moving a round bale of hay with a tractor

Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

The time frame for our news this month began the same day as the new year. So, even though this is a March issue, I am beginning with our entry into 2017.

There are a number of good ways to enter a new year, but I, for one, can’t think of a better one than the way we did it: during a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament.

During this holy hour, among other things, we prayed “The Litany of the Nations.” This has become our special New Year’s prayer, and a moving prayer it is.

It consists in praying for every nation in the world by name, and what makes it so moving at this time especially is that so many of these nations are at war or suffering some other crisis or terrible condition, and only God knows what any nation will suffer in 2017. Our prayer was for God’s mercy on the entire world in this coming year.

Afterwards, whoever wished to went to the house for festive snacks and a gathering.

This year, Eliana das Chagas put on some music CDs from different nations, and about a dozen of us ended up having a spontaneous dance.

In Madonna House, we are enriched by celebrating in both the Latin and Eastern Rites, and our next feast was Theophany, the Eastern Rite celebration of the Baptism of Christ. And in the rituals included in this liturgy, we also prayed for the entire world.

In this ritual, the celebrant blessed each of the four “corners” of the earth—north, south, east and west—and, facing each in turn, we prayed many “Lord, have mercy”s for all the lands in each of the directions.

Then immediately after the liturgy, we processed to the river where the celebrant prayed and threw a cross into the water (through a hole cut in the ice), as a symbolic way of blessing all the waters of the world.

Then there was Epiphany. We follow a few customs for this feast, including Epiphany bread for breakfast. This contains three coins from three different nations. The three people who received a coin in their piece of bread were given the task of praying a holy hour for the community.

But all festive seasons come to an end, and that happened visually: we took down the decorations—and believe me, there were a lot of them. And now we are back in Ordinary Time.

After Christmastime, the applicants and working guests resumed their classes, as did those taking our spiritual formation program for young men discerning priesthood. All the guests are taking a course on the basic teachings of the Church.

The applicants are reading the history of Madonna House, and the archives department put up a display of paper memorabilia and other artifacts from the Friendship Houses Catherine Doherty founded before she founded Madonna House. (The staff were given an opportunity to enjoy it, too.)

For all of us, the weekly “Basement University” also resumed. Recently we saw DVDs about mathematics and how it relates to nature and music (2 separate DVDs), and another about Korean seasonal customs in a traditional village. We also saw two shorts about the work of Snowflake Bentley, who photographed over 5000 snowflakes—a very suitable topic for this time of year.

January is probably the most uneventful time of year in Madonna House. And one thing a number of the work departments do more of in uneventful times is sorting.

For when you live on donations, you are often sorting them out into various categories—what goes to the poor, what we need here, etc., etc. And what we use here, of course, gets further sorted into kitchen, office, maintenance department, gift shop, etc., etc., etc. And then those departments, in putting things away, sort once again.

The gift shop is one department that does a lot of sorting, and this year they have more time for it. Though they are usually open part-time in winter, this year, they are closed for three months so that the staff there can concentrate on organizing, sorting, simplifying, and culling their merchandise.

The men staff, of course, are also hard at work. It is the time of the “bush work,” also called “logging,” and the wood-chopping and snow removal are endless.

Then there are always things that go wrong. For example, there was a problem at the farm with the milking system, so the farmers had to hand-milk the cows until the problem was solved.

Meanwhile, the next big men’s project has just begun: the renovating of the farm kitchen, headed by Peter Gravelle.

A few of the men have traveled to our mission houses to give much-needed help. Our house in Windsor is in the process of moving, and the house they are moving into requires a lot of renovation.

First Darrin Prowse and Mark Olszewski went for ten days, and then when they returned, Patrick McConville, Daniel Rabideau, and Michael Amaral went for two weeks.

I mentioned before that we have an unusual situation in that the men working guests far outnumber the women. Well, this situation seems to be continuing. The exact numbers change constantly, but the men currently number fifteen, and by the end of the week, there will be only two women. This has required some adaptation.

One example: the cook’s assistant both at the farm and St. Mary’s are men.

And here’s a humorous one: The work assignments for the guests are listed by abbreviation, and the other day, several men were pleasantly surprised, though dubious, to see “Pub” after their names. “Great!” said one of them, “I can do that one just fine!”

But they soon learned that the letters meant “Publications,” where they were assigned to stuff catalogues into envelopes for mailing.

Peter Gravelle and Fr. Zach Romanowsky gave the annual diocesan men’s retreat. Madonna House has been giving this retreat for several years, and the attendance is growing. This year there were 70 men, and one exciting development was that a number of them brought their grown sons along.

Fr. David May gave a retreat to our staff in Marian Centre Regina, and Fr. Denis Lemieux gave one to the seminarians in Mission, British Columbia.

As we do every January, we were involved in the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Besides our prayers, spiritual reading both at the main house and St. Mary’s have been about ecumenism, and for one spiritual reading time, St. Mary’s invited our neighbors, the retired Anglican vicar, Fr. David Lethbridge, and his wife Phyllis.

This is not something new for us. Our foundress Catherine Doherty, had long been involved in ecumenism, and almost fifty years ago to the day, she had invited this same priest to talk to us about the Anglican Church.

Fr. Lethbridge gave a brief history of the Anglican Church, and spoke of the trials of rural Anglican churches. He also said that he is very grateful for the support he has received from MH and St. Joseph’s House over the years.

May God grant each of you a blessed and graced Lenten Season.