Madonna House

Combermere Diary (October 2014)

by Paulette Curran

The feast of the Assumption, August 15th, is our summer feast that we celebrate with joy and lavishness. It’s a day we, her children, praise and celebrate our Mother with flowers, song, and beautiful liturgies. This year, these included the Acathist, a beautiful Eastern Rite prayer to Our Lady and a Byzantine liturgy.

Among the numerous things Madonna House celebrates on this day are the silver and golden anniversaries of our members.

We celebrate these very simply, but one way is an evening get-together in which those celebrating fiftieth anniversaries share about their lives. This year, instead of telling about everything we celebrate and do on this day, we are going to share that beautiful evening with you. (See the article, “Fifty Years in Madonna House”.)

August 15th is also a kind of a turning point in summer. By August 15th, the summer programs have ended, the harvesting and food processing are accelerating, and the weather is getting cooler. Even the quality of light slowly, almost imperceptibly, begins to change.

The young summer guests brought lots of life, energy, and enthusiasm. Their questions, their insights, the graces they tell us God gave them, their delight in various aspects of our life were wonderful to behold and brought us joy.

And their discovery of what is here. One young man who had only recently arrived told me just yesterday that every day so far he has done more than one thing he has never done before—including shoveling horse manure!

As I said last month, the “program” is mainly living our life—with some activities and talks added.

Those activities included: hikes, a day of recollection, a pilgrimage and healing Mass at the Shrine of St. Anne in Cormac, a picnic, a music night, and an introduction to and attendance at an Eastern Rite liturgy.

And there were the weekly “Saturday Evening Seminars,” at which our three directors general answered questions from the guests. These questions—about the Catholic faith, Madonna House, and how to live the Gospel in everyday life ranged far and wide. They included the following:

If Jesus experienced everything we do, did he experience doubt? How do you get to know yourself and at the same time avoid getting self-absorbed and introspective? How do you encounter Christ on a deeper level? How do you fight against despair? How do you forgive yourself?

If I get married, how do I live simply and share what I have with the poor and still be able to give my children enriching experiences like travel and music lessons? Why did God create mosquitoes?

But probably the topic about which the most questions were asked was discernment. In different ways, a number of people asked, “How do I know my vocation?”

Cana Colony, our week-long retreat-vacation for families, also had a good summer. One feature this summer was the fact that some of the families came not only from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds but also from a variety of rites: Ukrainian, Syrian, Greek, and Serbian.

Another was second generation families. Some of those attending were “Cana kids” who are now bringing their own spouses and children to experience what they did.

The Cana way of providing spiritual nourishment for families in a vacation setting has inspired the founding of other similar “programs” (for want of a better word) by families who have been part of Cana—one in New York State and one in the Province of Quebec.

Our MH priests take turns being on the team at each of these, just as they do at our Cana Colony.

Another summer event was the 25th anniversary of priesthood of Fr. Gerhard (Gerry) Wallner, which was celebrated at St. Mary’s with a special Mass and supper. Fr. Gerry is from Vienna, Austria, and the meal was Austrian, featuring his favorite food, garlic bratwurst, which Peter Gravelle barbequed.

There were a number of lovely touches which included a singing toast by German-Canadian Ralph Edelbrock in an Alpine costume.

Fr. Gerry’s was a late vocation; he became a priest (and subsequently joined Madonna House) only after years of living in South Africa, New York, and Alaska and working in mining and nursing.

“The greatest miracle in my life,” he told us, “was my ordination.”

Lest we forget we live “in the bush” (forest), the wildlife, which seems to be superabundant this year, keeps reminding us, especially those at St. Mary’s.

If it’s not the deer going after the vegetable gardens (in spite of our “scarecrows,” they got a lot of our green beans), it’s the “suicidal” squirrels electrocuting themselves on the power lines and knocking them out.

St. Mary’s has had six power outages, two of them on the same day. Men from the hydro (electric company) insulated the affected line with tape, and that seems to have solved the problem.

Fr. Denis Lemieux gave a talk at a weekend conference for Catholic teachers at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, the local school of higher learning.

At the same conference, Anne Marie Murphy did a presentation on the Eucharist from the Montessori Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Here at MH, Cathy Mitchell gave a talk about her visit to the Holy Land visiting friends from when we had a house among the Palestinian Christians in Haifa. She spoke about the deep connection between us, which forty years later is still very much alive.

Following the departure of Madonna House, these are some of the things that happened: Kamil Shehade opened the House of Grace, a halfway house for prisoners, and a prayer group was formed, one fruit of which was a house of prayer, which Soad Haddad opened.

It was also wonderful to hear once more that, amid all the hatred and violence taking place in that land, individual Jews and Arabs have formed deep friendships and support one another when crises happen.

Among our many visitors, I will just mention one: Sue Woods and her daughter, Beth, who are from Australia. Sue was a working guest here in 1974, and this was her 40th anniversary pilgrimage back.

Catherine was a great inspiration to her, and with her husband, she founded a house of prayer and a retreat center in Australia.

With all our Korean staff and guests, we, of course, have been following Pope Francis’ trip to Korea.

Maria Park, a Korean staff worker, presented a history of Catholicism in Korea to the staff at St. Mary’s and told some stories of Pope Francis’ visit. At the main house, someone taped parts of his visit, which we were able to watch. For spiritual reading this week we are hearing some of the pope’s talks from his visit.

Well, I guess that’s the news for this month. In this month of the holy rosary, may the Mother of God keep you in peace and safety.