hurts—I cry and pray.  And then an email alert popped up on my screen. 


A news article arrived telling me that in the two weeks of Israel’s operation in Gaza, 898 Palestinian people have been killed so far, and today, a Palestinian rocket hit an Israeli kindergarten filled with children and killing all.  I cannot imagine the incalculable loss and grief for those fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers families and friends and all those who lost someone.  It somehow makes my suffering quite a bit harder to feel…maybe I don’t have it so bad.


We’re taught to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Yet, I am here, bemoaning my lot in life and I haven’t done much to help relieve the pain of those so much more in need.  Not just those from the Palestine tragedy, but here, not a world away, but on my street, in my neighborhood, in my building.  There are those less fortunate who would gladly change places with me.  As I reflect on my sad jobless state, I do so from the warmth of a safety of a home overlooking the beautiful Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan.  How much would any of those touched by this latest military action give to change places?  What incredible gifts I have been given, and now, with some unexpected time off work, perhaps there is something I can do.


Maybe I can poke my head in a shelter tomorrow between interviews.  Can I help?  Perhaps there is something or someone tomorrow that can use my gifts outside of the job I am looking for.  Maybe God has a job for me in mind that I wasn’t expecting and might have otherwise missed.  And, I don’t want to disappoint that lead or disregard that recruiter.  Even if the pay isn’t really there, the benefits are infinite!  This job lead comes from the source of all knowing and all love. 


My mother passed away several years ago.  Several years before that, she sent a letter to me which somehow was lost unopened among my personal things.  Recently, during a move, I found the box with her unopened letter.  I recognized her handwriting and felt her warm attention on me as though she were standing next to me.  Inside was a brief note saying simply, ‘Billy, perhaps some day you will be able to use this.  Love, Mom.’  Enclosed was a prayer card with a picture of Christ on one side, and on the other was the Prayer of the Unemployed.  When my Mom sent the note, I was gainfully employed, owned a business and had several years salary in savings.  But today, with savings gone and no job prospect in sight, the prayer is relevant beyond what I ever could have thought.  I can picture my Mom’s knowing eyes affirming that all things come in His time as if she meant for me to get it now.   


So, from my Mother, and in His time, I’ll share the little prayer.  I hope it means as much to you as it does to me.


Dear Lord Jesus Christ,

You wanted all who are weary to come to You for support.  Lord, I am worn out by my inability to find wage-earning work.  With the changing job market, guide me in this pursuit to opportunities with a future so that there is not an immediate recurrence of this ordeal.  Day after day, my worry and fear grows as the rejections of my applications mount.  I am able and willing to work – but I cannot find a worthwhile job.  Please help me to obtain one soon.  Until I find employment, ease my worries regarding my financial situation and help me to take advantage of the time available to get closer to you.  Let me realize that there are other ways to bring about Your kingdom on earth besides salaried work.  Help me to make use of them for the time being so that I may continue to grow as a person for Your greater glory.  Amen.


So tomorrow I have a job.  I’ll visit those to whom I might be of some service.  I’ll keep my eyes, ears and heart open because I now believe being gainfully employed doesn’t always require having a job.  My prayers are with you always.  — Bill Smith

Options in Suffering?

December 21, 2008

Matousek Book

One of the very best books I have read lately casts light on the often dark clouds associated with human suffering. Take a look at this book to build personal resilience for today and tomorrow. Enjoy! I find Mark refreshing and very real!

 When You’re Falling, Dive…Artful Living in Times of Great Change

 Mark Matousek

ISBN 159691369X / 9781596913691 / 1-59691-369-X
Publisher Bloomsbury Pub Plc USA
Language English
Edition Hardcover
List price $24.99

From the Author/Publisher…..

