Madonna House

Combermere Diary (November 2014)

by Paulette Curran

Have you ever turned the crank to make ice cream? Have you ever carded or felted wool? Have you ever made butter? Have you ever helped make rope by hand? Have you ever tried wood-carving?

You could have done all these things at our Heritage Fest held over Labor Day weekend. Yes, we had Heritage Fest again this year. In fact, it is becoming a yearly tradition.

I thought of our foundress Catherine a lot that weekend. She came to this area at a time when there wasn’t much appreciation of antiques and the pioneering past.

She collected old things to preserve them both for the staff and visitors of Madonna House and for the children and grandchildren of the local people, because she knew how important it is for us to touch the past.

And she built the handicraft center because she knew that creativity, too, is a human need. Heritage Fest is a celebration and experience of all these things.

The crafts exhibited included card-making, weaving, spinning, wood-carving, felting, painting, candle-making, and knitting.

One addition this year was rope-making. Michael Amaral is learning as he goes and is using scraps such as used bailing twine.

There was also a display about bees and honey, and you could taste our newly extracted honey. You could see every step of the wool process: from fleece to knitted or woven fabric, and take part in some of it.

You could watch pottery being made on the wheel, and if you happened to come at just the right time, you could see the just-fired pots coming out of a barrel kiln. You could watch a live puppet show.

Like at a fair, the children were given balloon animals and hats, and they could, if they wished, stand in line to have their faces painted. Live music was played for part of the time in the yard, and from time to time, a few people spontaneously danced to it.

The museum, second-hand book shop, and “small shop” were open as was the pioneer museum. A favorite attraction in the museum, as always, was the player piano.

But something else exciting happened there as well. Mary Davis was spinning wool, and at one point, an elderly woman visitor said she used to spin. Mary invited her to do it, and she did so quite expertly. You’d never dream she hadn’t done it since she left Poland as a young adult.

Heritage Fest was a great outing for families, and those who came included vacationers and local people ranging in age from infants to the elderly, and not surprisingly, there were lots and lots of children.

It was a great time for visiting with old friends and meeting new ones—and for introducing people to Madonna House.

In autumn we experience what our forebears experienced in other ways as well. For how many people in these modern times harvest and put up food for the winter? For most of our working guests, it is at Madonna House where they do these things for the first time.

And this year, the staff who don’t work at the farm were more involved than usual, for the number of working guests was low, and so it was “whoever can possibly come” for more of the work than usual.

But some work bees are always “all hands on deck”—such as the chicken bee and the potato bee.

I myself always feel the providence of God especially at the potato bee, for potatoes are such a staple. And what a joy to sift through the earth and uncover those potatoes “hidden in the field.”

In all the harvest and food processing we touch both the fruit of the work of our hands (well, more specifically, the farmers’ hands) and God’s care for us. Our harvest, along with other harvested food that generous people gave us, will feed us all winter.

Another thing that brought us joy, as it always does in September, was welcoming the new applicants, young men and women who are beginning formation for membership in our community.

This year, there are four (listed in “Milestones”) and the ceremony is beautiful but oh-so-simple.

Then they were immediately plunged into their new life: reading the history of our apostolate and just four days after their entry into applicancy, they had an afternoon of recollection. They are now attending classes and learning the spirit of our apostolate as well as practical skills as they work.

The applicants have also done a bit of traveling. The second-years (before the new ones joined them) went to Quebec to touch the holy beginnings of Canada and to walk through the holy door which was given to Quebec to commemorate the 450thanniversary of the diocese of Quebec.

We saw a powerful film which is being brought from place to place about the mental breakdown and subsequent conversion and transformation of William (Bill) Kurelek, a well-known Canadian artist.

The film was brought to us by Stephen (Bill’s son) and Nick Young, (one of the three film-makers), and it was made more alive by Stephen’s introduction and by the fact that the older ones among us remember Bill.

He was a friend of Madonna House and had a house in the area until his death in 1977. In fact, he had a life-changing experience in our first poustinia building.

(He did a painting he called Hope of the World of that poustinia with Madonna House in the background. )

The student proctors (house parents) and their assistants from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy (the local school of higher learning,) came for a day of training.

Three of our priests assisted at the training session for NET, an organization of young people who travel across Canada proclaiming the Gospel in various ways to young people.

This past week was a challenging one: the big walk-in freezer in the main house stopped working when the compressor gave out, necessitating moving the food to other freezers on the compound and to a restaurant in Barry’s Bay, a nearby town—all in the pouring rain.

Rain was problematic in another way, too. It necessitated rescheduling the harvesting of both green beans and potatoes, which in turn required other rescheduling. Then there were problems with the water systems in two of our buildings; they were fixed but it took time.

All of Catherine’s books except for Dearly Beloved, are now available as e-books.

Linda Owen and Deirdre Burch attended a two-day painting workshop with a local artist. Marysia Kowalchyk has finished a large icon of the Mother of God commissioned by the University of Dayton.

Fr. Bob Wild has published a new book: Jousting with the Devil: Chesterton’s Battle with the Father of Lies. He also gave a talk on Chesterton at the St John Fisher College in Rochester, New York.

Two of our three directors’ general and a few staff joined MH Toronto in a celebration of anniversaries in promises of two of their staff: the 60th anniversary of Trudi Cortens (director of MH Toronto) and the 50th of Marie Javora.

It has just become a bit harder to visit us. The Toronto and Ottawa buses are now only coming twice a week instead of three times.

And here’s just the beginning of another news item. This evening, the meetings of our associate priests and deacons begin. We’ll tell you about that next time.

As winter gets ready to settle in, at least for those of us in temperate climates, I pray that God keep your good hearts in his peace.