Posted December 10, 2010:
Catherine’s Love

A saint, Catherine told us, is a sinner who loves. We who lived with her saw, experienced, and learned from, her day-to-day love and struggles to love. Here are a couple of stories.

Catherine had a wonderful ability to speak to whoever she was speaking to, to reach out to each person according to who that person was.

One time, when I was an applicant, I went to eat lunch at Catherine’s table. Also at the table were a fellow applicant, Carol (not her real name), and her mother, who had come to visit her.

Carol’s mother was breathing fire. My fellow-applicant was a convert, and her mother was not Catholic. She was not happy that Carol was planning to join Madonna House.

She wasn’t saying anything—yet, but I could feel the anger exuding from her.

Catherine came to the table and gave the mother a warm, welcoming smile. With anxiety in my heart, I waited for the explosion.

Catherine started by telling a story from her waitressing days. Then another. And another. The mother didn’t say a word.

Before my eyes, a transformation was taking place. I could see Carol’s mother starting to relax just a little; then she laughed. Then the anger started to dissipate, just a little. Finally, Carol’s mother, who was a waitress, told a story of her own.

Before long, she and Catherine were laughing together, just two waitresses swapping stories. All through the meal, Catherine never said one word about Madonna House, and neither did Carol’s mother.

I don’t know what happened after that, if Catherine and the mother got together again, and if they did, what they talked about.

But before long, I could see that the mother was all right with Madonna House. She had even accepted the fact that her daughter was planning to join us.

In fact, so much did she accept Madonna House that a couple of years later, when Carol was stationed in one of our mission houses, the mother came back to visit Madonna House—for herself.

Paulette Curran

It was the early 1980s when I was an applicant. Catherine had spoken to us after lunch a number of times about our call to live true Christian poverty.

She had seen certain signs that concerned her, and she was afraid that we as a community might be compromising the call she received from the Lord to identify ourselves with the poor, to be beggars for the poor, and to be poor ourselves. And she meant not just poor in spirit, but materially poor.

She had spoken with passion and I had listened carefully, taking it all in. However an incident happened which expanded my understanding of her words in a direction I would never have expected.

It was late September, the height of apple season, so apples were plentiful. The local directors were gathered in Combermere for their annual meetings, and that afternoon I happened to be passing through the kitchen.

Catherine, too, was passing through, and I saw her stop to speak with Jan Hills, the head cook.

"Let’s have apple pie for dessert tonight," Catherine said, "as a special cheer-up for the directors."

Jan said that she didn’t think she could manage it. The kitchen staff might be able to make the crust, she said, but they wouldn’t have time to make supper and get all those apples sliced as well.

"Then just send someone into Barry’s Bay to buy the pie filling," Catherine said.

Jan said, "all right," and that evening the whole community had apple pie for dessert—pies with homemade crusts and store-bought filling.

As a youngster in the community, I marveled at what Catherine had directed Jan to do: drive twenty-two km. paying for the gas, to buy canned pie filling during the apple season!

Her passionate love for poverty didn’t prevent her from an extravagant act of love for her Madonna House family.

Charlie Cavanaugh


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Was Catherine a Mystic?



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