some folks at the Associates priest' picnic

Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

Late autumn is a relatively quiet time here at Madonna House—the time between harvest and Advent. It has been a mild autumn, something for which we are grateful, for a long winter is ahead of us.

This is the time when many of us, especially those working in the gardens, farm, and shops, take holidays (or, as the Americans say, “vacations”).

The house, however, feels less empty than you would think. After a summer with fewer working guests than usual, we now have a good number of them.

The main event at this time of year is the Associates’ Meetings. (We used to call them “The Associate Priests’ Meetings,” but now we also have associate deacons, deacons’ wives, and, sometimes a bishop.)

These meetings are a very special and holy time. To say that this is a difficult time in history for priests is very much an understatement, and it is a gift and a privilege to serve these men who themselves serve so faithfully.

Numbers were high for these meetings after a relatively low turn-out last year: One bishop, twenty-six priests, five deacons, four deacons’ wives, and the wives of the two Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic priests came. Including our own Combermere member priests, forty-one clergy processed into the chapel for the first Mass of the meetings. As you can imagine, this was a very impressive sight.

The bishop (who is not an associate) was Bishop Terence Drainey from the Diocese of Middlesbrough, England, where one of our houses is located. (He is on sabbatical, and we also had the joy of some time with him before the meetings.)

The theme of the meetings was: Catherine’s Contribution to Bringing Eastern Christian Spirituality to the West.

The clergy had talks, time to visit with one another and with our priests, a picnic supper with all of us, adoration time, etc., etc., etc.

At one of the Masses, two priests became associate applicants, and three received their crosses as associate members of MH. (See Milestones.) One priest, Fr. Michael Bombak, renewed his promises for two years.

It was wonderful for us to have them here, and they, on their part, tell us that they were much fed spiritually during this time.

Speaking of priests, one of the other ways we serve them is highlighted at this time of year. Last week, we began what we call “The Spiritual Formation Program,” a program for men discerning priestly vocations.

From October until Easter, they live with us as working guests with the addition of some classes, meetings, and a few other occasional things.

One of their classes, which all the working guests take, is The Fundamentals of the Spiritual Life taught by Fr. Denis Lemieux. It began last week.

This year, there are six men in the program: Andrew Berscheid (Denver, Colorado), Jim Biewer (St John’s, Michigan), Zak Brownrigg (Ottawa, Ontario), Peter Burke (Springtown, Texas), Nicholas Da Silva (Brampton, Ontario), and Matthew Galli (Oshawa, Ontario). Fr. Denis Lemieux is in charge of the program.

These are not the only students we have been involved with.

Two priests from the Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Catholic Seminary in Ottawa brought their six seminarians to spend a weekend with us.

Shortly after that, for the second year in a row, an art teacher in a Catholic high school in Oshawa brought his students to Madonna House, and this year, he included a group studying social justice. There were two teachers and twenty students in all.

On Monday, the social justice students toured MH and the farm and worked at the farm, while the art students did landscape painting with a local artist.

On Tuesday, both groups and their teachers visited Patrick Stewart, one of our artists, in his studio where he gave them a talk on the spirit of creativity in Madonna House.

Thirdly, the new students at the local Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College came for a tour.

Now on to the practical.:

Our wooden buildings are getting old, and St. Mary’s also needs to be adapted for our changing needs. So this is for us, the men actually, a time of much building, repairing, renovating, and converting certain areas for other uses.

Here are just some of the things that have been going on: Tony Harrison, a local carpenter, with the help of applicant Alec Bonacci, is putting new exterior siding on the bookshop.

Patrick McConville shifted an entrance at a dorm for older women staff so that it is useable in the winter and built a new outside staircase on the handicraft building. Now he is dealing with structural degradation which was discovered in the art gallery of the gift shop.

The elevator at St. Mary’s is being modernized to bring it up to government safety standards, and this is taking longer than expected. Obviously, having it out of commission has created problems for those who are unable to use stairs.

Moreover, a part of St. Mary’s, a large building which was formerly a convent boarding school, is in the process of being turned into a space for some of our older staff to live.

This is requiring major work: changing an artists’ studio into a dorm and a janitor’s closet into a kitchenette, adding electricity where needed, converting baths into showers, and lots of just shifting things around.

Peter Gravelle and Patrick McConville supervised much of this work at St. Mary’s, and they and others, both staff and contractors, are doing the work.

Three groups went on three separate pilgrimages to the Shrine of the Jesuit Martyrs in Midland, Ontario: the applicants, the men of the spiritual formation program, and Fr. Blair Bernard and five lay staff. These staff joined a group from our parish on their pilgrimage, which Fr. Blair led.

Since we live so far from a city, we can’t take an active part in Forty Days for Life, but “one does what one can.” We have been saying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy on the evenings we have community tea. And some of us took part in the Life Chain in the nearest town, Barry’s Bay.

Fr. David May gave a retreat to 230 deacons of the Toronto diocese and their wives.

Along with Jeanne Guillemette of MH Rimouski, who gave a presentation, Mark Schlingerman attended a Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) forum for Canadian national Catholic movements and associations. This forum, held at 3-year intervals, provided an opportunity for the 3 bishops attending and the representatives of the 25 movements and associations in attendance to share ideas about the mission of the laity in the Church.

October 13th was the 100th anniversary of the last apparition at Fatima, and our marking of the event was simple and very graced. Earlier in the week, we saw a documentary about some of the wonderful graces that were granted through Fatima.

Then on the 13th, we had a simple procession with our statue of Our Lady of Fatima just from the main house to St Mary’s, a distance of about half a mile, after which we gathered for a rosary and Mass in St. Mary’s chapel.

I’ve heard a few people say that they sensed the presence of Our Lady—one of them that she sensed her (Our Lady’s) joy in being with us.

Well, I guess that’s it for the news this time. May God grant each of you a blessed and graced Advent and a joyous Christmas and Christmas Season