Madonna House

Combermere Diary (April 2015)

by Paulette Curran

February has been a quieter month than any for a while. No major feasts or events, and the flu epidemic has been over for a while.

But it’s been cold. Very cold. Temperatures hovering around -30 degrees C (-22 F). We get those temperatures virtually every winter, but usually they last only two or three days. This time we have had them for almost two weeks.

Feels like forever, especially since they have come at the end of our long winter, but the weather reports tell us temperatures will be going up in a couple of days. A-a-a-h!

And it is Lent. But first, let me tell you a bit about our pre-Lent events.

We prepare for Lent spiritually, of course,—with appropriate spiritual readings after lunch and with checking out our individual Lenten practices with our spiritual directors. And extra opportunities for confession were available on Shrove Tuesday.

Then there are the more light-hearted preparations—for it is a good Catholic instinct to have some extra enjoyments before the penitential season. (How else did Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Brazil and other places get started?)

We had pizza for supper the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. This is not exactly a Madonna House tradition, but it is rapidly becoming a custom for, if I am remembering correctly, we have been doing this for the last few years.

This is more of a treat than most of you would suspect, since we usually only have pizza three or four times a year.)

Then there is the real tradition, which Madonna House got from England and Ireland, and has probably been following since the beginning of Madonna House: pancakes for Shrove Tuesday.

But best of all, there was that other annual Madonna House event—a variety show which we call “The Pre-Lent Event.” Since it is composed mainly of humorous skits about our everyday life, it is, needless to say, a show that generates lots of laughter. This year, Paul Mitchell was the MC.

The humorous skits included one by our women guests about a new guest interpreting literally and then doing what she was told to do by the staff. It was a take off on the children’s books, Amelia Bedelia, and Amelia was played by Doreen Dykers, one of the guests’ housemothers.

Fr. Pat McNulty, a born ham, brought the house down at the end of the first half, lip-syncing to one of the Irish tenors’ rendition of one of his (Fr. Pat’s) favorite songs, “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

And on a more serious note, literally, Frs. Brian Christie and Robert Johnson played a Mozart Adagio.

Then suddenly it was Lent. Here at Madonna House, so many little things help to immerse us in the season.

All during Lent our morning prayer begins with an Eastern Rite hymn of repentance beginning with the words, “Open to me the doors of repentance, O Life-Giver …” and ends with another powerful Eastern prayer, “The Prayer of St. Ephraim,” which includes several prostrations.

Our community prayers and Mass are filled with hymns whose melodies and words are hauntingly beautiful, and some Fridays, like so many parishes, we have Stations of the Cross.

In the bakery, Andorra Howard has been baking the koolitch, a Russian Easter bread. If you happen to pass by while that bread is baking, the smell is a wonderful foretaste of Easter.

And we are making pysanky, Ukrainian Easter eggs. One of the staff in the handicraft department gives instructions every Sunday afternoon to new guests and anyone else who needs a refresher. This year, these eggs are a prayer for Ukraine.

Lent is also the time of staff study on Friday afternoons. This year, in accord with the Year of Consecrated Life, the theme is the consecrated life.

We could each pick our topic either for group or individual study, and topics for groups include the pope’s new encyclical on the subject (of course), monasticism interiorized (poustinia of the heart), the history of our apostolate, Desert Fathers (early forms of religious life), coffin making (!) and carving the wooden crosses given to new local directors.

These latter two are for people who wanted to do something hands on. Other individual studies are more or less loosely connected with the theme of the consecrated life.

Mary Davis and Anne Marie Murphy took a short spinning course, and Scott Eagan, Doug Guss, and Fr. Louis Labrecque attended a maple syrup equipment presentation about new tapping standards which help protect the health of the trees.

Fr. David Linder and Shatzi Duffy gave two retreats for women, and Fr. Denis Lemieux gave a talk at a vocations fair in connection with the Year for Consecrated Life and a parish mission.

Mary Lynn traveled to the Arctic, to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, to give a retreat to the missionaries of the MacKenzie-Fort Smith Diocese.

Fr. Paul Burchat gave a retreat to a seminary, and Fr. Bob Wild gave a talk at the Sheptytsky Institute (a center of Eastern Catholic studies) about his newest book,Jousting with the Devil, which is about G.K. Chesterton.

Fr. Robert Johnson is giving a series of classes on Shepherds After My Own Heart, Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on the priesthood to the men in our spiritual formation program. The women guests had an evening of learning about different methods of making greeting cards.

Many of us attended the play, Our Town, by Thornton Wilder, a play presented by Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, our local school of higher learning.

We also saw two movies at home: a documentary on the Berlin Wall and The Butler.


This second one was in connection with Black History Month in the U.S. and the anniversary of Harlem Friendship House, an earlier apostolate of Catherine Doherty’s, which served the African-Americans and promoted integration and racial justice before these were popular causes.

I started this column three days ago, and I am happy to say that since then, our temperatures have been rising—dramatically. This afternoon, it is -6 C (+21.2 F). And though our snow has not yet started to melt, and night temperatures are still low, there is a subtle change in the sunlight that hints of coming spring. A-a-a-a-h!

After our long winter, spring will come. And, infinitely better than that, so will Easter.

May the Risen Lord fill your hearts with his peace and joy.