The idea that it might someday be possible to open a foundation in her native land had probably never occurred to Catherine Doherty. She had left Russia in 1919 with no hopes of ever returning, and when she died in 1985, perestroika was in its infancy.
In 1993, three Madonna House staff were invited to open a Madonna House in Magadan (Магадан), in the Russian Far East. With their arrival, there was a sense that what Russia had given to the West through Catherine was being returned to her native land.
People constantly asked us why we had opened a house in Magadan – this dwindling city of 100,000 on the northeastern coast of the continent, this city that was founded in the 1930s as an administrative center for the forced labour camps in the region and was for so long closed to both Russians and foreigners alike. Why indeed? Because it was in Magadan that God opened the door to Madonna House in Russia. For 13 years, our presence in Magadan was a simple and fruitful one.
Catherine taught us that God speaks through people, places, and situations. In 2005, various circumstances, including an invitation to Krasnoyarsk (Красноя́рск), indicated a new thrust in Russia, which unfortunately necessitated closing our house in Magadan. Trusting and obeying these promptings of the Holy Spirit, Madonna House officially opened in Krasnoyarsk in June 2006. Although we had to leave our home in Magadan, our spiritual presence remains with our friends there, with whom we are still in contact.
The first Roman Catholic parish in Krasnoyarsk, a city in central Siberia, was founded in 1836. A church built in the early 20th century served 2500 parishioners in the city of Krasnoyarsk, and an estimated 20,000 Catholics in the region. Under the Soviet regime, the situation of the faithful changed drastically. When the last Catholic priest was shot in a Krasnoyarsk prison in 1938 and the Catholic Church closed, a radio committee occupied the building. It was later used as a movie theatre complex. An organ was installed in the 1980s, and the building became a concert hall. To this day, the Church building continues to be used as a concert hall; the parish rents time for services. Currently several hundred parishioners regularly attend this parish of the Transfiguration. Claretian priests also serve a second parish, Holy Family, as well as a number of outlying missions. We, along with other religious groups, are involved in various parish projects.
During all our time in Russia, this land of the Cross has taught us to stand at the foot of that Cross, in our hearts and with others, with faith in the Resurrection. We continue to learn how to pray, to love, and to serve. We understand more and more deeply the spirituality Catherine brought to the West and transmitted to us.
In Krasnoyarsk, as it was in Magadan, our friends – young and old, believers and non-believers, and Christians of all confessions – come to our apartment to pray, to talk, to have a cup of tea, to touch God’s mercy. We live in Our Lady’s house. And we are privileged to touch, over and over again, how each person walking through our door experiences the consolation and strengthening love of her Son.
One of our great joys is that of seeing Catherine’s writings become available in her mother tongue, and we have a number of Catherine Doherty’s books available in Russian.