We present below an excerpt from a talk given by Bishop William J. Smith, the Bishop of the Diocese of Pembroke, Ontario, to the Madonna House community on June 8, 1960, the day he officially installed and blessed the shrine of Our Lady of Combermere with the approval of the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome.
The newest shrine in Christendom — and the humblest and least pretentious — was blessed on June 8th at Madonna House by His Excellency, the Most Reverend W. J. Smith, Bishop of Pembroke, Ontario.
Combermere is a mere crossroads village lost in the vastness of this Canadian province; a town forgotten or ignored by most of the map-makers; a community that has seldom boasted more than a hundred people. But perhaps Our Lady loves the humble places — like Fatima, and Lourdes, and a hundred other shrines.
It was no miracle that produced this shrine. There was no apparition. There was no spectacular occurrence of any kind. It was only the coming of a beautiful statue and the love of the people in and around Madonna House that caused it to become a place of devotion and of pilgrimage...
The bishop read and sang the words of the blessing. He sprinkled the statue with holy water. He sent the fragrant smoke of incense up and around it, using the ritual fashioned for the purpose many hundreds of years ago. Then, along with everyone present, he said the prayer to Our Lady of Combermere that the people of Madonna House had been saying every day for years...
When he had finished this prayer he turned and faced the congregation. He was standing before the statue, between its wide-flung arms, and beneath its tender loving face. He spoke of his first visit to Madonna House, on August 15th, 1945, V-J Day, the feast of Our Lady's Assumption, on which ended the Second World War — the day also when the idea of an Apostolate here was conceived... He spoke of the shrines of Our Lady at Fatima in Portugal and Lourdes in France, both of which he had recently visited.
Bishop Smith said:
I think that a few words... would be in keeping with the happiness we all feel this afternoon. While I was blessing this new statue of Our Lady of Combermere, I could not help thinking of 15 years ago, when I first came to this diocese.
It was then that the subject was broached to me about the idea of the lay apostolate — and particularly the rural apostolate — in this area of the vast diocese of Pembroke. At that time I gave verbal approbation and later, a formal approval for this great work... of the lay apostolate and rural apostolate.
Of course, nobody envisioned what the future would hold. No human being can, unless he has a special gift. I did not realize at the time that in 15 years such great things would be accomplished here.
I want to express to Mr. and Mrs. Doherty and to the staff my appreciation of the work they are doing. They know that I am heartily in accord with their work. I want to express a welcome to the priests who have come also, as we bless and dedicate the Diocese... to Our Lady of Combermere.
Graces will go out in abundance from Our Lady and this centre of Catholic Action — and we will all benefit. All of us, we in the diocese and those outside the diocese who are dedicating their lives to the lay apostolate and the apostolate in general — the apostolate of Catholic Action.
As the years go by, we seem to be living in a confused world which is becoming more confused all the time. It seems to me that the solution of the things troubling us today will be cared for by Our Lady. Our Lady promised to do so, if we do our part. So if we take heed of her words, in whatever work we do, and dedicate ourselves to her, we will have opportunity to make recompense to God for the many sins of the world.
I know that as the years go by, great graces will flow out all over the diocese, Canada, the United States and the distant continents through Our Lady and the great work to which these people have dedicated their lives.
There has been such progress here in 15 years; The hand of God is on this work. As bishop of the diocese, I want to express my gratitude and appreciation to Mr. and Mrs. Doherty and to all those in charge of this work. We hope that God will continue, through the hands of our Blessed Mother, the dispenser of all graces, to bless this hallowed spot and make it memorable in the social doctrine of the Church.
† Most Rev. William J. Smith
Bishop of Pembroke
June 8, 1960