It was April, 1984 a call went out to the community of Alpena and environs in Northern lower Michigan for help. A House of Prayer was being opened, and assistance needed with cleaning, painting, building shelves, and some very basic furniture. This was the beginning of Madonna House in Alpena.
Bishop Robert Rose had written to Catherine Doherty in Canada to request a foundation in the diocese of Gaylord. It was to be the last house opened in the U.S. before her death in 1985. It was to be a house of prayer, and Alpena was the locale chosen as there were already a monastery on the West coast of the diocese, one in the center, but not yet a place of prayer on the East. Still, it would be to serve and pray for the entire diocese.
Fr. Bob Bissot, pastor of St. Bernard’s, was the liaison person who scoured the town for suitable housing. Two houses were purchased, right next to each other. One became a residence, the other used for poustinia (Russian for “desert”).
Many came forward to lend a hand, and through the years, have sustained daily life through donations of food, clothing, funds and basic needs.
This is a house of prayer based upon the poustinia tradition. It is also a house of listening and a place of friendship under the auspices of the bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, now Bishop Patrick Cooney.
Here you may find a listening ear, friendship, a place to pray, and a lending library of books, tapes, and a few DVDs on many topics, mostly pertaining to the spiritual life. The possibilities include writings of the popes, the early Church Fathers, biographies of spiritual leaders such as Sts. Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and others, as well as books leading to healing of life’s inner wounds.
Questions pertaining particularly to the teaching of the Catholic faith, sacraments, marriage, etc, can often be easily answered via resources available on the premises, or through further reference materials.
All are welcome, Christian and non-Christian alike, to come for a visit, a cup of tea, or simply to use the library. Adjoining the main building containing library, chapel and visiting room, is the second building reserved for retreats in the poustinia tradition of prayer, Scripture and fasting. Mostly these retreats are of 24 hour duration, but may be extended. It is helpful to phone ahead to plan a tour and more worthwhile visit.
As other field houses, Madonna House of Alpena is meant to be an arrow pointing to God. The manner is outlined in the call of the Little Mandate, to “preach the gospel with your life without compromise.” This necessitates a continual rhythm of rising after falling in the daily challenges.
Recognizing this as the work of all baptized, there arises daily numerous ways of reaching out and responding to requests of service…
Invitations to baptisms, confirmation, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, breaking open the scriptures, various study groups and youth gatherings, etc,. as well with friends at the end of the journey home to God, are integral to the broader mandate, and most enriching on all levels.
Passing on the faith traditions and customs of the liturgical year are an important part of the life. Epiphany gatherings, celebration of the baptism of the Lord, sharing gifts of the Magi and Pentecost gifts and also pysanky are among the favorites.
The beginning of a typical day would be:
7:15 a.m. : “Hello, it’s Eleanor. I’m coming into town today. Do you need anything?”
10 p.m. night prayer: (an inner voice, but unmistakably clear) “ Hello, I came to town today. You didn’t miss Me, did you? Thank you for the hot tea. Oh, and were you really in need of anything more?”
Relying totally on the providence of God through the kindness of others for daily sustenance forges deep friendships. Trying to live a simple lifestyle in return is a small thanks for this, and does allow for some passing on of the basic necessities to others.
There are no charges for any of the above. Donations are always welcome.
And many many thanks to all who have supported this foundation in any way over the past quarter century and beyond. May you know the peace that is beyond understanding.
To learn more, you can read articles about Madonna House in Alpena.