Fr. Charles Bisgrove, SCJ, died April 10, in Milwaukee, from complications of a massive stroke that he suffered on April 7.
Born in Lorain, Ohio, he professed vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart in 1972. Before his ordination to the priesthood in 1990, Fr. Bisgrove, 58, had been a brother with the community for 18 years.
After making his final vows in 1976, Fr. Bisgrove served in formation, and then administrative ministries. In the diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., he was the executive secretary of the Diocesan Office of Worship, as well as executive secretary of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission. He was also Bishop Phillip Straling’s master of ceremonies.
In 1983 he left San Bernardino to become provincial secretary. From 1986 – 1989 Fr. Bisgrove also served as a member of the Provincial Council. It was during his term on the council that he enrolled in Sacred Heart School of Theology and his studies for the priesthood.
Fr. 1990-1992, Fr. Bisgrove served at St Gregory the Great parish in Milwaukee as a deacon, and then as an associate pastor. In 1993 he was named pastor of what was then Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary parish in Franklin, Wis. While he was pastor, Sacred Hearts merged with nearby Holy Assumption parish and became St. Martin of Tours.
Many staff and parishioners at St. Martin of Tours credit Fr. Bisgrove with making the transition from the two parishes to one as “painless as possible,” said parishioner George Braun of the original Sacred Hearts. “That’s not to say it went easy, but Fr. Charlie did a great job in presenting it. I thought that there would be a lot more grief and anger, but he did it properly.”
Fr. Bisgrove later went on to serve as a chaplain with the Franklin Fire and Police Department. In 2001, he became certified to serve as a chaplain with the National Transportation and Safety Board. Just a few weeks later, he was called to duty and assigned to Ground Zero in New York City, following the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. There, he ministered to those who had lost loved ones in the attacks, those displaced by the disaster, and the many fire, police and construction workers at the site.
“It was overwhelming,” said Fr. Bisgrove after completing the assignment. “The first two days in New York I was at the Family Assistance Center. The building was the size of three football fields. Everyone at the center had identification tags and when you saw the ones that said “Family” it became so personal. I saw one woman, she looked to be in her 30s, who was holding the hand of her little girl. I realized that it was probably her husband who was gone.”
Fr. Bisgrove accompanied many families on visits to Ground Zero.
In 2006, Fr. Bisgrove made the first of several visits to India, a land that he quickly fell in love with. He first went to fill in for the novice master for two months while he was on sabbatical. In 2007, he returned to join the team.
His assignment was with the theology students in Eluru. He also did ministry at nearby parishes. One of his favorites was a small parish in Vempadu, a tiny village about 20 minutes from the formation house.
“It was in a very poor area, the people barely had anything,” said Fr. Bisgrove. “But their warmth, their welcoming, their generosity, it was incredible. It is what I miss the most when I think of India. The people in this little village had so little but when you went to their homes they always offered you something –– rice, tea –– always.”
The people of Vempadu speak Telugu. Fr. Bisgrove always went with an SCJ student for translation assistance. “But some communication didn’t need translation,” he said. He wanted to sing with the children “so I taught them Alleluias,” he said. “Then, whenever I came to the village they would run to the vehicle singing. That gave me so much joy; to have made that connection. It was wonderful.”
Fr. Bisgrove had hoped to be in India for two years, but health concerns forced him to return to the States after eight months. He later went back to the district for several short visits.
His time in India gave Fr. Bisgrove a much greater appreciation for the missionaries who devote years, and sometimes their entire lives, to such work.
“It is an incredible gift to be able to do such work,” he said. “You have to experience mission life to truly know what it means.”
Since 2001, Fr. Bisgrove has been a member of the Sacred Heart Monastery community and has served in various capacities in formation and liturgy at Sacred Heart School of Theology.
The wake for Fr. Charlie will be 7 p.m. on April 14 at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis. On April 15 there will be a viewing from 4 – 6:30 p.m. at St. Martin of Tours Church in Franklin, followed by the funeral at 7 p.m. There will be a private internment on Saturday morning.