a group fo our men guests singing

Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

As I write this, the Lenten Spring is about to begin. Very “about to,” for the Lenten part of that phrase, for today is Shrove Tuesday.

As for the spring part, we have been experiencing some milder temperatures which hint of spring. The main result of the fleeting warmth, however, is something very wintry—ice, for the melting snow, of course, freezes when the temperature drops below the freezing point.

So, though the township does a good job of keeping the roads clear, walking conditions are varying degrees of treacherous. We have a variety of ways of coping: sanding, wearing cleats, and walking very carefully. The older folk, moreover, do more riding.

God bless the men who sand the walkways, over and over, and chop channels in the ice to direct the meltdown away from the buildings.

Our work is beginning to reflect the coming spring. Michael Amaral and Ruth Siebenaler have begun to prune the apple trees, and the sugar bush crew is getting ready for maple syrup time. The kitchen has begun making pascha, an Easter food, and the farm is preparing for this year’s planting.

As for Lent, we have a variety of ways of getting ready. Our after-lunch spiritual reading has centered on doing just that, and we have been checking out our penances with our spiritual directors. Sunday evening, we had a house music practice for our beautiful Lenten songs.

And with what is probably the same Catholic instinct that gave birth to Mardi Gras, we had, as usual, a variety show, which we call the “Ash Bash.” This year the MCs were Beth Scott and Meaghan Boyd.

Variety it certainly was. There were serious acts, such as: several working guests sang a complex arrangement of “Amazing Grace.”

Patrick Stewart put together and sang a medley of parts of Broadway songs portraying the early part of his journey in life. It began with “Camelot,” continued with that original dream falling apart, and ended with a new dream given him by God: the Camelot song with new words and a new name—Combermere.

Of course, there were comedy acts, such as: a poem about a goat by Patrick McConville and improvisations by Neil Patterson, guest Colby McNulty, and Lisa Diniz.

And our big group of men guests put on a comedy skit about applying for a job at Madonna House Company chopping vegetables. (The men chop vegetables every evening after supper, while the women do the dishes and set the tables.)

Fr. David May, accompanied by several of our elders with walker and canes, sang a take-off on the song, “My Favorite Things.” Here’s the first stanza:


Walkers and handrails

and new dental fittings,

rocking chairs, pain meds, and needles for knitting,

liniments, ointments,

soft covers that cling,

these are a few

of my favorite things.


Between these acts and others were some very funny “commercials.”

Last Friday, the staff had the first class of our study groups which we will have all during Lent. In these groups, which take place on Friday afternoons, we learn about a subject of our choice, mostly in small groups. Following Catherine’s saying that “nothing is foreign to the apostolate except sin,” the topics range far and wide indeed.

Here are some of them: electricity for beginners; Canadian History; discernment; the medieval mind; Catholic Mindfulness; stone carving; a DVD series, How to Build a Castle; weaving; biographies; modern art; and the DVDs of a television series, Crafts in America.

Our directors general are continuing to make visitations; they are currently at Marian Centre Edmonton.

One of the directors, Fr. David Linder, also went to Washington D.C., mainly to accept a new associate priest who is too ill to travel to Combermere. While there, Fr. Linder also visited another associate priest, Fr. Francis Martin, who is also ill, and attended the March for Life.

Several of the men, under the leadership of Peter Gravelle, are renovating the farm kitchen—a major work.

One Sunday evening, we had a skating party, which we called “Snowfest.”

But before I tell you about that, I guess I should say something about our ice rink. It’s located on a small bit of wetland at the edge of the Madawaska River which flows by our house. Its existence and maintenance require a fair amount of work, which is all done in their free time by Darrin Prowse and others.

The ice rink is great for the men guests especially, and many of them spend Sunday afternoons playing hockey.

The night before the Snowfest, it snowed heavily, but that didn’t daunt them. Several men spent most of Sunday shovelling the rink.

It was a lovely evening. The skating, of course, was fun, as were the games on the ice, and for those not skating, it was enjoyable to watch. We had music, a bonfire, and hot chocolate. In this age of mass entertainment, I think it’s a witness that homemade fun can be so good.

What other news is there? Well, we had two days of recollection. One, on February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation which is also the day for consecrated life, was for all of us.

The other was mainly for the elderly and sick and for their caregivers. The morning speaker was a retired palliative care grief counsellor who spoke about loss and grieving. Fr. David May, the afternoon speaker, shared about the grief he has experienced and about finding hope.

Fr. Denis Lemieux and Andorra Howard gave a women’s retreat, a retreat which has become an annual event.

The development of these retreats is exciting. They started a number of years ago when two women in our parish decided they wanted a women’s retreat, and they wanted it to be given by Madonna House.

We did so that year and the following year, and it wasn’t long before some of the men asked to have one, too.

These two retreats became an annual affair, growing mainly through word of mouth, and people from further and further away started coming.

Three years ago, when the facility they were using in Pembroke (located about halfway between Combermere and Ottawa) closed, the women realized that they could get enough people for two retreats—one for women from the Ottawa area and one for those closer to Combermere.

This year, over 120 women attended one or the other of these retreats!

Is that it for news in this quiet time of year? Well, no.

The Asians among us, staff, guests, and an applicant, mostly but not all Koreans, performed the traditional Lunar New Year ceremony of solemnly bowing to parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles.

Here, instead, they bowed to our directors general, our local directors, and the applicants’ directors of training. After the bowing, each of our directors, according to custom, said a few words and presented those bowing with small gifts. It is quite a moving ceremony.

When you receive this newspaper, Easter will be near. May the Risen Lord fill you with his peace and joy, and may that peace and joy continue. Don’t forget that the Easter Season lasts for fifty days.