Madonna House

Combermere Diary (July-August 2014)

by Paulette Curran

Finally, after our long, cold winter and cool spring, it is suddenly early summer, and we are luxuriating in warmth and greenness. Ahhhhh!

This month, instead of trying to mention all the news, I am going to center on a few events.

The first one is the local directors meeting, the 2½ weeks of meetings of the leadership of Madonna House, the leadership both in Combermere and in our mission houses.

To these meetings, from near and far, came the directors of all our houses. They came from as close as less than a kilometer down the road—St. Joseph’s House—and as far as Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

(We have eighteen houses: nine Canadian, five American, and one each from Belgium, Carriacou (a small island which is part of Grenada, West Indies), England, and Russia.)

Much prayer went into these meetings, which began with a two-day retreat. Beginning with reports about their houses, they mainly discussed various subjects, had meetings in smaller groups, rested, prayed, and spent time together and with us.

There was much discussion, but mainly these 2½ weeks were a time of listening to the Spirit. These meetings, as always, were very graced.

In the context of the meetings were a few events: There were talks by Heather King, a lay contemplative and writer from Los Angeles, who had been invited to speak in the area by local friends, and an open house at Vianney House, the priests’ guest house, to show us the renovations. A number of us attended the March for Life in Ottawa.

All of us had a Sunday picnic to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of Madonna House—a good time for us to visit with the directors. And one evening at supper, Emmanuella Kim was given a key, a symbol of authority, and thus was officially appointed director of MH Vancouver.

Finally, I can’t not mention the 90th birthday of one of our early staff, Lupe Zabaco

Another major event, and one which was graced with a spirit of joy, was a 50thanniversary open house for staff and visitors and friends at the gift shop.

We all crowded into the shop, and I do mean crowded. It was almost body to body. (I’ve once or twice seen the shop that crowded with customers.)

But, what décor for a party! We were surrounded by beauty—by antiques, collectables, works of art, crafts, etc., etc. This is, after all, a beautiful gift shop.

Then came a simple but lovely ceremony. Susanne Stubbs, director general of women, talked about Catherine Doherty’s vision of the shop, and how she had passed that on to a young Linda Lambeth, who became the first “shopkeeper for God.”

Susanne said that the shop was a place of the new evangelization before Pope John Paul II started talking about it. For in the shop, we meet people we would never meet any other way.

Then, as a token of our gratitude to God and to Linda, Susanne presented Linda with a bouquet and a corsage.

Lastly, explaining the nature of a jubilee with readings from Leviticus and Isaiah, Fr. David May gave the shop and all of us a special jubilee blessing.

And he prayed that the shop would continue to be an instrument of God’s mercy and compassion.

There was, of course, lots for us to look at in the shop as we milled around, and one special display was the pottery of Raandi King and an accompanying slide show illustrating her various methods of firing.

But the highlight was in the gift shop gallery, where “Radiant Light,” an exhibit of some of the paintings of our own Patrick Stewart, had its unofficial opening. I say, “unofficial” because this one was specifically for Madonna House.

“Radiant Light” is a very apt title for this exhibit, for each painting is illumined by light which, in some mysterious way, brings one to the transcendent. A few of these paintings are set on the shore of the Madawaska River, just outside the main house.

The next day, Saturday, was the official opening of the exhibit. It had been well-advertised, and many people came. A few were moved to tears.

One woman, a former working guest, was thus moved by a painting of someone sitting at the end of the dock—a wonderful and much-used spot to contemplate the river and God.

She said that it was while sitting exactly there a number of years ago that she had had an experience of God that changed her life.

Yes, anniversaries are special, and we had another one that was celebrated very simply: that of the 60th anniversary of promises of three of our staff: Trudi Cortens, Mary Davis, and Laurette Patenaude.

Usually the only anniversary of promises that we officially celebrate is the 50th, but, well, why not just do something to recognize something as beautiful as sixty years of a life dedicated to God.?

Trudi, Mary, and Laurette were seated at a beautifully decorated table and were given champagne with their dinner. Behind them was a banner with the words: “60 years of loyalty, stability and dedication.”

Among other things, Susanne said: “There’s not much one can say in the face of such a witness except to be grateful to God for their faithfulness to him, and his faithfulness to them. I’ve asked them to say what was in their hearts when they made first promises.”

Here is some of what they said.

Laurette: “I am as happy now as I was then. I can’t remember what was in my heart then but I know I was delighted.

“I wanted to know how to love God and found out it was simple: do little things well for the love of God and everything is connected with God. Also you didn’t have to be anyone special to join MH. It’s a wonderful life.”

Mary D: “I don’t quite remember either, but I know the day itself was quite exciting. We were voting yes to this being a life-time vocation. It was also Holy Thursday, and we were getting ready to open the first field house, our first going out, and we were all excited about that.”

Trudi: “I can’t remember, but when I first came, I was not looking for my vocation. I thought it would be marriage.

But I was looking for how to live the Gospel and when I heard Catherine speak, she had a gospel answer for everything, and it was obvious to me that I couldn’t leave.

“It’s been a wonderful 60 years—up and down hill—but they have been wonderful days and I’ve met wonderful people and have wonderful memories.”

What to say after that?

May God give you joy this summer.