Susanna, Sandra and Genevieve on thier 50th Anniversary of Promises

Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

Mid-August, when I am writing this column, is a very busy time in Combermere, but work, however pressing, is not the most important thing in our lives. And the Church, in giving us major feasts throughout the year, helps us to see this and live it.

The big summer feast is, of course, August 15th, the Assumption of Our Lady. So, right in the middle of the harvest and food processing and the busy season for the shops, we take time for the feast—and not just to celebrate it.

Celebrating requires preparation. So we cook, decorate, practice music, mow the lawns, etc., etc., etc. Then we celebrate the feast in the beautiful ways that our foundress Catherine Doherty taught us.

Here at Madonna House, the Assumption is a feast that has grown over the years to encompass other celebrations. Archbishop Raya made it the day to celebrate women, and two or three of our priests were ordained on that day.

Some things have changed, too. August 15th used to be one of the days that our staff made promises; now it is the day we celebrate promise anniversaries, regardless of which day of the year the people actually become members of the community.

We could also (though we don’t) call August 15th “the feast of flowers.” All summer, besides growing the fruit and vegetables we need, we grow flowers.

Well, actually of course, it’s God who grows them, but we do the planting, weeding, and watering (the latter not this year!), and all summer the flowers are around for us to enjoy—mostly, though not entirely, in the gardens.

Then, for August 15th, to celebrate our Mother, we sacrifice the gardens, picking many of the flowers and putting them in the dining rooms and chapels.

In order to do this, we have a special work bee the day before to arrange the flowers in hanging baskets and vases.

Then on the vigil of the feast, we pour out our hearts in love for our Mother. Yes, the evening before, we sing the Eastern Rite prayer service to the Mother of God, the Acathist.

On the day itself, in our best finery, we have a Mass during which we continue to pour out our love for our Mother.

Somehow this year, the day seemed extra-special. Several people remarked on this. It was nothing extra that we did; God just seems to do this sometimes.

It did, however,  seem that the anniversary celebration was a big part of it, even though this year we celebrated more simply than usual.

Besides praying at Mass for those celebrating 25, 50, 60 years as members of Madonna House and putting up displays containing their photos, we simply had an afternoon drop-in tea and “a few words” at our festive meals by people celebrating 50 and 60 years.

No one said a lot; the “few words” really were a few words, and the following paraphrased excerpts contain even fewer.

Sandra Brewer said that she has learned that living in the mercy of God is the key to everything and that God takes all our stumblings, mistakes, and stupidities and makes them into something beautiful that he can use.

Genevieve Enoe told about her attraction to the love and spirituality of the ladies who opened a Madonna House on her native island of Carriacou in the West Indies when she was sixteen years old. Our first West Indian vocation, Genevieve told how, like the merchant in the gospel story, she “sold” all she had to “buy” the pearl of great price.

Susanne Stubbs (our former director general of women) told about arriving in Combermere at age 25 in Bermuda shorts and a Buick convertible, a successful “good Catholic woman” whose life was all planned out—until she had been in Madonna House three weeks. Then God turned her life upside down.

Susanne concluded with the words of St. Paul in Philippians 3:7-14. I consider everything as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things….. (8)

What stood out in all their words and exuded from their very presence was a deep, deep sense of gratitude, especially to God. Moreover, their perseverance radiated.

Then it was August 16th, and it was back to the stuff of ordinary life—the “stuff” that makes up their lives and the lives of all of us in Madonna House.

August 15th may seem early to those of you who live in warmer climates, but after that date, you can begin to sense things moving toward autumn.

The harvest, which began before this, gathers momentum, and since we preserve the food we grow, food processing too enters into a busier time.

How is our harvest at the end of this cool, rainy summer? Well, some crops liked all that rain and some, like us, “suffered” from heat and sunshine deprivation.

These were the main variables, though there were others as well. We don’t know all the results yet, so, for now, suffice it to say that apples, corn, and cucumbers did poorly, but raspberries flourished and grew into a bumper crop. Blueberries did very well, too.

But let’s backtrack a little. The summer program was over on August 5th and Cana colony a week later.

The summer program included a few more events since our last column. Our diocesan bishop came and gave one of the talks, and eight young people from the diocese came along to hear it and to have a tour of Madonna House.

Speaking of talks, I don’t remember saying much about the them in our summer program, but one feature is that, except for a weekly evening lecture by one of our priests, they are given by lay members who volunteer to do so.

This is always a challenge for us, for, with a few exceptions, we rarely give talks. Probably the most popular ones for the young people they are geared to are the witness talks.

Of course, activities connected with the summer program continued. One delightful and whimsical feature of a picnic was—would you believe?—a live chess game. “Live” as in the fact that the pieces were people!

It was Augustine Tardiff’s idea, and various people helped him execute it—costuming the “pieces” and marking off and spreading hay on alternate squares. Neil Patterson and Veronica Ferri played the game, and Neil was the winner.

Andorra Howard led an evening of music around a bonfire, and we discovered that we are not the only ones who enjoy our outdoor music. An elderly couple who live across the river asked when we would be playing music, for they like to sit on their dock and listen to it.

What else has been happening? Well, one fairly big thing is that St. Mary’s has started the renovation work of the re-purposing of some of its building in order to provide a sort of assisted-living space for members who need it. We’ll be telling you more about this process as we go along.

Seventeen proctors and resident assistants (kind of house parents in the dorms) from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College came for two days as part of their two-week training.

Did we mention that Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, our local “academy” or “school of higher learning”—we were calling it that for lack of a better word—has received accreditation as a college! Needless to say, we rejoice with them.

Patrick Stewart had an art show of his new abstract paintings at the Bancroft Art Gallery. These paintings were beautifully displayed, and a number of staff attended the opening. Patrick’s reflection to the gathered crowd was a beautiful witness of how, through the grace of God, light breaks into our darkness. Peter Gravelle had four pieces of his silver chase and repoussé work displayed there as well.

Last but not least, (well, maybe it is least) is Darren Prowse’s fish story, a true one. Darrin loves to fish, but those he catches are usually small. So it was quite a thing to see him with a 7-pound catfish. And he caught it and brought it in on a 6-lb. line!

Well, these are some of the highlights of our recent time. Blessed, grace-filled October to each of you.