A very special outreach of Madonna House is for families. In this day, with so many influences working against strong, healthy families, fathers, mothers and children need help and support in living the Gospel. Our program, called Cana Colony, provides a unique way for families to learn together how to incarnate the Gospel in daily life.
Many of you may be familiar with going on retreat. Cana is a little different as it means “retreating” with the whole family. There is definitely a sense of “going away” and to that can be connected the sense of pilgrimage. One pilgrimages in order to leave the familiar behind and venture to a time and space which leaves one open to the presence of God in a profound way. Our Cana families, coming from far and near, certainly travel to something.
There is much that is familiar which you are asked to leave behind as you come to Cana: relatives, friends, pets, and modern conveniences like microwaves, MP3 players, cell phones, computers and computer games.
This leaving behind does not mean that these things are bad—but that one wants to take the time for something different. It is a type of fasting. Through the history of the Church fasting has been recognized as a spiritual good. It has usually been connected with food but it is possible to fast from all these things that are left behind because what one hungers for is God. One makes an empty space in one’s life so God can fill it.
So often in our modern age, life is taken up with things and activities that make each day a rush. Cana is a time to go away to be with God, family, and community in a simple, relaxed atmosphere.
Cana Colony is part of Madonna House, a Catholic Lay Apostolate. As such we follow the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding marriage, the sacraments and morality as means of nourishment through which a community of love can flower.
A major part of Madonna House spirituality is expressed in what we call The Little Mandate. This spirituality is an underlying foundation of all we are and do, which includes offering Cana as a family retreat. Ours is a spirituality which can be embraced by anyone, anywhere. It is a spirituality which families, who return time and again to Cana, find nourishes their family life. They return to Cana to drink once more from a deep well which feeds their souls.
In these days of great threat to the family, we are convinced that each family must find its strength in Christ who is the head and heart of every family. Cana is an opportunity for families to share their faith and support one another in maintaining their Christian values in a secularized world.
Cana Colony offers families an unusual opportunity to come together for a week of sharing in a Christian community. Couples united in Catholic marriage, along with their children, are nourished by the sacraments and Christian fellowship.
Cana Colony gives families an opportunity to come together in Christ’s special presence in a relaxed atmosphere and to taste life in a communal setting. We hope that from this experience, families will be able to return home strengthened and renewed in their ability to incarnate the Word of God in their daily lives. For be assured, it is the preaching of the Gospel that we are about.
The vacation aspect offered by Cana Colony is present but is secondary to the primary purpose of Cana, which is helping families to find Christ, to love Christ, to touch Him in their neighbor, just as He finds, loves, and touches us, His children, daily. In a word, Cana Colony exists to help establish Christ in our hearts and to incarnate Him in our deeds.
Christ’s first miracle, turning water into wine, happened at a wedding feast. It was here at Cana that Christ revealed Himself to His disciples.
Christ eternally reveals Himself in many ways among us. For didn’t He say, “If two or more are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them”? Cana Colony is a sort of little “manifestation of Christ to His people” repeated in the beautiful backwoods of Canada.
Cana Colony was born out of the words of Pope Pius XII, who told Catherine Doherty that he would like to see the apostolate of Madonna House extend to the family. He felt deeply that the family would be threatened in the very fabric of its existence and would be beset by trials and tribulations. Today his words seem to have been prophetic. And so, in 1952, Cana Colony was born under the direction of Fr. John Callahan.
Physically, Cana Colony is located in a clearing surrounded by trees, at the edge of a beautiful lake—the kind of wilderness that might be found in a national park. The lake has clean water and a small sandy beach. Around the clearing are seven cabins and a large cookshack. Overlooking it all is Our Lady of the Lake Chapel. The clearing has a large play area with sand boxes and swings.
The cookshack has two large rooms for cooking and eating. It is a central gathering place for everyone, serving for family recreation on rainy days. The cookshack is the only place that has electricity and running water. Both rooms are equipped with stoves, refrigerators, and extra freezer space. There are also tables, dishes, silverware, pots and pans, everything necessary for cooking—even dishtowels and highchairs. Each family provides its own food and does its own cooking. There is a woodstove to provide warmth on cool mornings.
Families should come prepared to enjoy an experience of simple, rustic living, as the usual services and conveniences of an urban center are not available. In fact, the simplicity of the camp is part of the spirit of Cana Colony. It reflects the call to be simple, poor, childlike, as expressed in the Little Mandate of Madonna House.
Our one-room cabins have no electricity. All of the jons are outdoor outhouses. Each cabin is equipped with water buckets and a basin and beds with mattresses. We provide a battery-operated lantern, lots of blankets and pillows. Families bring sheets or sleeping bags and pillowcases, towels and facecloths, toilet articles, groceries (some may be purchased in Combermere), and flashlights.
The weather is impossible to predict. Days are usually warm and summer clothing is appropriate. Cool and rainy days, however, are not unheard of. The nights are often cool, so come prepared. Don’t forget your bathing suits, insect repellent and sunscreen.
Families are given simple tasks to help maintain the camp while they are there. These include keeping the cookshack, the chapel, and the outhouses clean; supervising the use of the row boats; overseeing the grounds and waterfront. This pitching in is also very important to the spirit of Cana and the building of community.
A Madonna House priest, layman, and laywoman are present with the families together with a host family. Mass is celebrated each morning and the priest leads a conference with the parents in the afternoon. (During this conference babysitters are provided for the younger children.)
Outside of these two scheduled events, there is the possibility of campfires, singsongs, fishing, swimming, hikes, and other recreational activities. There is also plenty of time for discussions among families and with the Madonna House Staff to share experience and knowledge and to explore whatever subjects or problems are of interest to them. The focus of Cana is to build Christian community and family.
The week is intended to be one of families sharing life in a Christian community. We therefore ask that families not bring “guests” (other relatives, friends of the family, etc.). We have found that the presence of such guests tends to reduce the experience of renewed unity within the family. Sometimes families may know other staff of Madonna House presently assigned to Combermere. Even visits with these can disrupt the flow of the week for families, so we ask people to arrange their visits with staff or friends in the area before they are due to arrive at camp on Sunday afternoon, or on Saturday when they have left Cana.
Some thought should be given to how your older teenagers will enjoy the week. If they enjoy meeting new friends, swimming, hiking, fishing, etc., they will probably enjoy their stay. If they are more interested in the activities of a city or large town, they might not enjoy a week in the country.
No pets, please!
All families are asked to arrive on Sunday afternoon between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. This gives everyone time to settle in and be prepared for the Sunday evening orientation meeting at 7:00 p.m. This important meeting with the host couple and the Madonna House team sets the tone for the week and provides needed practical information. The week ends with Mass on Saturday morning and final farewells.
There is no definite cost. This is left to the conscience and financial ability of each family. Madonna House believes strongly that no one should stay away because of financial difficulties. We do, however, require a non-refundable deposit with your application, according to your means.
In order to make this experience available to a larger number of families, we also have a general policy that a family cannot return two years in a row.
For more insight into Cana Colony, you might be interested in the following articles, printed in our newspaper to commemorate its 50th anniversary:
Applications for reservations are sent out beginning in January for the coming summer. If you are interested in receiving an application, please write:
Madonna House Apostolate
2888 Dafoe Rd
Combermere ON K0J 1L0
Note: If you send us e-mail, please remember to include your full name and complete postal mailing address.