Posted December 31, 2010 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (December 2010)

by Paulette Curran.

Late autumn is the beginning of a relatively quiet time in Madonna House Combermere—the time between harvest and Advent. The last part of the harvest was the slaughtering, butchering, and meat cutting. Several friends helped with this including John Blum and Phil Lukovitch.

There were no major feasts this past month, but sometimes other feasts and events surprise us with unexpected blessing.

Beginning with October 11th, two feasts and one exciting event occurred within one week. Each was special in its own way, and they also somehow flowed together giving the whole week a festive feel.

The first was Thanksgiving, which this year we ended up celebrating more than usual.

As always, we had displays of our harvest: a variety of beautiful fruit and vegetables, honey, loaves of bread, big pumpkins, branches of bright leaves, etc., etc., all artistically arranged. Zoyla Grace made the display in the island chapel, Julie Coxe, the one in the dining room, and Peter Lyrette and Jocko d’Ursel, the ones at St. Mary’s.

Sometimes something seemingly small and simple helps to make a day. At breakfast, Diana Breeze encouraged us to look at the good things God has given us—including the crosses, the struggles, the hard things—to think about them and thank him all day.

We also, probably for the first time, had the afternoon off, and the Blessed Sacrament was exposed during that time, a perfect setting to praise and thank God.

At supper, we wrote some of these things we are grateful for on slips of paper, and Diana and Beth Scott read a few of them aloud (without names). Perhaps not surprisingly, some of us started by thanking God for our Catholic faith and our Madonna House vocations.

One of our guests, Nicholas, enhanced our celebration with a carved pumpkin, a surprisingly exquisite carving like none of us had ever seen.

He carved out an icon of Our Lady and the Child which you could only see with a candle inside. He managed to even give Our Lady a beautifully tender face.

Then Friday, October 15th, was Foundation Day, the 80th anniversary of the founding of Catherine’s first house, Friendship House Toronto.

We celebrated by having an "open forum" of the type they had in the early days.

Fr. Denis Lemieux gave an overview of what the world was like in the early part of the twentieth century (the world that formed Catherine), and of the 1930s when she began her apostolate. Larry Klein talked about how she responded to the needs of those times. We also had time for questions.

At St. Mary’s, Helen Porthouse and Carol Ann Gieske, put on a puppet show telling one of Catherine’s so-called "Blue Door Stories," that is, stories that took place in Friendship House in the early days of her apostolate.

Then on Sunday, Brother André Bessette was canonized. In a quiet way, we very much rejoiced in this canonization.

Several of us, some on their holidays, attended the celebrations in his native Montreal, and several here got up at 4 a.m. to see the canonization Mass live. The rest of us had the opportunity to see taped selections a few days later.

We also saw a film of his life, a couple of our spiritual readings were about him, and the farm performed a skit of his life. And in their Friday afternoon study time, the applicants learned about the saints and blesseds of Quebec.

And two of the staff in our Belgian house—Joanne Dionne and Jeanne Guillemette—were able to go to Rome to attend the canonization itself.

The spiritual formation program for men discerning priesthood has begun. Mostly they just live our life along with the other working guests, with the addition of some classes of their own.

This year six men are in the program: Ross Hartman, Yong Jo Lee, Chris Mosbacher, Jeff Panglinan, Angelo Sabbadin and Josh Trefney. Fr Tom Rowland is giving them five afternoon classes on sacramental and liturgical spirituality.

Fr. Denis Lemieux is giving all the guests classes on the fundamentals of the spiritual life.

Meanwhile, one of our buildings, called "St. Goupil’s," is undergoing major renovations, just about as major as you can get short of tearing down the building and starting over.

Right now, everything has been taken out and stripped from it; only the structure is left standing.

Essentially, this work is being done to get the building up to fire safety regulations, but since it is over fifty years old, the men are taking the opportunity to do other needed work on it as well. They are putting in dry wall, re-doing the wiring and plumbing, adding insulation, and making the office more private.

This building houses a dormitory, (the largest one we have for women staff), the office of the directors general, the laundry, and the sewing room.

So where have all those women sleeping and where is the laundry and office work being done?

Madonna House is nothing if not flexible. The women staff are temporarily sleeping at Loreto House, which usually accommodates, among others, staff who are vacationing, making retreats, or are in need of rest and restoration. (It also houses the local directors and associate priests during their respective meetings.)

The laundry is being done at St. Mary’s and in two or three other washing machines throughout the property. And the directors general are on holidays, at least for the beginning part of this operation. Their secretaries are working in an office at St. Mary’s.

Construction and renovation is ongoing. These days, Patrick McConville is working on the roof of one of our small buildings, called Lumen Christi. In 1969, at the tender age of 19, he helped Eddie Coulas, whom he considered a very old man, put on that roof. Now Patrick, at age 60 himself, is back on the roof!

This is also one of the two times a year when we send out what we call our "begging letter," asking our friends and benefactors for money. We do it at an all-house work bee, with virtually everyone taking part. Some fold the letters, some stuff them into envelopes and some seal them.

Then a few weeks later, we begin having bees to write thank you letters to those of you who responded to our request. (Are we the only organization or community that still sends personal, hand-written thank you notes?)

And what else is happening? Well, since it is a relatively quiet time, a number of people are taking their holidays. Some of those people made pilgrimages.

Three women—Peggy Cartmell, Andorra howard, and Marysia Kowalchyk—went to Medugorje. Marysia, who is an iconographer, stayed an extra week, going to Serbia to see icons there.

The applicants made their annual pilgrimage to Midland, Ontario, where the early French missionaries were martyred, and on another occasion, Doreen Rousseau and Mary McNamara also went to Midland.

Rowena Thirwall, a longtime friend and a nurse in palliative care for twenty years, came from Toronto to give us a talk on that subject.

Several of us took part in Life Chain, a pro-life vigil that takes place every year across Canada and the United States.

May each of you have a blessed, holy Advent, and a joyous Christmas.


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