Soprano Josie Grossi will be performing at Toronto’s Pauline Books and Media Sept. 30. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Singer finds strength in life of St. Thérèse

  • September 23, 2017

Josie Grossi was 20 years old when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in May 1987. Her doctors didn’t give her much hope. They told her there was no known cure. There wasn’t any medication that could slow down the deterioration of her central nervous system and eventually, she would need a wheelchair.

Her music career would have to be put on hold and she might have to prepare for a time when she would not be able to sing or play the piano. She heard all the horror stories of what might happen to her and she became depressed.

Looking back, Grossi said this was the perfect moment for St. Thérèse of Lisieux to come into her life.

Thirty years later, at the age of 51, Grossi is showing few symptoms of MS and will mark the anniversary of her diagnosis and her special devotion to St. Thérèse with a concert. The concert also marks the one-year anniversary of the release of her first album, A Rose By Any Other Name.

“Reading St. Thérèse’s autobiography shortly after (being diagnosed) gave me peace, gave me hope,” said Grossi. “It was as if God was saying to me, ‘I’m here. Everything’s going to be okay.’ ”

St. Thérèse of Lisieux was a cloistered Carmelite nun in France who famously died at the age of 24 after a slow and painful fight against tuberculosis. Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, was published a year after her death in 1897 and has since inspired generations of people.

Grossi said reading about St. Thérèse and the joy she found in her “Little Way” gave her the reassurance she needed. It encouraged Grossi to adopt the same positive attitude that no matter what challenges she might face because of her own disease, she would embrace them with faith that mirrored that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

“That autobiography changed my life,” she said. “I thought about her in that cold cell in the Carmel in the late 1800s and the other sisters and even her own sisters didn’t know how much she was suffering…. She is the greatest saint in modern times.”

Sept. 30 will be a day of music and stories at the Pauline Books and Media store in Toronto, where Grossi, a soprano, will perform classical and contemporary music inspired by her personal devotion to the Little Flower saint.

She didn’t think she would have a fruitful 25-year career as a professional singer and music teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

She takes no medications or treatments for her MS. She walks for exercise every day. Her voice is stronger than ever. She said her fingers remain strong and nimble.

“I never thought I’d be this healthy,” said Grossi. “I mean, I prayed. I remember once saying I have a lot to do on this Earth and I really need my health…. It was all by the grace of God.”

Grossi said she has been a part of several clinical studies but her doctors don’t know why she’s walking. Her brain is filled with lesions and that’s how they know she has MS, but besides that, she feels unaffected.

Because of the unpredictable nature of the disease, she said her doctors cannot pinpoint the reason for her good health. She personally attributes it to prayer and positive thinking. Despite the horror stories her doctors, her friends and family used to tell her, she firmly believes that God has given her life to glorify Him through her music.

She chose the Pauline bookstore, run by the Daughters of St. Paul, as the venue for her concert because it was among their shelves that she first met St. Therese.

She had always lived five blocks away from the store. Even as a young woman, she visited the store regularly to pick up new books for spiritual reading.

Only a few months after her diagnosis, a friend who worked as a clerk in the bookstore recommended she picked up a copy of The Story of a Soul. She’s been thanking her friend ever since.

Grossi has gone back to those pages many times in her life. She has reread specific chapters for inspiration and guidance. The book has also led her to read many of St. Thérèse’s biographies and her collected poems.

St. Thérèse’s vocation of love is what inspires Grossi now to tell her story to others. Through her album and through this concert, Grossi hopes to bring more people to the Little Way.

“I’m doing it because I want more young people to know about her,” she said. “To read her autobiography, to read her poems, there’s so much that’s out there. To ask for her intercession and believe in her Little Way.”

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