Fr. Gerry Wallner on his 90th birthday

Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

Today, as I write this column in mid-November, we are having our first real snowfall of the season.

It’s not a typical one. It’s coming in the form of ice pellets, and freezing rain is predicted for later on. So the farm trip—the daily seven-km. drive bringing the cook and other needed workers not living there—was cancelled.

The land around here is hilly, and though the main buildings of Madonna House are situated on the flat banks of the Madawaska River, the farm is higher up.

Along with more gentle gradations, there is one steep hill between us, a hill which is dangerous and sometimes impossible in icy weather. So the farmers will have to cook for themselves today.

It’s been a busy time for the men, as the building, repairing, renovating, and converting of certain parts of buildings for other uses, are continuing. In connection with these physical changes, it’s been busy for some of the women as well, as they have the follow-up work of cleaning and setting up the new rooms.

The usual autumn putting away of things from the summer also continues: at Cana Colony, the gift shop, and the museum; and the cleaning of tools, raking of leaves, etc., etc., etc..

And now some of the winter work has begun, such as the bush or lumberjack work. We own some woodland, and we need lots of wood for cooking, fuel, and construction.

This year there is the added work of finishing the felling sawing, and chopping of the trees and branches that were damaged by the heavy wet snow that fell late last spring.

Then there is all the getting-ready-for-winter work—such as putting up storm windows and putting snow tires on cars.

On October 31st, we celebrated not Halloween, but All Hallows Eve. Well, actually, it was some of the local families who celebrated it, and included us for part of their celebration. They do this every year.

Instead of wearing the usual Halloween costumes, their children dressed as saints, and one of their stops was our dining room where they paraded around, told us about their saint, and had us guess who they were.

How blessed these children are to have this celebration, this time of fun, which comes so deeply out of the faith they are being raised in! This is Catholic culture.

Then the next day, All Saints Day, we had the chance to dress in costumes, too. As with all things optional, some did and some didn’t.

This year, since it is the 150th anniversary of Canada as a nation, we centered on Canadian saints, blessed, venerables, servants of God (like Catherine Doherty), and just plain holy Canadians. And if you wanted to dress as a non-Canadian saint? Well, that was all right, too.

Julie and Julie were the MCs—Julie Coxe and Julie Lynch.

Our “saints,” too, talked about “themselves,” and those chosen included a good number of modern holy lay people.

Georges Vanier (governor-general of Canada from 1959 to 1967) and his wife Pauline, portrayed by Matthieu Dacquay and Meaghan Boyd, both in formal dress, were an elegant example of the fact that even the wealthy and prominent can become holy. (They were the parents of Jean Vanier.)

Then it was the turn of those on their way to heaven—the souls in Purgatory—to be remembered.

On their feastday, November 2nd, we went to the two cemeteries where our own dead our buried and prayed the rosary for them and all the dead. The people of the main house went to the parish cemetery, and those at St. Mary’s went to our own.

Meanwhile, some of us have done a bit of travelling.

Our directors went to Belgium on visitation to our house there.

Fr. Tom Zoeller was the priest on a Project Rachel retreat, a retreat for post-abortive women. This is a weekend of support by a team, some of whom have also had abortions, a weekend of healing, forgiveness, and mercy for women who are facing their abortion more deeply.

Mary Catherine Rowland and Mary Beth Mitchell gave a talk at the nearby Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College about parish life and liturgy before Vatican II and their experience of it.

Two other events took place in Ottawa. Shatzi Duffy of MH Ottawa, Fr. Michael Weitl, and Paul Moore attended the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Melkite Catholic Church in Canada. Paul Moore and Nancy Topping attended the Action Life Conference on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (which are now legal in Canada).

Meanwhile, back at home, high school students from the Boundless Program spent a day at Madonna House.

The Small Shop has had its yearly transformation into a Christmas Shop, and the staff there tell us it’s been very busy. One day, they had non-stop customers.

In connection with the 150th anniversary of Canada, we also watched some movies about Canadian history—including one about the saints and blesseds who were so much a part of the founding of Canada.

We are enjoying a new books display. Before putting newly accessed books on the shelves, our library saves them for occasional book displays, which are left up for up to a month.

During this time, we can enjoy these books and sign up for the ones we are interested in borrowing after the display comes down. (For the more popular books, that means adding your name to a list, and it is usually a while before you get it.)

These books reflect a wide variety of subjects including spiritual reading, history, fiction, biography, analyses of aspects of the current post-modern world, crafts, poetry, nature, theology, books about various countries and cultures at different times of history, etc., etc., etc.

Our foundress Catherine Doherty always said that there is nothing foreign to the apostolate except sin, and she herself sorted the books that came in donations, saved out some for our library, and strongly encouraged us to read.

The rest of our life, as well as our books, has much variety. Teresa Reilander gave a class on cross-stitching, and Fr. Wild gave two talks.

One talk was about Catherine Doherty in the context of the Russian Renaissance, the flowering of Russian theology and philosophy from 1880 until 1950. (Almost all of the thinkers were living outside Russia at the time.)

The second was about Vladimir Solovyov—perhaps the greatest of these philosophers/theologians of that renaissance—a thinker who was a major influence on Catherine Doherty.

We don’t usually make a big thing out of birthdays, but every once in a while we do. One such was the 90th birthday of Fr. Gerry (Gerhard) Wallner.

He ended up having three celebrations and sharing with those who attended, a very special chocolate cake sent to him by his family in Vienna, Austria. Fr. Gerry said it was the best birthday he ever had.

May this new year be for each of you a time of grace and blessing.