Julie,Joanne, mathiue and Augustine on the day of their first promises

Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

Ah, summer! As is the case with Fr. David May, it is my favorite season. (See his article in last month’s Restoration   www.madonnahouse.org/archives) But, in truth, today (in mid-July) it feels more like September—as have so many days during this cool, very rainy summer.

But let’s begin with a much more glorious topic: Promises Day, June 8th, the Feast of Our Lady of Combermere, the day on which our members make or renew their promises of poverty, chastity and obedience.

It was a glorious day of celebration. Our diocesan bishop, Bishop Michael Mulhall, said the Mass and gave the homily, the weather couldn’t have been better, and the joy was palpable.

It is always such a joy to welcome new members into our family and to see them give their lives to God.

Families came for the occasion and, as always, there were a few different touches. Joanne Slugocki made her promises in Polish, and Matthieu Dacquay made them in French.

And one of our associate priests also made promises—Fr. James Walker, who made his finals.

The weather did not cooperate with the other feasts of the month. We had, as is our custom, a Corpus Christi procession together with our parish, Canadian Martyrs.

The weather was “iffy,” but it was decided to proceed anyhow. Those taking part in the procession included priests in albs, little girls in their First Communion dresses (they had made their First Communions that morning), families with babies, and elderly people.

The procession left St. Mary’s and got as far as the parish church. Then the skies suddenly opened and sent down a torrential rainfall. An altar had been set up outside, and the church was locked so no one could get in. Everyone, but everyone, was soaked.

The kids loved it! And many of the adults as well, or at least they were good-natured about it.

Finally, someone unlocked the door, and we went into the church and said a rosary. Dripping water all over the floor.

Then came the French Canadian Feast of St. Jean Baptiste, which we celebrate with a bonfire.

This year at St. Mary’s, Patrick McConville decided to build a huge bonfire (which Quebec people sometimes do), and he built a slender tower of firewood about eight feet high. Once again, rain was predicted. So Patrick decided to light the fire before supper.

Sure enough, it rained, but the fire was big enough to burn brightly throughout the downpour. The St. Mary’s staff enjoyed watching it from their dining room windows as they ate.

After supper, they sang French Canadian songs inside, and toasted marshmallows over candles.

The next celebration was Canada Day, our national holiday, on July 1st. This year it was special: the 150th anniversary of confederation, the birthday of Canada as a nation.

We celebrated in a few ways. We saved out red shirts from our latest clothing sorting for whoever wished to wear them for the day, and Rae Stanley set up a display of books from our library with any Canadian connection and made up a quiz of Canadian information for a contest.

It was also the 50th anniversary of our pioneer museum, and the gift shop staff hosted a special tea for us and the customers that afternoon. Linda Owen baked a cake for the occasion—a large sheet cake in the form of a Canadian flag. This time the weather was fine.

According to weather reports, this is the rainiest summer on record. It could also be the buggiest. Mary Davis, who has been gardening here for 60 years, says she has never seen so many bugs. Black flies, deer flies, mosquitoes, and the pests that eat our fruits and vegetables—all are abundant.

The worst were the black flies. June is black fly season, never a pleasant thing—especially since they bite.

(A nearby provincial park once had these words in its brochure: If you come in June, you will have the whole park to yourself.) But this year, you could hardly go out the door without encountering some of these most unwelcome visitors.

We do have ways of protecting ourselves. When we garden, picture us thus: loose long-sleeved white shirts (which we save from donations for this purpose), white scarves covering head and neck, and pants tucked into socks. Or bug shirts and hats made of fine netting. The rest of the time? Well, picture varying modifications of the above.

But June doesn’t last forever, and now it is July—a busy time, a time filled with life—human and plant—a time of young people—those here for our summer program and the young families in our Cana Colony.

Cana Colony, a combination retreat-vacation for families, is several miles from the main house, but we are very aware of its presence. We have an all-house bee before it starts to clean and physically get things ready, and a cleaning bee every Saturday during its season. Plus the couples come to our teatime on Tuesday afternoons. So we can meet one another. (I myself ended up corresponding with a woman I met at one such tea.)

The families seem to love Cana. Living as they do in our very secular world, they come hungry for the rich spiritual food and environment we offer.

But the program more of us are involved in is what we simply call “the summer program” for young adults—the usual immersion into a Catholic culture that we always offer our working guests plus some added talks and activities.

Mark Olszewski and Meaghan Boyd are coordinating it, and Toni Austin, Julie Lynch, and Trina Stitak are the activities coordinators.

The activities have included a sing-along, a jam session, hikes, a day of recollection, an evening of Taizé prayer, and since it is the 100th anniversary of the apparitions, a procession with our statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

The activities also include what we call, a Saturday Seminar, the chance to ask questions of our three directors general. This year the questions have included: How do I live my faith in a very secular workplace? How does one deal with vocational and faith doubts? What is your greatest challenge at Madonna House?

Also very busy in summer are the farm and gardens and shops. The rain has been good for the shops but not so good for the farm. For the shop? This is a vacation area, offering mainly outdoor activities, and shopping is one thing you can do on a rainy day. As for the farm, it was a challenge to get weather dry enough for planting and haying (some of the cut hay did get rained on) and the crops are about two weeks behind due to lack of sunshine.

What else has been happening?

A few priests have come for retreat. Andorra Howard gave a weekend retreat in Montreal to single mothers. Shatzi Duffy came from MH Ottawa to give a training workshop to 12 staff in the Unbound Healing Ministry. A group of four Nigerian priests, members of the Congregation of Christ Emmanuel (CCE), visited us.

May God give each of you abundant blessing in the coming month.