“How people who have suffered trauma find an upside when they’ve gone to the brink-and back again. Do survivors of life’s greatest trials possess a secret knowledge? Is there an art to survival-a map for crossing the wilderness-or daily life? Why do some people blossom through adversity while others stop growing? Drawing on twenty years’ experience in this field, using stories, parable, and scientific data, acclaimed memoirist Mark Matousek gives the first-ever comprehensive look at this mysterious phenomenon of viriditas, the power of drawing passion, beauty, and wisdom from the unlikeliest places. Matousek interviews hundreds of well-known survivors-including Joan Didion, Elie Wiesel, and Isabel Allende-and experts such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jonathan Kozol, and Sogyal Rimpoche. He includes extraordinary testimonials, from a Tibetan nun imprisoned by the Chinese at age eleven and the women of Calama, Chile, digging for their “disappeared,” among countless others. Drawing insight and advice from these many heroic individuals, Matousek presents a chorus of wisdom for how to survive our own lives-the vicissitudes of being human-and prevail.
Notes from O-Magazine:   “After receiving a diagnosis of HIV and, several years later, the equally upending news that after all, he would probably not die of it, Mark Matousek discovered something about riding a spiritual crisis. In this new guidebook to keeping the psyche intact while being spun on life’s roulette wheel, he talks to survivors … as well as experts in brain neuroplasticity and psychological resilience. Through their stories, strategies emerge about how to not only regain equilibrium after a serious hardship but also manage the free floating ‘intuition of hidden yet imminent danger’ that afflicts many of us even in the absence of major trauma.” 
(Note: Deacon Don interviewed Mark by phone on August 27, 2008 at his home in New York.)
Deacon Don:
This is a “textbook” about preparing oneself to become resilient in spirit. The book offers brilliant case studies portraying people making heroic responses with acceptance, embracing their challenges and artistically crafting a unique artistic response. Why are these folks “heroic”?
Oh my, they would bristle if anybody would be cliché and give them that title. Yes, they have gone deep within to draw from character and resourcefulness in response to a fall. Yes, they are like artists who take a canvas and create, use tools and imagination and express their inner hope and depth. Each of us has latent abilities that can be called forth.
Deacon Don:
Can a person become intentionally prepared to become resilient when their day comes to test their inner spirit?
Absolutely, that is the essence of my challenge. Read, prepare, reflect and realize the temporary quiet of our lives will be broken with inevitable tests. To acknowledge and accept the idea of being thoughtfully preparing is essential.
Deacon Don:
I like the image of your book where you refer to times when adjusting to the vulnerabilities of a fall as you mention the life of a molting lobster to illustrate the process of growth.
Can you expand?
Yes, the hard outer shell must go. During the change process for the lobster, exposed is a tender inner skin that will later harden. Change, transition and metamorphosis are natural processes. Our response to transition can spell the difference between a life of fulfillment and meaning and confusion, maybe even misery. Choices to reach out to those around can make a difference between fate and destiny. I favor those who can gather the inner strength to reach out, grasp realities, not become overwhelmed and bitter, but spend the limited time of life being constructive.
Deacon Don:
Do you think there is a “silver lining club” out there made up of incurable optimists?
Mark: Yes, I like the idea of an intentional pursuit that swims against the stream of hopelessness in favor of being strong and tapping into the spirit that is a relentless drive to rise.
Deacon Don:
Do you think Humpty Dumpty-style-pessimism gets in the way of making the most of a person encountering and forging a persona response to adversity?
Yes, Humpty Dumpty is an at too simple myth that ignores the power of teamwork. Sure, there are many people who like to deny inevitable encounters they will have with suffering. Humpty Dumpty fatalism should become extinct as we evolve into a more resourceful and artistic human community of caring for ourselves and others.
Deacon Don:
Do you have any final suggestions to pass along for our readers about choosing to “dive during the fall of life”?  What is the essence of a good dive?
 “‘When you enter a storm in life, acceptance is the first step in turning a fall into a dive — full acceptance of your circumstances, including painful feelings, in order to move through adversity with grace.  Remember, you cannot transform what you have not first blessed.  Blessing doesn’t necessarily mean liking what’s happening; it means saying yes to life, rather than resisting the tough stuff so that we can learn from our trials.  It’s hard (if not impossible) to learn when we’re shut down, or blinded by anger and fear.  The art of diving (in times of trouble) enables us to penetrate beyond the unpleasant surface of catastrophic change, into the mystery that awaits us underneath. In diving we discover the wisdom hidden inside the darkness; the revelation of having to begin again; the self-renewal that can only arise when we let go our attachments — to the status quo, to what we think we deserve — and make way for what life has in store for us.” 

