Madonna House

Combermere Diary (December 2014)

by Paulette Curran

October is a lovely month in Combermere. With the trees blazing red, orange, and yellow, it is arguably the most beautiful one. For the most part, the weather is good, too—not too hot and not too cold.

It’s a great time for walking and hiking, and that’s what many of us do on Sunday afternoons. And those who can’t are sometimes taken for a drive to see the leaves.

Harvesting and food processing, which of course began earlier, continued, and October was, as it always is, a very busy time at the farm.

We picked, stored, stewed, and juiced apples, made jams, jellies, pickles, and sauerkraut and extracted honey from our hard-working bees. We slaughtered, cut, and froze four cows and twenty lambs, and this week we are harvesting the last of the crop—carrots, turnips, beets, and cabbages.

Of course, this seasonal work has fallen especially on the farmers and gardeners and full-time food-processors, but the rest of us have had to be flexible, for our help was needed, too.

There was, for example, a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board for whoever could somehow squeeze in the time to help food processing or picking. Many came for half a day here and there.

This also meant juggling non-farm-related jobs so that the able-bodied could be freed for the work at the farm.

And to make things even tighter, there are always people away for one reason or another or sick or whatever.

When the head cleaner at St. Mary’s was away, a sign-up sheet was put up there for people to clean specific rooms, and because the laundress was also away, people were asked to do the folding during spiritual reading.

Speaking of pitching in and everybody working together, let me say that all-house and whoever-can-come work bees have been with us since the beginning of the apostolate.

For example, we mail out Restoration and our semi-annual begging letters that way. Then when your monetary donations come in in response to our begging letter, we have short evening bees to answer them.

Curve balls are a fact of our life, too, as they are of yours, I’m sure. This week the septic tank and septic field at the main house are being replaced.

This was supposed to have been done last week but first the people hired to do it were unable to come on the scheduled date, and then the suppliers of the tank changed the date of delivery.

Flexibility was the name of the game, especially since on the day of the replacement of the tank, the water had to be turned off at the main house.

So St. Mary’s had us all over for two meals, lunch and supper—everyone from the main house community—about eighty of us! Imagine how much planning and work that took, especially when the date changed twice!

That day, while some of our men were involved in the septic tank job, whoever of the rest of the men could possibly do so, were harvesting the cabbages.

Fortunately, the cabbage is conveniently in the field at St. Mary’s rather than at the farm, so anyone could go and help even for half an hour.

Needless to say, we are very grateful to God for our harvest, and on Thanksgiving Day, both the main house and St. Mary’s put up displays of our fruits and vegetables. At the main house, this was accompanied by an ongoing computer slide show presentation of the farm.

There was an opportunity to add to one of the displays by writing on a paper leaf something that one was grateful for. This could be a challenge. As Fr. Denis Lemieux said in his Thanksgiving Day homily, “I couldn’t do a leaf because I am thankful foreverything.”

One major event of this time-frame, which took place earlier in the autumn, was the meetings of our associate priests, deacons, and deacon wives.

It is always a joy to see them; and the first sight of them all together at the altar concelebrating the opening Mass is always moving. Some of these priests have been coming virtually every year for many, many years. Others of the old timers can no longer travel so far, and they are missed.

We got one lovely surprise: Fr. Al Hewett, now age 90, who came all the way from New Jersey, chauffeured by one of his care givers.

These meetings are more retreat than meetings; they are a time of being fed with Catherine’s spirituality, a time of renewal. The theme this year was, “The Joyous Folly of Christ’s Gospel.”

Fr. Pat McNulty had the first conference, speaking about “The Asceticism of Joy.”

Besides the talks, there was time for prayer and for them to be together and with us.

Another connection with priesthood begins in autumn as well: the spiritual formation program for men discerning priesthood. This year there are just three of them: Paul Pesek, Kevin Adriano, and Michael Yarrow. Michael came all the way from New Zealand specifically for the program.

The program lasts from October through Easter, and consists in living our life with us, as do all the working guests, with the addition of some classes of their own.

Yes, like the rest of North America, Madonna House begins classes in autumn. The working guests have begun theirs on “The Fundamentals of the Spiritual Life” with Fr. Denis Lemieux, and the applicants are continuing with their Friday classes.

The applicants had a visit to Our Lady of the Visitation, our “wing” for the elderly who need care, as a way of their getting to know each other. Our elders told about the early days of Madonna House, and the applicants told something about themselves.

Visitation also had a Thanksgiving visit from some of the students at the local parish school who brought paper pumpkins they had made as gifts.

Other groups of school children visited us as well. For the first time, the entire local parish school made a mini-pilgrimage here. They walked from their school (which is situated between the main house and St. Mary’s) to Our Lady of Combermere and to our island chapel and back.

Grades 11 and 12 at a high school in Pembroke, our nearest city, came for a tour, and a grade 5 class came for a museum tour and visited the gift shop.

Other visitors to the shops included a group from the art gallery in the relatively nearby town of Bancroft. They loved Patrick Stewart’s paintings—and Patrick ended up giving them a short tour which included his studio at St Mary’s.

Some of us took part in the Life Chain, a yearly public pro-life hour of prayer, and some of us attended a talk on Pope Francis at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, our nearby school of higher learning. Peggy Cartmell and Irene Sullivan attended a weekend conference on euthanasia.

Fr. Bob Wild traveled to Rochester, New York, to give a talk to the Chesterton Society on GKC’s mysticism.

Let me conclude by saying that our life is not only active. The various trouble spots throughout the world have been in our prayers—as well as the bishops’ synod which at this writing, has just finished. And so are you, our readers, as are all our friends, relatives, and benefactors.

May God grant each of you a blessed, peaceful Advent and a joyous Christmas.