Posted September 25, 2009 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (September 2009)

by Paulette Curran.

As I write this, we are at the peak of summer, and so far, it’s been an unusually cool and wet one. Probably the fact that our summer is so short is part of what makes it so special.

Life and greenery are everywhere. Flowers of every size and color are bursting from the gardens around the main house, and the wetlands close by seem to have the lushness of a jungle. At the farm and in the field in front of St. Mary’s, next winter’s vegetables (and weeds) are growing, growing, growing.

Summer is one of our busiest times of year—especially for the farmers, the shopkeepers, those working at Cana Colony, the house parents, the construction workers and carpenters, and the tour givers. This is the season of our greatest numbers of visitors: the customers, the Cana families, those coming for tours or short visits, and those staying with us and living our life.

The word that keeps coming to me about this summer is "life." Life and hope are so close to one another, and this year, the theme of our summer program for young adults is "Receiving the Gift of Hope."

How does this happen? Like all the ways visitors are touched by God at Madonna House, it is a mystery. Our visitors live our life.

They attend Mass and pray with us. They work with us: weeding gardens, chopping vegetables, washing dishes, cleaning, moving boxes. They swim and hike and play volley ball. And one after the other tells us that God is doing something deep in their hearts.

We, in turn, are given hope by them. I wish you could meet our wonderful young guests who are searching for God and who deeply want to live a gospel life, no small challenge in the world they live in.

We staff are involved in putting on the various activities of the summer program, and I think it’s safe to say that we enjoy them as much as the guests do.

Activities included talks by staff and priests, the Saturday evening seminars in which our three director generals answer questions, a bonfire and sing-along, a picnic with a variety of activities, a day of recollection, and a music night—so far.

One especially life-giving event occurred last night: a music night in which anyone who wished sang or played an instrument.

Like every such open event, it was international, a sharing of our varied cultures. The music came from from Brazil, African-America, Korea, Irish-America, and Scottish Cape Breton Island in Canada. And the kind of music ranged from Schubert’s "Ave Maria" to ragtime.

More guests than staff performed, and I wish I could put into words what happened. The level of skill and talent was astounding, and the show was an explosion of life.

What else has been happening? Two weeks after promises day in June, one of our staff, Albert Osterberger, died. Yes, death and life exist side by side.

Albert died of Alzheimer’s, and since his body was very strong, he died very slowly. So once again we were keeping vigil.

Throughout the month of June, feasts came and went, feasts that we thought would be wonderful days for him to "go home": the Sacred Heart, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Father’s Day….

A number of times, it looked like he was about to die, and groups gathered to pray the rosary and prayers for the dying. But God’s ways are not ours, and Albert rallied.

In the end, he died on June 24th. His funeral was simple, lovely, and low-key as Albert himself had been. Albert, who among other things had served as director general of men, was a father-figure to many staff and guests, both men and women, who, as so many do in these broken times, needed fathering. We will tell you more about him next month.

Yes, death and life certainly do occur side by side. The afternoon of Albert’s funeral, a number of staff left the reception early to attend the wedding of Veronica Sebanc, a former longterm guest who grew up in this area.

During supper she and her new husband visited the statue of Our Lady of Combermere where he had proposed. Someone who saw them there invited them into the dining room where we greeted them with cheers, song, hugs, and handshakes. They were radiant with life.

Summer is often a time of a major building or renovating, and this year one project is the construction of a hay barn.

Another is renovation of the women’s dorms at St. Mary’s, a renovation necessitated by new fire department regulations. The men are re-wiring and replacing tongue and groove pine paneling with dry wall.

Meanwhile, the women who usually live there are spending the summer in other buildings.

Group visits to Madonna House are not unusual in summer and last Sunday, our friend, Fr. François Beyrouti, a Melkite Rite priest brought over fifty of his parishioners to celebrate a Byzantine liturgy with us.

Afterwards they picnicked on St. Mary’s lawn. We visited with them, and a few of us gave them a talk about Madonna house and showed them around.

And oh yes, on July 1st, we celebrated Canada Day and were reminded that it was a year since Dr. Morgentaler was announced as a recipient of the Order of Canada, the event which led to our returning Catherine’s medal.

Well, these are our main events of the summer—a summer of continuing to try to live the Gospel through every big and little event of our lives.

May God bless you abundantly, and may he fill your hearts with the life and hope that only he can bring.


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