Posted June 22, 2010 in MH Carriacou, Grenada:
She Had Always Been With Us

by Carolyn Desch.

Ever since the statue of Our Lady of Combermere arrived in Combermere in 1961, the presence of Our Lady under that title has been very much with us. And this presence stayed with us wherever we opened houses.

In 1961, Trudi Cortens, Marité Langlois, and Elsie Whitty were sent to open a house on the island of Carriacou in the West Indies. It was our first overseas mission.

They arrived by schooner after an eight-hour trip. The sea had been rough in places, the boat was full, and people had with them chickens, goats, and other wares they had bought on their shopping trip to the larger island of Grenada.

This was the beginning of an adventure and a lifetime of wonderful memories for these ladies who had come to live, work, and establish a house of love and friendship on this small, beautiful, island in the Caribbean.

With Trudi directing the daily work of the house, Marité began to teach catechism to the children, and Elsie began to nurse at the medical clinic.

The local people called them "Sister," and were very curious about these white ladies. Except for the parish priest, white people were rare there.

For the "Sisters," there was a lot to learn about how to live in this new culture that had limited electricity, telephone service, and drinking water; mail only twice a week; and foods that were unfamiliar.

How to shop at the market? How to cook on a coal pot? How to launder their clothes?

In the dry season, nothing grew. The sun "baked" the soil, and the whole island looked brown. It was like a miracle when the rainy season arrived and lush green grew everywhere. Now the question was: how to plant and grow food?

These valiant women looked to their neighbors for help, and kind, gracious people came to the rescue. The help the MH women had come to bring became an exchange for help, and friendships developed quickly. And always, there were births, baptism, weddings, and funerals to celebrate.

As time went on, other staff came. I came in 1965, not as a staff worker (I joined MH later on) but as a Papal Volunteer who lived and worked with the Madonna House staff.

Next to Madonna House lived a neighbor called Dido. She had the most beautiful piercing eyes even though you could see cataracts growing on them after her years of working in the brilliant sun. Sonia, a grandchild not yet of school age, lived with her.

Her house was small. I remember only one room, but that was years ago, and my memory could be wrong. I don’t know how Dido managed to feed and clothe Sonia or herself as there seemed to be no one supporting them. One or another of us often visited and spent time with them.

One day, another neighbor called at our door, "Sister Trudi, come," she said, "It’s Dido." Dido was dying.

In that hot climate, the dead were often buried the same day. Madonna House nurse, Marie Javora, and Mary Gehde (a fellow Papal Volunteer) helped prepare Dido’s body for burial.

We all dressed in white according to the custom for funerals and accompanied the body to the grave site along with other neighbors and friends of Dido.

As we processed, people sang the traditional hymns in full voice in harmonies that had been passed down from generation to generation.

The cemetery was not far from the parish church—just up the hill a ways, and though the sun was hot, there were billowing clouds in the sky. The procession stretched out in a long line, and the MH staff were scattered among the people.

Suddenly, one of the staff who was close by me and Mary said, "Look up!"

I did, and there in the clouds was Our Lady of Combermere with her arms stretched out and her face so tender, looking on as we processed to the grave. Mary Gehde saw her, too, but I don’t remember which of the other staff. Our Lady remained in the cloud until Dido was buried.

It was a memorable day. A simple funeral of a poor woman, a friend, blessed by the presence of Our Lady of Combermere, who had always been with us from the first day of our arrival on the island of Carriacou.


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