 Visit Mark at: 

Who Needs a Spiritual Home Depot?

December 21, 2008

When I am involved in a remodeling project I really like being able to go to a Home Depot, or Menards, or Lowe’s home center to gather everything I need.

Home Depot

Home Depot



Rows and rows of products are a delight. There are so many gadgets available to make the home improvement job a total success.


When I am involved as a volunteer construction worker in another person’s life remodeling project I wish we had a Big Warehouse full of tools and materials so that without delay work might proceed.


Earlier today, my good friend Annette called to tell me that her son, Rocky was in the hospital again. You see, Rocky broke his neck playing high school football in 2000. Caring for a quadriplegic son has been a great test for mom and an ongoing construction project.



Rocky Clark


Faith matters a whole lot to Rocky and Annette. At times I have had the honor to pitch in on some of the many remodeling project that are necessary to deal with Rock’s near total paralysis 24 x 7.


In frustration Annette says, “Deacon Don, I am so tired, I am so weary……But, Deacon Don….I thank God for the strength to somehow keep going”.



I give Annette some canvas gloves, we say a prayer, and then she must keeping hustling as there is no break. If Annette quits, the house crumbles in failure. Annette needs a spiritual cheerleader and encouragment to help her in the labor. We dream about going to the “Spritual Home Depot” to obtain the right equipment so that we can thrive.


In what aisle might we find the gutter repair materials that might catch Annette Clark’s private streams of tears?


In what aisle might we find the paint to create a happy face?



In what aisle the answers for prayers?



In what aisle is the glue that can hold them together when under all the stress and strain they begin to fall apart?



What “router” tool can be found to help make sense of the tragedy that came their way and now few seem to care about?



In what aisle can we obtain a loan to pay back taxes they are unable to pay? Is there an offer available: No payments until 2020?


In Annette and Rocky’s house, there is a 24 hour major construction remodeling project going on. Annette is the leader in remodeling and building up the hope necessary to support a broken heart. Rocky has had to remodel his whole life, his hopes, his dreams, his faith in God and his fellow man.


Annette and I constantly look for tools and building materials to keep the home from crumbling. Annette says, “It can get mighty lonely working alone.” Out of urgency the search continues to find a way to stop leaking pipes that drain any money in the system. Out of urgency the search continues for a miracle working shovel to move away the tax bill and other mail that ceaselessly comes.



What product in the Spiritual Home Depot warehouse can be used for the vermin pests that relentlessly eat away optimism?


I pray this day that Annette and Rocky can find the tools and materials that may successfully triumph and help them conitune to build faith in the midst of doubt and challenge.


I pray that good people can organize the tools and materials so that we, “construction workers” can do our job assisting with boosting hope and optimism, never daunted in our pursuit of building a dream house build on a foundation of faith.


I can see the mental picture of a “Spiritual Home Depot” with great big orange letters that warehouses everything one needs to keep building and building and building………



I believe that ….”With God, all things are possible”



With God the construction work continues. I believe through you and me…..God provides and stocks the “Spritual Home Depot.”



We pray that the faithful keep coming for a vist and go home happy to keep building and building and building.



May God bless Rocky and Annette and all who call upon the Lord God to help them build and remodel using the tools of the faithful.

Who Cares About Your Suffering?

December 5, 2008

So many ask the question: Where is God when there is suffering?

Am I alone in my suffering?

So many of us are working on a satisfying answer to this apparent riddle.

