On July 8, 2008, the Directors General of Madonna House went to Rideau Hall and returned the Order of Canada medal awarded to our foundress, Catherine Doherty. This is in response to the awarding of the same honour to Dr. Henry Morgentaler.
Below, you can read our press release, followed by our letter to the Governor General:
Order of Canada to be Returned Publicly Tuesday
Peaceful Visit to Rideau Hall For Group Representing Madonna House Founder, Catherine Doherty
OTTAWA (July 7, 2008) – Representatives from Madonna House, a Catholic community based in Combermere, Ontario, will make the journey to Ottawa Tuesday morning to return the Order of Canada medal awarded to founder, Catherine Doherty.
The move is in response to the awarding of one of Canada’s highest honours to Dr. Henry Morgentaler, as announced by the Governor General’s Office on July 1, 2008.
Catherine Doherty (August 15, 1896 – December 14, 1985) was a pioneer of social justice and an internationally acclaimed speaker. In addition to founding the community of Madonna House, she was a prolific writer and best-selling author of dozens of books. She was awarded the Order of Canada in 1976 in recognition of “a lifetime of devoted services to the underprivileged of many nationalities, both in Canada and abroad.” Her cause for canonization as a saint was opened by Bishop Brendan O’Brien, then bishop of the diocese of Pembroke, Ontario, in 2000.
Fr. David May, one of the three directors of Madonna House, commented on the decision to return the medal to the Governor General:
“Catherine Doherty was honoured to receive this award in 1976. She exemplified what the Order of Canada should be about: an individual committed to strengthening the nation by her contribution to the vulnerable and the marginalized. It is only after much prayer and consultation with our community, as well as with heavy hearts, that we are undertaking this action. The Order has been devalued in recent days, and we are confident that Catherine is spiritually present with us, affirming this gesture of love for our country and for the values which alone can sustain it. Without absolute respect for the gift of life, no society can survive.”
Members of the Madonna House community will gather at the entrance to Rideau Hall to present in a symbolic gesture a letter to the Governor General, and will return the Order of Canada pin on Tuesday, July 8, 2008, at 11 a.m. Media are invited to attend, and representatives of the community will be available for interviews following the return of the medal.
Madonna House, founded in 1947 by Catherine Doherty and her husband, Eddie, is a community of more than 200 laymen, women, and priests dedicated to loving and serving Christ through promises of poverty, chastity and obedience. Each of the community’s missions has a distinct mandate, from offering soup kitchens to places of retreat. All operate in a spirit of prayer, openness, and fellowship. In addition to the original community in Combermere, Ontario, there are 18 field houses (missions) in seven countries around the world.
Additional resources on the life of Catherine Doherty and the Madonna House Apostolate can be found by visiting: www.madonnahouse.org or www.catherinedoherty.org
MEDIA CONTACT: Susanne Stubbs or Larry Klein—Madonna House (613) 756-3713
July 8, 2008
Her Excellency the Governor General
The Rt. Honourable Michaelle Jean
Government House, Ottawa
Before all else we want to thank you for the work you do for us as Head of State of this country. Today we address you also as Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada. The argument we present is primarily with those who advised you to award the Order of Canada to Dr. Henry Morgentaler.
A word of explanation is due. “We” are the Madonna House Apostolate. We are an ecclesial community, within the Catholic Church, headquartered in Combermere, Ontario. There are 220 members of the community. We want to return the Order of Canada medal awarded to the community’s founder, Catherine de Hueck Doherty. The return is to protest the very recent award of the same honour to Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a militant abortionist cited for his upstanding contribution to the life of the nation. This is insupportable in our view. The circumstances prompt the unusual act of returning the award of a person no longer living. Catherine died in 1985.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, was a Russian refugee of the October Revolution. Her life in Canada became a call to a gospel life in Christ lived in the world as a lay person. This call was expressed in social and spiritual works which sought to guard the dignity of the human person and to find justice for the most vulnerable. Her unique vision, affirmed by the Church, of a community — a spiritual family— of celibate laymen, lay women and priests, began in Toronto in 1930 with the work of serving the poor. It took her to New York and the struggle for racial justice, then to rural Ontario and neighbourly service. The vision of the Apostolate grew. Men, women and priests joined. Social service and prayer houses were opened around the world. In 1976 Catherine received the Order of Canada for, “a lifetime of devoted services to the underprivileged of many nationalities, both in Canada and abroad.” For her it was her greatest decoration, surpassing the Medal of St. George she once received from the Czar. The Order of Canada was an immeasurable gift to her. It meant: “Canada accepted me.”
How can we be so presumptuous as to ask the Governor General to take back this medal which meant so much to Catherine? This deserves an explanation. I quote Catherine, writing to the staff of Madonna House April 12, 1976, five days after receiving the Order of Canada from Governor General Jules Leger; “they read out what I had done before I approached the Governor General and received the medal. But as I said, beloved family, I haven’t received a medal. As far as the medal is concerned you are all in it, for there would be no Madonna House without you and perhaps none without me, but it is a joint venture as far as I am concerned.” Catherine Doherty’s treasure is a community treasure, something we were proud of.
Madonna House Apostolate is today a small community, of no great account, wealthy only in the abundance of nature which surrounds our main house in Combermere, Ontario. We live by begging and the work of our hands. Yet now, the awarding of the Order of Canada to Dr. Morgentaler compels us to protest in the most forceful, peaceful way available to us. Not only do we find his medical practice the dark side of the medical profession but his inclusion in the awards diminishes them. And an award that was meant to be a sign of unity is bringing division. Something is not right. That is the start of why we are returning the medal. “We” means the whole community. We are of one mind in this.
Dr. Morgentaler’s work, so enthusiastically listed in his citation, more likely represents the reverse side of an otherwise bright medal. In our view, through his crusade, the dignity of the person is violently transgressed, justice for the most vulnerable is trampled on, the healing arts are compromised, and little faith is shown for the future. Is this really what we want as a nation?
Catherine Doherty would not have judged Henry Morgentaler, nor should we. Like all of us, he is a poor person. Has he not been surrounded by death all his life? Yet we have to protest … simply, peacefully, unremittingly and with the tools we have at hand … the serious misdirection our country and many of its leaders, in our view, appear to be taking, as exemplified by the award and glowing citation given him for his misguided work. Catherine Doherty would shout, “Wait. Don’t you see where we are going? There is another way. I’ll show it to you.” With this act of returning the Order of Canada we are choosing to place truth before honours. It is the truth pointed to in the very motto of the Order of Canada, taken from the Bible, Hebrews 11:16— desiderantes meliorem patriam … “they desire a better homeland…”. In truth, does this verse fragment not find its full meaning in the words that rightly complete the line? They are, “they desire a better homeland, their heavenly homeland.” The verse concludes; “That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, since he has founded the city for them.”
In the end, by returning the Order of Canada, we simply wish to bring, to the consideration of the people, what was and, arguably still is, a founding vision for Canada. Catherine Doherty would do the same.
Fr. David May, Susanne Stubbs, Mark Schlingerman
Directors General of Madonna House for all Madonna House Apostolate
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