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Obituary: Sister Damienne Grismer, SNDdeN

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Sister Damienne Grismer, SNDdeN
July 6, 1929 – January 15, 2021

“My daughter, what I ask with all my heart for you and for your sisters is a very great simplicity of heart and soul in all your behavior, the great liberty of the children of God.” (Saint Julie Billiart, Letter 162)

Janet Edith Grismer was the third child and first daughter born to Hank and Eugenie Grismer. She grew up in the Five Oaks and Oakwood neighborhoods of Dayton near her mother’s large extended family, while her father’s family offered opportunities for family trips “out west.” When Janet began her freshmen year at Julienne High School, she not only came into daily contact with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, but also joined the third generation of her mother’s family to attend the Sisters of Notre Dame’s secondary schools in Dayton. Janet was not one who dreamt of growing up to be a nun. In her own words, “There were two things in life – basketball, and earning the gold medal in piano.”

Then came the afternoon of October 16, 1946, when she nearly died on the school grounds after a motorcycle jumped the curb and struck her. Janet’s fall resulted in a fractured skull. Later she would recall, “It was all very dramatic. It was a major rally of prayer and offering of novenas so I wouldn’t die.” She was operated on two days later and remained hospitalized until November 3rd. Janet not only survived but returned to school on December 2nd, turban-clad, head shaved from surgery. She resumed her classwork, caught up with the rest of her class, and went on to make a complete recovery AND earn the gold medal in piano.

During her senior year, Janet began to think about joining the Sisters of Notre Dame. She later remembered, “The Sisters seemed to have some intangible spirit – a peace, a happiness, a deep secret of some kind.” On a questionnaire, Janet would write that she desired to be a religious because she wanted to grow in her love of God and that she preferred Notre Dame “because of its beautiful simplicity in dress and action.” She entered the community the summer after her graduation. Janet later reflected that she was never lonely or homesick, nor did she ever think about leaving. “I liked the camaraderie. It was a whole new family; it was a community – and the word ‘community’ was the kicker.”

Upon entering the novitiate, Janet asked for the name Damienne of the Sacred Heart because of her life-long devotion to Fr. Damien of Molokai. She was known as Sister Damienne for the rest of her life. After Fr. Damien was canonized, she spelled it “Damien.” Sister Damienne spent 16 years teaching 3rd, 4th, 7th and 8th graders before being assigned as principal at Saints Peter and Paul School in Reading – where she was known to keep the financial records for the school in a notebook she carried in her pocket. Even as principal and wearing the traditional Notre Dame habit, Damienne gladly joined students for a quick basketball game. She enjoyed teaching the younger children, but she LOVED teaching the older kids. Damienne saw all of her students as gifted children of God – she just had to help them discover the gifts within themselves. She had a special love for working with students who needed a little extra help.

In the mid-1960’s Damienne traveled each summer to Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY to work on a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies. Her experiences in New York broadened her worldview and introduced her to work with drug addicts. She personally saw the educational system failing to teach teens skills they needed to live successful lives. Damienne listened to the stories from young adults who had fallen into addiction. In each of them she saw a glimmer of God’s goodness, no matter their choices or failures. She saw the need for programs to help young addicts. Damienne believed a religious person with a positive attitude could help bring about positive attitudinal change in young addicts, and so, she asked to work in a rehabilitation program. Damienne later said, “Oh, I’ve got plenty of degrees, but learning about people, that happened in Chicago. I left Manhattanville and asked to go to Chicago to create a GED program for drug addicts at a halfway house. I learned more about people in those five years than I could have ever learned in any classroom.” In Tinley Park, IL she taught 18-22 students for two hours a day, served as Bursar for the program, filled out probation reports, rationed cigarettes to the participants, supervised the property, and participated in the clinical operation of the house, including staff and resident groups. Damienne loved every minute of it, so much so that she started working toward a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling in the summer of 1974. In 1975, she was asked to join the faculty at Chaminade-Julienne High School, part-time, while she continued her studies. Damienne agreed and moved back to Dayton where she would spend the next 34 years.

Damienne would become a veritable institution at CJ. Her office was centrally located and had a half door so she could catch students coming and going. Her Child Psychology classes placed students in area pre-school and daycare sites where they would gain firsthand experiences to bring to classroom discussions. Damienne moderated the Students’ Against Drunk Driving Club that initiated the after-school pretzel sales. If the fresh soft pretzels did not sell out within 15 minutes, her booming voice would be heard over the PA system demanding people come down and buy what was left. Damienne served as the Notre Dame representative on the school Leadership Team, tracked demerits and detentions, oversaw the lockers, organized and monitored the on-site ACT and SAT testing, was a beloved co-worker of generations of staff and faculty members and provided a listening ear to generations of students.

Then there was the fun-loving side of her ministry at CJ. She was an avid follower of both the boy’s and girls’ basketball programs, was known for her love of chocolate and Frank Sinatra, and could be counted on to help with skits for pep rallies – especially if they meant donning a veil and getting to drive a Corvette! For many years Damienne annually participated in the “Indy-Nun-Apolis 500” charity bumper-boat race sponsored by WGTZ-FM Z93 in an attempt to win the $500 cash prize and dance party for the students at CJ. The extended CJ community gathered in January of 2009 for a laughter-filled “roast” of their beloved “Sister D” as she prepared to move to Cincinnati. It included a PowerPoint presentation of photos titled “With a Song in My Heart I Did It My Way!”

