Madonna House

Combermere Diary (May-June 2015)

by Paulette Curran

I am writing this column the Saturday after Easter, and what a full time these last two weeks have been! On the practical level, Holy Week, is of course, very, very busy, and on the spiritual level, who could ever plumb its depths?

And this year, for us, this time included both a baptism and a funeral. Yes, this year for us, rebirth and death were palpably contained in the death and resurrection of Christ.

As we had had an Advent dying and a Christmas death with Fr. Duffy, so we had a Lenten dying and close-to-Holy-Week death with Mamie Legris. Her dying was very similar to his—very slow and gradual and deeply, deeply peaceful.

Mamie’s was a long, full life; she died four days short of her 99th birthday. She was in the first “class,” that is the first group, to make Promises in Madonna House, and she was part of the early leadership. Moreover, she’s the staff worker who, so far, has lived the longest.

Mamie died on Friday, March 27th, two days before Palm Sunday. She had told us that she did not want lots of people surrounding her when her last days came, something that we have done with a number of our dying.

But there were a few people with her when she died, and when we got word of her death, many hurried to her side. People said good-bye and prayed and sang and had refreshments and told stories about her until the funeral directors arrived.

We accompanied her to the hearse singing Christos Aneste: “Christ is Risen” in Greek. I suspect the funeral directors were rather surprised.

The funeral would not be until Easter Tuesday.

Meanwhile, one of our guests, Heather Bloch, was getting closer to her baptism, and we with her. Charmaine Treige was her catechist and Eliana Ribeiro das Chagas, her godmother.

We had prayed for her “and all catechumens” during the intentions at just about every Mass. And some of the women guests and staff were busily knitting squares for a prayer shawl as a gift for her.

To say the obvious, Holy Week was filled with preparations—for a funeral, a baptism, and the liturgies and customs of each day of the Triduum.

The Easter Vigil Mass was a burst of joy. Heather was radiant in a beautiful white dress, and all was somehow enhanced by the presence of her parents, who were so supportive of her and so open to the powerful Holy Week and Easter liturgies and to Madonna House.

On Easter Sunday, Fr. Zach Romanowsky led some of the younger and more energetic among us on a hike to a nearby “mountain” to see the sunrise. Others went to a church in a nearby town and attended an Extraordinary Form Latin Mass said by our own Fr. Robert Johnson.

Meanwhile we relaxed in a variety of ways. Visits to the sugar bush and to the farm to see the new lambs were among the popular activities.

At supper, Paul Pesek and Kevin Adriano, the two members of the spiritual formation program for those discerning priestly vocations, gave their farewell speeches telling about the graces they received while at Madonna House.

And Heather was presented with the beautiful soft white prayer shawl that had so lovingly been made for her by so many of the women.

Then on Monday, we were into funeral mode. In the afternoon, we had the reception of the body, and everybody who possibly could, helped cut and put the food for the funeral reception on trays.

We had a wake and in the evening, a wake service. Friends and neighbors joined us as well as members of Mamie’s family. (Mamie was a local woman and much of her family lives relatively nearby.)

The funeral took place on Easter Tuesday. A fire had been kept going all through the night to thaw out the earth and in the morning several of the men staff dug the grave.

There was an atmosphere of subdued joy throughout the funeral Mass, the burial, and the reception. We had lost someone we loved and our original pioneer. But she had poured out her life in love and service, and it was hard to imagine that she was now anywhere but in heaven.

In the evening, we had our customary Memories Night, when we share stories about the deceased.

And now the Easter Season continues as it will for fifty days until Pentecost—fifty days in which to glory in and celebrate the incredible, awesome reality that the Son of God died and rose for our salvation.

There were, of course, other events during the time-frame that this column covers this month. Here are some of them.

At the invitation of their bishop, Mary Lynn Murray gave a two-day retreat to the diocesan staff of the Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese of the Northwest Territories.

This is a vast land in the far North: 30,000 Catholics in 1.5 million square kilometers of barren wilderness. Needless to say, it is a place of many challenges, and it was all quite an experience for Mary Lynn.

Then there was the death and funeral of our long-time friend and benefactor, Frank Chauvin, which a few of us, including the staff at MH Windsor, attended in Windsor, Ontario.

For many years, he collected donations for us and drove them up in a truck. In fact, Madonna House was only one of a number of charities he took on and for which he received numerous awards, including the Order of Canada. Among these charities was an orphanage for girls in Haiti, which he helped found and run.

Our directors general made a visitation to our three eastern American houses: in Washington, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia.

Veronica Ferri gave a talk on vocational discernment, including her own story, to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy.

Among the retreats given during this time was one by Fr Paul Burchat to a group in Calgary, Alberta, called “The God Squad.” It was started a number of years ago by four police officers who felt a need to pray for officers and their families.

It’s been an unusually cold and late spring. It is still quite cool, and it is still half-heartedly snowing every so often—that April snow that melts so quickly.

The sugar bush is in full swing, though we are tapping fewer trees than we have in recent years. Plus it is a good year for new lambs. At last count, we had 34, and there are still a few more due.

Well, that’s the news for this month. May and June are such wonderful months. May God give you joy and beauty in them.