Madonna House

Combermere Diary (October 2015)

by Paulette Curran

Cana Colony had finished for this year and so had the summer program for young adults. You’d think things would have gotten quieter. But no. Offhand, it’s hard to remember a week as busy as last week.

On Monday we had a clothing sorting. We had to because St. Joseph’s House, which distributes most of the donated clothing we receive, was out of clothes. Since all the women who can be spared elsewhere take part in this, for most work departments, that meant a shorter week to get everything else done.

Also the harvest was coming in. Mainly green beans, but also herbs and cucumbers, which are being made into pickles.

Plus people went to pick blue berries at a pick-it-yourself farm. Plus, the roof is now on the farm house extension, and some of the men are working on insulation, plumbing, and putting in the windows.

Plus, and workwise this is probably the biggest plus, a large amount of peaches we had bought at a good price from some Mennonite farmers were coming in and needed to be sorted, washed, cut, and canned.

A plea came out for Friday and Saturday: whoever can possibly do so, even for half a day, please, please, go to the farm and work on the peaches.

Plus, Fr. Pat McNulty was imminently dying; a reality that was never far from our hearts and prayers. It was a time of waiting and grieving and preparing for a funeral.

Plus, we were preparing for and anticipating a feast day of Our Lady which was coming on Saturday—a feast which is also for us the anniversary of a number of things in our community and one we celebrate majorly. It is, in fact, our big summertime feast day.

The kitchen prepared feast day foods, and some of the women gathered quantities of flowers from our gardens, and made beautiful bouquets for the chapels and the dining room. The handicraft department put up banners and posters.

This is the thing that struck me this year as so exquisitely beautiful. On August 15th, in the midst of so much pressure of work, at a time when nature will not wait, we stopped everything and celebrated the Assumption of Our Lady.

On Friday evening, the vigil of the feast, we spent the evening singing the beautiful Eastern Rite Acathist to Our Lady. After that, some dormitories had gatherings in which we “toasted” Our Lady.

On the day itself, we had a beautiful Mass and a festive brunch. Then at a simple afternoon tea, we celebrated something else well-worth celebrating: the fiftieth anniversary of membership in Madonna House of three of the staff—Fr. Tom Zoeller, Arlene Becker, and Diane Lefebvre. And we gave recognition to those celebrating their 25th anniversaries.

Arlene was not able to be present for the day, but Fr. Tom and Diane said a “few words.”

Diane began with a Scripture quote from the day’s Office of Readings, Ephesians 2:8 which she said says it all:

This is not your own doing; it is God’s gift. Neither is it a reward for anything you have accomplished, so let no one pride himself on it.

Someone asked Diane how she had persevered. She said, “One day at a time.” Later she said that, though there had been some hard times, she never regretted one day of her life in Madonna House.

Fr. Tom said he had been struck by the same reading. He said that it is a miracle that he is here, that any of us are here. He said he persevered with a lot of help from others, such as his director of training and his spiritual director. “The older I get,” he said, “the more mysterious this vocation becomes.”

There was time to relax and then we prayed evening vespers of the feast and enjoyed a festive supper, complete with homemade wine and homemade ice cream.

Somehow to me, our celebration was a way of saying with our lives, that work, no matter how essential, is not the center of our lives. God, Our Lady, liturgy, are. And that we have the faith and trust that God will ensure that we have not only food for the winter but whatever we need.

Now for some news about a major part of life in Madonna House in summer: the summer program for young people—a simple program, really, which consists, as the life of a working guest always does, of living our life with us but with the addition of some activities and talks by lay and priest members of MH.

The activities since our last column included a simple one-act play, directed by Patrick Stewart and acted by the visitors, of Tolstoy’s short story, “Where Love Is, God Is,” our area’s annual pilgrimage to St. Anne’s shrine in Cormac, Ontario, a film of Catherine’s life, a tour of our religious museum, and a music night when staff and guests put on a musical variety show.

One thing that happened in the program was a first. Our diocesan bishop, Bishop Michael Mulhall, came to give one of our Wednesday night talks.

And there were the Saturday evening seminars—when the visitors asked questions and our directors general answered. The questions ranged far and wide and included the following; Please talk about guilt. That is, how can you come closer to God after a fall without being too hard on yourself?

What if there’s a conflict between taking care of your parents and a religious vocation? What keeps you saying yes to God?

Finally, at the end of each week, we had what we call “Re-wind,” when visitors shared about what they had learned during that week.

The fruits of the summer program? Well, only God really knows, but we did get some glimpses, and some of those glimpses came during Re-Wind. Here are just a few things people said:

“The staff in their talks being so open about their weaknesses made me more able to accept mine.”

“I walked in and felt loved and supported.”

“I’m learning to let go of my plans and will, and I am opening up to letting God and others love me.”

“I’m shedding my false ideas of God and am believing in a God who loves and accepts me even when I can’t love and accept myself.”

Though harvesting and food processing have not abated, and won’t for some time, this week is definitely quieter. No major feast, no clothing sorting, and Fr. Pat has once again taken a turn for the better.

We remember you in our prayers. Please pray for us, too.