Madonna House

Combermere Diary (March 2014)

by Paulette Curran

In our part of the world, it isn’t really spring in March. We are, however, cheered at that time by many small signs that it is finally on its way.

Days are longer and the quality of light changes. And, more obviously, the snow begins its gradual meltdown. It is also the time when the sap runs, and the sugar bush crew collects it from the sugar maple trees and boils it down into delicious maple syrup.

But as I write this, March is still a month away, and we are still in the midst of a winter in which temperatures as low as -30 C (-22 F) have not been unusual. It has also been a winter with lots of snow.

The snow is beautiful, of course, but it keeps the men busy removing it from roads, paths, and roofs.

On the positive side, this was a great year for skiing and ice skating. Darrin Prowse, with some help from others, kept the rink in good shape in his spare time, and there was lots of ice skating and many games of ice hockey. One evening, we had a family skating party, complete with hot chocolate, games, and a fire on the “observation deck.”

Barring the unexpected, January is a relatively quiet time in Madonna House, and this year nothing unexpected happened. After Christmas some of the longterm working guests left, and though more have come since, numbers of visitors are down—as is usual for this time of year.

Moreover, as often happens in January, the flu “went around.” Not everyone “went down” but enough of us did to call it an epidemic. Activities were kept at a minimum, and those of us still standing had to cover for those who were not—at least in the essential jobs, such as cooking and laundry.

One Sunday at St. Mary’s, there was nobody to take on supper. But what one (well, actually two is the usual) –what two people can’t do, several can. The meal and the other essential duties of the day were covered by several people, each one making one dish or answering the phone for an hour.

But flu or no flu, life went on. During the Christmas Season, six of us, including the three second-year applicants, attended the CCO Rise-Up in Ottawa.

CCO (Catholic Christian Outreach) is a Canadian university movement dedicated to evangelization and challenging students to live the fullness of the Catholic faith. The Rise-Up is a nationwide conference they put on every year for young adults during the Christmas break.

One of our staff, Renée Sylvain, gave a talk at the conference. At the beginning of her talk, the microphone wasn’t working, so Renée led the group in a prayer to solve the problem. As they finished praying, the mike began working!

Renée was also called up at the end of the conference by André Regnier, the founder of CCO, to answer some questions.

Fr. Denis Lemieux and Fr. Tom Zoeller also went out—to the New York City area.

Fr. Denis gave a retreat to the first and second-year theology students at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, Long Island, and at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York.

These two seminaries have recently merged, and now form the priests for two dioceses, Brooklyn and Rockville Center (Long Island), and the archdiocese of New York.

Fr. Tom Zoeller gave a retreat in the New York City area for priests on administrative leave.

Fr. Bob Wild gave a talk about G.K. Chesterton at the Sheptytsky Institute in Ottawa, a center for Eastern Catholic Studies. Unfortunately, that night turned out to be the coldest this winter, and not surprisingly, that affected the attendance.

Fr. Tom Zoeller and Tom White gave the annual diocesan men’s retreat. Tom said that he had never met such “a fine group of solid Catholic men.”

Fr. Blair Bernard and Mary Lynn Murray gave the equivalent women’s retreat. The theme for the women’s retreat was: “Nazareth Spirituality: Embracing the Ordinary in Each Moment.”

Meanwhile, back home, both working guests and applicants are continuing their classes. The guests are currently studying the catechism.

The applicants, who have a number of classes each week, are having a variation on one of their weekly events: the after-Friday-lunch witness talks. These have usually been given by the staff, but this year, the applicants themselves and their directors of training are telling their conversion/vocations stories. One per week.

We staff have fewer classes but soon we, too, will be studying, for it will be time for our annual during-Lent Friday afternoon study groups. Details next month.

Two of our priests and Helen Porthouse, who had worked with him at our Cana Colony, attended the funeral of David Cavalier. Helen said that the church was packed and the outpouring of love was “astounding.”

As always in January, we took part in the Church-wide Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity—with our prayer, spiritual reading, and displays.

This year Canada was chosen to select the theme of the week and to develop the associated prayer materials. This was done by a group of people drawn from across Canada under the leadership of our associate Bishop Don Bolen of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The theme chosen was, “Can Christ Be Divided?” (I Cor 1:13)

Our display for the occasion included the history of the week and our connection with it through Catherine’s friendship with its originators at Graymoor, Fr. Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana; material on the theme; questions for discussion each day; and suggestions for building trusting friendships. This latter included a basket with quotes about trust from Catherine on slips of paper. The quotes were available to take.

One final note: on February 3rd, as we have been doing every year for several years now, we had a day of recollection marking the Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life.

A blessed and grace-filled Lent to each of you.