Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran


This year, after a mild winter, we have been having an unusually cold spring. Here it is April 26th, and most mornings, though it warms up later, we are still awakening to frost. The grass just turned green a few days ago, and the final little pile of snow just melted in the apple orchard.

Why am I mentioning the apple orchard? Well, that’s the place Janine Gobeil watches to determine the winner of our annual when-will-the-snow-go contest. This year, the winner was one of our working guests, Seok Gin, with her guess of April 20th at 3 p.m.

So the snow is finally gone? Well, not quite. There are still patches of it here and there and more than that in the shaded parts of the bush.

On the other hand, for us winter-weary folk, signs of spring abound. The birds have arrived with their songs, the crocuses have bloomed, and there are days when, well, weather doesn’t get any better.

One major event of this time-span was Lupe’s funeral. She died very slowly at the end, and we had thought that perhaps she would die during Holy Week. But no, in accordance with her joyful spirit, she waited until the beginning of Eastertime. One person remarked that she had never seen a more peaceful death.

The funeral, too, was peaceful and lovely, a typical Madonna House funeral—with the added detail of some Spanish hymns. “Rescusito” obviously, fitted both Lupe and the season.

Some of you may remember us telling you about the retreat at MH Belgium in 2013 for a group of Russians. Well, MH Washington recently had something similar.

This time the “retreat” (well, sort of retreat) was given to two couples who are friends of our house in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

Though these couples had really wanted to visit Combermere, they were unable to get visas for Canada.

Fortunately, they had visas for the U.S. So, to their amazement and supreme gratitude, it was organized that our two Fr. Davids, Fr. May (our current director general of priests) and Fr. Linder, (our upcoming director general of priests and the spiritual director of some of the Russians), go to MH Washington to help give them a Madonna House experience there.

One of those who came, Polina, is a translator and so the couples were able to have talks on MH spirituality, an experience of living the MH life, spiritual direction, time for sharing with the MH staff at meals and otherwise, and some extras which I will tell you about a bit later.

Both couples are involved in Natural Family Planning, which is just beginning in Siberia. So two American couples who are also involved in the movement, were invited to come for a morning.

The Russians had lots of questions, and it was good for these beginners to hear from couples who have wrestled and prayed with Natural Family Planning for years. They also had, we were told, a wonderful exchange about the struggles and joys of trying to live out the teachings of the Church as families.

Last but not least, the visitors saw some of sights of Washington, including the National Gallery of Art and the Air and Space Museum.

Another “extra”: Fr. David May is from Maryland, not far from Washington. So he and Fr. David Linder took our friends to visit Maryland, on the Eastern Shore, where, among other things, they ate hot dogs and French fries and some of Fr. David’s mother’s homemade cookies.

The couples had sacrificed so much to come, and God is never outdone in generosity. There were many graces, our priests told us, and the whole event was marked with joy and playfulness.

One of the Russian men, a new convert, whose experience of Church in Russia has been a very serious one, said that he had now learned that the Church can be filled with joy.

Another event that occurred away from Combermere, this time in nearby Ottawa, was the New Evangelization Summit, which six of our staff attended, two of them to take care of a book table.

As always when we attend such things, the focus is on connecting with people. Here’s just one example of an exchange. Fr. Zach Romanowsky met his former bishop, Archbishop Prendergast, who asked him “Are you keeping the faith?” When Fr. Zach said, “Yes,” the archbishop responded “Don’t! Give it away!’

One major project going on in Combermere is the renovation of the women guests’ dorm, St. Germaine’s. Mainly it is being done in order to bring the building up to current building codes, but it is also an opportunity to add insulation in order to save on fuel. Patrick McConville is heading the project.

With this renovation as in everything at Madonna House, God provides what we need, often “pressed down and overflowing.”

Shortly after the men began the renovation, in walked a new working guest, Andrew Peloso, a rough carpenter, who has the skills and experience needed to help with the renovation.

And what about the women guests who usually live at St. Germaine’s? Did they all have to leave? No. The renovations are just on the main floor, and they are living in the basement. But their numbers, of course, have had to be limited.

Most of our current guests, of necessity fewer than usual, have been with us for a while, and it is lovely to see the love and friendship among them.

What else is happening at the home front? Well, this week, the directors of our houses are beginning to trickle in for their annual meetings, which will soon start with a retreat.

We have been preparing for the meetings for a while now—including having a spring cleaning bee of the house where the women directors will stay. And, of course, we have been praying for them.

Fr. Denis Lemieux gave a five-day course on Worship and Sacraments at the St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission in Bruno, Saskatchewan, and Kathy McVady gave a talk to around fifty women from the local chapters of the CWL (Catholic Women’s League).

Fr. Bob Wild, the postulator for Catherine’s Cause, gave a presentation in Ottawa, “A Woman in Love with God: Catherine Doherty’s cause for canonization. Where is it now? How can we help?” It was organized by a group called, the Friends of Madonna House, composed mainly of former working guests living in Ottawa.

Fr. Ron Cafeo, Marysia Kowalchyk and Veronica Dudych went to a Byzantine monastery of the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church in Wisconsin, and celebrated Holy Week and Easter with them. (The monastery follows the Julian calendar and so Easter was in late April.)

Two seminarians came here for their pre-ordination retreats.

Other visitors included Deacon Roumen Kirinkov, an Orthodox Bulgarian iconographer and a friend of Marysia Kowalchyk. He came to give her and a couple of others teaching about iconography, and while here, he also gave the house a slide-talk about Mt. Athos, where he spent some time.

I guess that’s it for the news this time. May God keep each of your hearts in his peace, and may he give you joy in the beauty he lavishes on the earth in this beautiful season.