Madonna House

Combermere Diary (September 2015)

by Paulette Curran

In this part of the world, as in many others, June is a time when all of nature bursts with life and growth. And in Madonna House, June contains a day that is especially filled with life—June 8th, the feast of Our Lady of Combermere and Promises Day.

It is the day when some of our members officially commit their lives to God through this Madonna House vocation. It is our equivalent of a wedding day.

This year, four young people made their promises for the first time, thus becoming staff workers, that is, members of Madonna House. Six others, three here and three in our mission houses, renewed their promises for two years. Lastly, four people made final promises—committing themselves to this vocation forever.

It was a day for which family and friends of those making promises came from far and near. And others, too, came, such as the bishop of our diocese, Bishop Michael Mulhall, who gave the homily at Mass, and Fr. Ken Lao, a brand new priest, ordained just two days earlier. Fr. Lao brought a beautiful bouquet of roses for Our Lady of Combermere, in thanksgiving to her, as he felt it was through her help that he persevered to ordination. He gave us first blessings during our reception.

The promises ceremony itself was, as always, very simple, as are the words of the promises.

“For the glory of God and because I desire with my whole heart to preach the Gospel with my life, I, (name) hereby promise, with the help of Our Lady, to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience for (one year, two years, or forever) according to the Madonna House spirit and mandate.”

Who could fail to be moved?

The two women making finals wore the dress of their cultural heritages: Alex Do, a Vietnamese dress, and Lisa Diniz, an East Indian one. Pascal Richard, who is French Canadian, made his promises in French, and Giulia Velocci made them in Italian.

But this recent time was not only one of life and new life. We were also experiencing death and dying.

In early June, two people were imminently dying: Fr. Tom Rowland and Josephine Halfman.

Josephine Halfman, whose health had been slowly deteriorating, had gotten worse over the past two weeks. Then on Thursday, June 11th, just three days after Promises Day, it became apparent that the end was very near. People slipped in to see her and to pray.

The next day was the Feast of the Sacred Heart, one of Josephine’s favorites. She died at the very beginning of that day—at 12:25 a.m. Among those with her was Carol Anne Gieske, who had been with Josephine in MH Toronto for many, many years.

The funeral was on June 16th—just a bit more than a week after Promises Day.

Then we entered into ordinary time again, and a very busy ordinary time it was. The shops were getting ready for their summer season. The farm and gardens were, of course, in full swing, and Joanne Weisbeck and others were readying Cana Colony for the families who would be coming.

Meanwhile, Fr. Tom Rowland, who had been expected to die a year and a half ago, entered into the final stages of his life. He gradually weakened, and on July 7th, he joined what we are calling our “mission house in heaven.”

So our summer program for young adults, which was then in its second week, included an event those attending had not been expecting: a funeral.

It was a very peaceful funeral. More than thirty priests concelebrated, including our diocesan bishop, and some of the local people attending knew Fr. Tom from his times, sometimes lasting months, of covering Sunday Masses and more at local parishes when needed.

Fr. Tom had a lifelong love of airplanes and had, in fact, flown small planes. So, of course, airplanes featured in the funeral—in the decorations and especially in songs. This, of course, added a bit of lighthearted whimsy to the event.

Then we were back to ordinary time again, and here are some ordinary time news:

Up at the farm, besides the usual early summer work of the farmers, Peter Gravelle and others have been building an addition to the farmhouse.

Along with the staff of MH Roanoke, four staff from here attended the ordination to the priesthood of Deacon Nick Mammi, a friend of MH Roanoke, in Virginia. Deacon Nick, a widower with two grown children and a few grandchildren, was also an associate deacon of Madonna House. (One of his grandchildren, Francis, made his First Communion at Fr. Nick’s first Mass.)

Raandi King, who does pottery, and has experimented with a number of different ways of making glazes and firing, organized the first firing of the new wood burning train kiln made for her by Darrin Prowse.

She was joined by a number of local potters who brought pots to be fired. Not surprisingly, since this was a first try, there were problems. The result was that though there were some beautiful pots from the front of the kiln, those in the back didn’t get hot enough. But be that as it may, it was a great community event.

Fr. Murray Kuemper arrived back from Rome having completed his exams and thesis for his licentiate in Sacred Theology, specializing in Moral Theology, which he will be teaching in a seminary in September. Fr. Brian Christie, who plays violin, attended a week-long music camp.

Then came July. First Cana began, then, on July 4th, the summer program for young adults. The first activity of the program was the first of the weekly Saturday evening seminars, when our director generals answer questions from the guests about the Church, the spiritual life, and Madonna House at an open forum. Topics that Saturday included forgiveness, discernment, and praying to Mary and the saints. One question that elicited a beautiful answer was: What is it like to be a director general of Madonna House? Their answers brought out their peace and the love and unity among them.

The next day, Sunday, the second summer program event occurred. Larry Klein led a hike to a nesting place for blue herons.

This year, the theme of the program is: Love is Stronger: Hope and Faith in the World Today, and the coordinators are Veronica Dudych and Neil Patterson. Mary McGoff is activities coordinator. There is one new feature: a theme song written by Veronica Ferri.

On June 8th we celebrated commitment, and on July 2nd, we celebrated perseverance. Mary Catherine Rowland, (Fr. Tom’s sister) had arrived at the 60thanniversary of her promises.

Meanwhile, in England, our mission house in North Yorkshire celebrated its 30thanniversary. That, too, was a celebration of, among other things, commitment and perseverance.

Whew! This has certainly been a full time. I hadn’t realized how much until I wrote this.

You are all in our prayers. May God grant you many blessings.