The CJ Alumni Association honored Damienne along with the rest of the Grismer Family in 1995, and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati recognized her many years of service to Catholic Education in 2009. However, the “award” that touched her most deeply was the establishment of the Sister Damienne Scholarship. It continues to offer $10,000 a year toward college tuition to CJ grads. The recipients are chosen by faculty and staff members based not on what’s written on an application form, but instead on observations of the recipients’ hard work and acts of unconditional kindness during their years at CJ. The benefactors requested the scholarship be named in honor of Sister Damienne who, they said, “is a living model of unconditional kindness and hard work.”

After moving to Cincinnati, Damienne kept in touch with CJ friends through phone calls and visits every chance she got. Of course, she missed CJ terribly, but at least she could volunteer with ‘the boys’ at Moeller a couple of days a week. After Damienne could no longer serve at Moeller, she was delighted when faculty members would make it possible for her to join that school community for special Liturgies. At Mt. Notre Dame, she gladly joined the Adopt-a-Sister program and looked forward to monthly visits from “her girls.”

Simplicity marked Damienne’s approach to all of life: interactions with students, parents, coworkers, friends and family. It didn’t matter if it was her workspace or personal space, it was never cluttered. Community members teased her about throwing communications away before everyone had a chance to read them. She served as community treasurer, grocery shopper and Sunday night cook. Damienne liked cooking on Sunday because she had all day to work on the meal – always a roast with carrots and potatoes. She loved crossword puzzles, and playing cards on the computer or with other people. Sisters who played with her teased her about always winning when she kept score. Damienne loved to tease and be teased. She also loved routine. Maintenance personnel at CJ set their clocks by her arrival each morning. Damienne loved classical music. It played softly in the background of her office at CJ, in her personal space, and it was normal to see her tooling around Mt. Notre Dame on her motorized chair, player on her lap and earbuds in her ears. At some point Damienne got hooked on the soap opera All My Children. For years she video-taped it and community members knew the first thing she’d do on arriving home was sit down to watch the tape. Damienne even reached out to the cast members and became friends with one of the actresses. Her bucket list included a wish to attend the Academy Awards and see Michael Jordan play basketball. She did get to a game, but she’ll have to get to the Awards from Heaven. Damienne had a gift for remembering numbers. Upon meeting someone she’d abruptly ask, “When’s your birthday?” Once you told her, she never forgot.

By 1978 Damienne’s father had died and her mom was in need of help so she could remain in her home. Damienne stepped in to help. She continued teaching at CJ and stayed connected to her dearly loved St. Helen’s community throughout the years she cared for “Mother.” Damienne always said her mother was easy to take care of and Damienne was glad she could do it. Time with her mother also gave her time with nieces, nephews and grandnieces and nephews – some of whom even lived with Damienne’s mother for part of the time Damienne cared for her. Damienne thought her mother’s last gift to her was her date of death: 8/8/88. It was a date so easy for Damienne to remember. She stayed close to her family members, enjoying card games, telephone calls, emails, and visits, when possible. When she could no longer go to Dayton, Sisters at Mt. Notre Dame were delighted to see her friends, former students, coworkers or family at the corner table in the Marian Dining Room, playing cards or sharing a meal with Damienne. Gruff and to the point in her conversation, a willing listener with a loving heart and ready sense of humor, Damienne will be greatly missed by all who knew her. Her family, friends and Sisters take comfort in memories of her long life and thank God that the prayers for Damienne’s survival in 1946 were answered. All who knew Damienne give thanks for the ways she graced each of us through her simple presence and example of a life fully and joyfully lived, making known God’s goodness as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.

BIO DATA

Born July 6, 1929 in Dayton, Ohio
Parents: John Henry Grismer (born in Pueblo, Colorado) and Eugenie (Eugenia Virginia) Stomps (born in Dayton, Ohio)
Siblings: John Grismer, Charles Grismer, Jerome Grismer, Beth Grismer

Baptized July 9, 1929 at St. Agnes Church in Dayton, Ohio
Confirmed November 20, 1928 at Corpus Christ Church, Dayton, Ohio

Entered July 26, 1947 at Mt. Notre Dame
First Profession: January 28, 1950
Final Profession: August 13, 1955

Education:

Corpus Christi Parish School, Dayton, Ohio 1943
Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio 1947
Bachelor of Science in Education, University of Dayton, Ohio 1965
Master of Arts, Manhattanville College, Purchase, New York, 1967
Masters of Science, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio in 1978
Assignments Included:

1950-1951 St. Joseph School, Hamilton, Ohio
1951-1956 St. Joseph Cathedral School, Columbus, Ohio
1956-1965 St. Helen School, Dayton, Ohio
1965-1970 Sts. Peter and Paul School, Reading Ohio
1970-1975 GED Teacher, Drug Abuse Program, Tinley Park, Illinois
1974-1977 Student part-time, Psychology teacher part-time, Chaminade-Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio
1977-2008 Chaminade-Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio
2009-2013 Volunteer, Moeller High School, Cincinnati, Ohio
2013-2021 Ministry of Prayer and Presence, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio

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