03 Jan Combermere Diary
by Paulette Curran
Winter arrived suddenly this year. In fact, it thundered in with a blizzard just yesterday—shortly after mid-November.
Autumn was so long and mild that even last week some of the young ones were out in sweat shirts. Then suddenly, the temperature dropped, and it began to snow … and snow … and snow. As I begin this column, it has been snowing for more than 24 hours. And according to the weather report, it’s not due to stop until late this evening.
Ah, snow! It’s beautiful, for sure, but it’s also means the beginning of “boot-on, boots off” time, what someone has called our “winter asceticism.” For we go from one building to another quite frequently—between dorm and chapel and main house and wherever we work. Plus, we use outdoor jons.
Moreover for the men, snow is labor intensive. In fact, it has been estimated that during the winter, 1/3 of the men’s work hours are taken up with one or another facet of snow removal.
Early this morning, for example, the men applicants and Peter Gravelle, their director of training, were out shovelling paths. The ones we needed to get to the chapel for prayers and to the main house for breakfast were cleared before most of us were even up. God bless them!
After breakfast, men guests joined in the hand-shovelling—more of it than usual, for, as was just discovered, the battery in our big snow blower was dead.
Today all trips were cancelled—including medical appointments and the daily seven-mile trip to the farm, which brings them their cook and her assistant, among others. And one person, scheduled to fly to Germany today, had to change her ticket.
But, of course, our main news is not weather. It’s that the “top leadership” of Madonna House—the directors general of laymen, women, and priests, are all new. Yet, the elections and transitions happened so gradually, quietly, and peacefully that I scarcely know what to say about it.
All three groups had suppers to thank their outgoing DG and welcome the new one—the women’s being by a few months, the most recent.
The women of the main house and St. Mary’s each had smaller gatherings, but their main event was what we called “a women’s supper,” but could have been called “an afternoon and evening party.”
It began with the women of the training center, St. Mary’s, and St. Joseph’s House gathering together for teatime.
This was followed by an hour of adoration, Mass, a time of visiting over snacks, and a festive supper. It was a great time to visit with one another, and the evening included some creative entertainment—mostly songs with lyrics changed to fit the occasion.
This week, the new DGs are on visitation at Maryhouse, our house in the Yukon.
One rather unusual situation at this time is that the men working guests have consistently been outnumbering the women working guests. Usually it is the other way around.
The numbers fluctuate, of course, but the other day, we had six women and seventeen men. So the men guests have helped with some of the autumn garden-related jobs that women guests usually do.
Advent classes and preparations have begun—classes in which the guests learn about Advent and its feasts mainly by presenting and organizing the celebrations. Fr. Zach Romanowsky, Michael Amaral, and Beth Scott are the leaders of the class this year.
The first event of the season was open to all of us: sugaring down, led by Fr. Louis Labrecque. Fr. Louis grew up on a farm in Quebec and has been in charge of our maple syrup “operation” for many years.
On Friday evening, he boiled down some of our maple syrup, and we pounded it to make maple sugar for Christmas baking.
Then yesterday, on Sunday afternoon, while the snow was still falling, the guests gathered evergreens to make the Advent wreath. According to one of them, the blowing snow added to the adventure, and their “expedition” ended with a bonfire and hot chocolate.
More importantly, yesterday was the Feast of Christ the King, which we celebrated with Mass (of course) and all-day exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Before closing with Vespers and Benediction, we prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy as our closing of the Year of Mercy.
The festivities ended with a lasagne supper made by Chuck Sharp and the applicants. (They made the noodles from scratch.)
In this relatively uneventful time between harvest and Advent, here are a few other items of news:
Veronica Ferri, the women guests’ housemother, and Fr Brian Christie took the guests to the nearby town of Barry’s Bay to go through the Holy Doors.
A few of the staff attended a supper hosted by a Syrian refugee family who were sponsored and came to the nearby town of Eganville this year. The supper was an opportunity to fundraise and build community.
Once again, we are enjoying what we call, “Basement University,” composed of an educational DVD one evening a week. The topics are very varied indeed. The first one was on the life of Albert Einstein and the second about how to build a castle!
One of the women guests, Leah Nixon, organized an optional poetry reading on Saturday evening. Each person read a poem, and then they were given twenty minutes to write a poem or images from their experiences of the past week. It was a blessed time of sharing. Catherine Doherty would have been delighted.
Twenty students from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy (our local school of higher learning), and their visiting parents came for a tour.
Our Small Shop has now finished its annual transformation into the Christmas Shop.
The day before the American elections we had a holy hour to pray for them. And our prayers are continuing for the U.S. in this time of transition as well as for Syria and other trouble spots throughout the world.
May God grant each of you his peace and all the graces you will need throughout this year of 2017.