Madonna House

Combermere Diary (February 2014)

by Paulette Curran

Writing this column for the February issue of our newspaper feels a bit strange. Why? Well, due to the time requirements of layout, printing, mailing etc., I am writing it well ahead of time, about a timeframe whose main events were Advent and Christmas preparations and celebrations. At least this year, Easter is late, and this is not a Lenten issue.

Always, as most of you know, we really celebrate Advent—both the season itself and the feasts within it.

The working guests are given an Advent liturgy class and through it they learn about these feasts and customs and they do most of the presentations. The class was led by Veronica Ferri, David Guzman, and Fr. Brian Christie.

This year, I will just give wee glimpses of a couple of our Advent customs and traditions.

First of all, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th: It began early in the morning with hot chocolate before processing with the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the island chapel where we sang mañanitas to her (a Mexican custom of morning songs honoring someone).

In the afternoon, we had a Mass with hymns in Spanish, followed by our usual Mexican supper. That supper was as an instance of God’s taking care of us in tiny ways. Just as we were wondering if we had enough time to make tortillas, the local food bank phoned to offer us burritos—enough for the whole house.

In the evening, we had a fiesta, a dance MCed by David Guzman, who was a disc jockey on a local radio station before joining MH.

He introduced the recorded music and a few live performances including an elaborate ribbon dance from Mexico, which Margarita Guerrero had taught to the performers for this occasion.

December 14th, the anniversary of Catherine’s death: This year, instead of a day of recollection, we celebrated with a memory night, the kind we have when someone dies, at which some of us who remember her shared some of those memories.

Among other things, a few people told of when they met Catherine, and Toni Austin gave us glimpses of Catherine’s earthiness by showing us the content of the basket she always carried and telling us about them.

Some of the young staff who came after Catherine died shared about ways they got to know her through a dream or her writings, etc.

Peter Anzlin was a working guest when we celebrated what would have been Catherine’s 100th birthday. He asked her for a “word,” and got one. “Stay!” He is still here.

Advent is a special and holy time at Madonna House, and it isn’t Christmas—no Christmas greetings or carols—until the Christmas vigil Mass.

Then we really celebrate the birth of our Savior in every way we can. For Christ has come into the world to save us, and whatever is happening in our individual lives and in the world, that is the overpowering reality.

We celebrate in varying degrees, as probably most people did in earlier times, all twelve days of Christmas. Festive Masses and suppers, lots of singing in different languages, time to visit and play games both indoors and out, time to enjoy each other and the winter wonderland outside our windows.

Factually, the days of the Christmas Season have a special quality, impossible to describe.

But even during such intense liturgical seasons, the rest of our lives go on as well, and there are always non-season-related news as well.

Mary McGoff and Teresa Gehred represented Madonna House at the National Catholic Collegiate Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, a conference attended by many youth and youth leaders.

Mary had a connection: she was a youth minister in Indianapolis, her home town, before joining MH, and she and Teresa connected or re-connected with a lot of people. It gave them hope to see so many young people excited about the Church. (They wrote an article about it which will most likely appear in this newspaper next month.)

At the other end of life’s journey, Fr. Tom Rowland, age 88, was recently diagnosed with incurable acute leukemia. He doesn’t know how much time he has left.

He asked to be the celebrant for the Gaudete Sunday liturgy, which fell very close to his 64th anniversary of priesthood. Not surprisingly, that Mass was quite moving.

He wasn’t up to giving the homily, and he put the homilist, Fr. Denis Lemieux, under obedience not to talk about him. But at the end of Mass he said a few words himself.

He thanked us for the “so many notes and cards” in which we said so many good things about him that we embarrassed him.

He said a few more things and then ended by saying, “This is probably my farewell to most of you; I don’t know if there will be another chance for us all to be together. Thank you so much for your love, your acceptance—and a special thanks to Fr. Bob Pelton, the one who accepted me as a priest at Madonna House.”

Our directors general traveled to England for a visitation of our house there.

The timing was good, for Mark Schlingerman, director general of laymen was able to join the directors of our two European houses—Cheryl Ann Smith of MH England and Joanne Dionne of MH Belgium—in attending Together for Europe, a meeting for the new communities.

Our European houses have been attending these since their inception in 2004, and this was the largest so far with 35 communities represented by 128 people from across Europe. MH is a small community, but it is reasonably well known.

Mark and the staff of MH England also attended the British new communities meeting in London.

Back at home, Villagers Media returned for a few more days more of filming Madonna House. This time, they did quite a few interviews.

Fr. Robert Johnson, Marian Heiberger, and Rae Stanley went to Ottawa to attend the ordination of Fr. John Hodgins, formerly an Anglican priest, who along with his wife Jane has been coming to MH since before they were married over 30 years ago.

The couple became Catholic and at this ordination, he along with four others, was ordained to the Catholic priesthood. He is now the pastor of the new Anglican Ordinariate parish in Toronto, St. Thomas More.

MH Publications has come out with a new book, Mystical Body of Christ by Catherine Doherty. It was edited by Marian Heiberger, and an excerpt can be found in the article, “Me? A Light to the Nations?” on p. 2.

That’s it for the news this month. May God keep each of you in his peace.