It was simple. There was no crack of thunder…no lightning bolt…no earth shattering thing that led her to her religious vocation. Charlene Agnes Grossman lived on the family dairy farm in Chokio, MN; she was the 7th of 9 children (6 boys and 3 girls), attended Chokio Public Schools, went to church and led the normal life of a Minnesota kid in the 1950’s. Her mother, Agnes, a woman of integrity and strong faith, was an inspiration and had an encouraging influence on Charlene. Their parish priest had a sister who was a Franciscan Sister and Charlene was inspired by the things he shared about his sister’s life. A group of Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, who at the time, communed in Browns Valley, traveled to Chokio on Saturdays and they too laid the foundation for her faith formation and provided her the first taste of the blessings and simplicities afforded by dedicating oneself to Jesus Christ. Char’s older sister was an influence too; for six years she was a Sister in the Franciscan Community and Char saw the joy in her life. Simple gifts: love, family, happiness.
It was no surprise, then, in August 1966, shortly after graduating from Chokio High School, Charlene entered the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls Community. As a Novice, she became disciplined in forming her vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience in the Franciscan way of life. In August 1969, she took her First Vows and shortly after, in 1970, enrolled at North Dakota State School of Science in Wahpeton where she received her LPN degree. After working a year in a hospital/nursing home in Onamia, she was hired at St. Francis Hospital in Breckenridge. Sister Char took her Final Vows in July 1975 at her home parish in Chokio. She continued her work at St. Francis until 1986, when she went to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis for a year’s residency in the Chaplaincy Department for further education in Clinical Pastoral Education. From 1987 to 1992, Sister Char was the director of the Chaplaincy Department for St. John’s/St. Ansgar Hospital in the Fargo-Moorhead area. She began employment as Chaplain at the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center in July 1994 and at the same time, worked as a Pastoral Associate at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Elizabeth, MN. Sister Char said, “I only worked at St. Elizabeth’s for two years, however, they were good years. The people in that parish were like family to me – they still are!” She is currently serving as Chaplain at the Community Addiction Recovery Enterprise, operated by the MN Department of Human Services. Sister Char facilitates Spirituality, Grief and Forgiveness groups.
Traditionally, Sisters live together in a convent; however, Sister Char lives alone. She belongs to a Community of Sisters – the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls. She is the only Franciscan Sister in
Otter Tail County. She is more than pleased with the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis. His attention to the poor, his love of people and his simple acts of kindness are what impresses Sister Char the most. Her favorite quote is from St. Francis (Pope Francis selected as his pontifical name) who said, “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.”
For Sister Char, it has always been about people and the support she can provide. Naturally, as a Religious Sister, Spirituality is a favorite topic. She asks people needing support to look at the purpose and meaning in their life, to discover what their heart longs for, to identify who is a positive role model and to search for and find peace and serenity. She doesn’t preach religion. She helps people find a connection to a Higher Power and helps them understand the spiritual tie to beliefs and values. This builds up their self worth and self esteem which leads them to hope. “I ask persons we support what their hearts are longing for. Their three top answers are love, family and happiness. It really is that simple but sometimes very difficult for them to obtain.”
Sister Char likes to listen to music and work on jigsaw puzzles. And she loves to write; she has not had anything published…yet. She has been encouraged by others to write a book of prayers. She does send handwritten cards and notes to people, a rarity in today’s e-mail/texting social media society. “Not many people take time to send a hand written note any longer. It means so much to have that human touch on things,” Sister Char expressed. She is careful to save cards she receives. She keeps them for a period time so she can go back, reread them and think and pray for the person who sent them. She is a member of the Lion’s Club International, serves as the Chaplain of District 5M9 and has found “lots of joy” in serving with the Elizabeth Lion’s Club. She is committed to serving others, a life filled with prayer and simple living. Her passion in life is “to be a presence to others, to be present and to make a difference.” And, like the words written in the Prayer of St. Francis, Sister Char lives and proclaims “…it is in giving that we receive.”
(Article entitled, “Char Grossman: A Sister Like Nun Other in Ottertail County;” Written by Margie Gettel, Photography by Tony Gettel and Joel Myhre; ©August 8, 2014 issue of In Good Company; Reprinted with permission of Fergus Falls Daily Journal.)