Travis Hearn and Mike Ditka

Travis Hearn and Mike Ditka

Today is a sad day, a friend of mine,-Travis Hearn, a young boy paralyzed playing high school football passed from this life. His broken neck never dampened his spirit. He loved all the people who approached him to pass along God’s love in the form of hugs and money and other gifts. Travis was a warrior and was a big proponent of faith convinced that God’s hand was there to compasionately touch and love him and guide him toward victory. (Even though his quadriplegia wouldn’t allow him to really feel any touch)

I will miss Travis in the days ahead. I was part of a throng of people who met Travis after his injury. We all quickly grew to admire how he faced the difficulties with such courage. Travis was working with me on a project to be ready to reach out and support a newly injured player and family. Travis and and four other boys who suffered spinal cord injuries playing high school football formed the Gridiron Warriors Alliance as an organization ready to pass along support and experience. In tribute to Travis we will pursue that goal of forming the alliance with renewed vigor.

God was there present to Travis in many ways. Travis struggled mightily trying to make sense and respond the best he could to horrific circumstances. I grew deep admiration as I saw rugged determination and optimism flourish from this boy with a giant smile and amazing spiritual resilience.

Today, in my moments of grief another friend sent me a powerful and inspiring email. In this message I am sharing below, he beautifully demonstrates to me  how God is present to those suffering:

 Here is what he wrote:

“………Yesterday was pretty cold.  As I was walking along the street, I came up behind a homeless man walking on the street in front of me.  He was hunched over against the cold talking to himself (or God?).  As I passed, I noticed his bare hands were tucked under his armpits.  I also found that despite my lack of pocket cash and overdrawn bank accounts, I was rich enough to give him my gloves.  After all, with my pockets empty, I had a warm place to put my hands!  And somehow, as he put the gloves on and we parted, it didn’t seem quite as cold?………..

 You and I are reservoirs of God’s love that can be passed along in the form of a pair of gloves or an encouraging word, or more.

God lives as we  pass along His goodness.

Peace be with you my friend. I pray that you may be touched by God in your suffering-you are never alone.

Deacon Don


Rediscovering Gems in the Jewelry Box of Life

November 24, 2008

Saturday I was having lunch in the community dining room of the monastery and met some wonderful friends for Stauros.

I met for the first time cheerful: Brother Ray Sanchez. Ray has a great history and wisdom derived from many years of being a chaplain to prisoners. I was immediately fascinated in the possibility of learning about his wisdom and insights all about being among the “captives”.

What is the spirituality of a prison and confinement? What is it like to minister in this environment?

I have a hunch Brother Ray has some fascinating stories to tell.

Another conversation turned to a couple of wonderful hours with Father Frank Keenan. Fr. Frank has been a chaplain at a local hospital medical center for many years. I learned that Fr. Frank has been writing passionately for a long time: reflections, articles and poetry.

He mentioned that finding an avenue to place his material is a challenge and hopes that others can share in this legacy. This is an untapped gift to share.

All day after savoring meeting and building new relationships with these wonderful ministers of Christ’s mission I felt awesome thanksgiving.

I felt as if I had discovered two “gold mines”,-not only for me, but I had discovered gems that can possibly be life changing and transforming for others. It will be my honor now to see if I can bring them further out into the light. 

The concept of re-discovering”gems in a jewelry box” helps me describe this moment of revelation and insight.

At home I have a jewelry box containing gold cuff links that came from my father and grandfather. In it I have a fancy watch; I have rings from college and such, and many tie pins. I don’t use items from my jewelry box very often,  and kind of unintentionally ignore them and tend to inadvertently under appreciate their value.

I am excited that the “jewels” I have discovered in the wisdom of experts in the theology and spirituality of healing and suffering wisdom can be shared. I dream they might become a source of great personal growth and change for others.

I am excited to see if my work with Stauros publications can somehow help others to learn about hope for the captives of life and help them learn about healing in the midst of great suffering. I am delighted that these dedicated servants of the Lord might share gems of wisdom bringing them out into the bright light of day and be enjoyed and appreciated in new ways.

I pray this morning in thanksgiving for opportunities ahead, that all of us might be fortunate in discovering and sharing “gold and jewels” we find.

Bridge Building-What About Attacking the Isolation of Suffering?

November 18, 2008

Today, I want to BLOG about something that is bugging me: isolation among those who suffer. 

What if Stauros USA becomes an organization that actively promotes collaboration and sharing among advocates for all those cut off, isolated, and suffering? What if Stauros works with others to form a bridge extended outward to those ready to seek a way to rise amidst the adversity and challenges they face in isolation?

If there is one major thing I am learning over and over as I enter the University of Suffering for yet another daily lesson in the school of hard knocks,– it is that so many suffering people and care givers are cut off and isolated. Those who suffer are often cut off from divine and spiritual power and other resources that can address the suffering and offer positive change.

Why are so many cut off from sources of life-giving compassion, love, healing and resources of so many kinds?

Kenneth Jennings at Chicago Bears Camp Hoping To Organize Gridiron Warriors Organization for Spinal Cord Injured High School Football Players

Kenneth Jennings at Chicago Bears Camp Hoping To Organize Gridiron Warriors Organization for Spinal Cord Injured High School Football Players

I was just taught a good lesson in resource finding that I wish to share. For over two years, the five former football players I am working with have been trying to find legal help to help them form a charity. They envision forming an organization that reaches out to new spinal cord injured players. The founders are stuck, unable to do what it takes to do the work to form a 501 3 C charity. The specific limiting stumbling block and hurdle they face is no access to legal umph to get the paper work done. Last week, for some strange reason, I decided to send an email out to a few people I know and seek out the service (pro bono) of an attorney to get us out of the quicksand that was keeping them paralyzed.

Low and behold, as of today, just a few days later, the paralyzed boys who are the would-be founders,-have been offered a team of three law firms ready to help. A miracle? Yes-Indeed!

Over and over in my ministry work with paralyzed players I have learned that when a community awakens, and gets organized to provide outreach, miracles can happen!

One major problem associated with “suffering” is that some are cut off and isolated and not knowing where, or to whom to turn.

Another contributing factor in this isolation associated with suffering is that I notice so many people in a community are busy with their own affairs. In fact, some people are so involved in their own personal affairs and personal charities that there is little room to open their horizon to be in a position to reach out to somebody outside their universe.

I am struck with noticing the parochial nature  of the helping professions, charities, self-help groups, and ministries. Good resources are often inadvertently restricted to those in the know, or those connected.  

What if a global organization like Stauros USA brought to life a cyber place where bridge building could be empowered and brought to life to minimize isolation of the suffering?

I can envision bringing to life a forum where organizations can reach out to make connections with: deaf, blind, cancer, suicide, chonic illness, spinal cord injuries and a constellation of others living with suffering. Perhaps, in a well known place advocates and the suffering can come together to find better ways to connect and supply compassion, healing and resourcefulness?

What if Stauros USA becomes an organization that promotes collaboration and sharing among advocates for all those cut off, isolated and suffering? What if Stauros works with others to form a bridge extended outward to those ready to seek a way to rise amidst the adversity and challenges they face in isolation?

To that end,–As a start, I am going to begin adding web sites to this blog site  so that we can together make it possible for those making outreach,– and those seeking connections somehow via the internet be  brought together. Perhaps this humble blog under the umbrella of cyber resources can offer helpful and accessible resources to those who might be suffering in mind, body, or spirit and soul.

I envision a virtual  “home depot” a large no-cost enterprise that tries to put all of the spirit building resources ina  place that is easily accessible.

Today, in my role with Stauros I want to set out and be a bridge builder and see what happens. I am a believer in possibilities? How about you and I see what we can do with God’s help?

Let’s create in this BLOG space,- a place where we can dissolve boundaries that prevent us from caring about the plight of individuals, and pitch in and activate a large community of compassion and caring? that reaches out to put an end to isolation, hoplessness and despair?

As a prayer, Deacon Don