Posted February 22, 2011 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (February 2011)

by Paulette Curran.

In this rich, beautiful time of Advent—yes, I am writing this news column in December—so much could be said. But two events stand out: the 25th anniversary of the death of our foundress, Catherine Doherty, and the opening of a new house in Rimouski, in the province of Quebec.

First the house: One thing that makes this house especially exciting is that it is for us an entry into French Canada, a place that is quite near us geographically, and one in which we already have numerous friends.

How did this come about? As many of you know, we only open a house at the invitation of a bishop, and the bishop who invited us, Archbishop Pierre-André Fournier, is a member of our family, an associate bishop.

He was an associate priest for many years, loves Catherine and MH spirituality, and often visited us. Then in 2008, he was appointed bishop of the diocese of Rimouski. Not surprisingly, he soon invited us to open a house in his diocese. "Urged" would be a better word.

Rimouski is a small city on the St. Lawrence River, the center for a predominantly rural diocese.

Jeanne Guillemette was appointed local director and she and Jocko d’Ursel are the team. Jeanne had been in MH Belgium, and when she came back to Combermere, she and Jocko started getting ready to go. Of course they were given farewell parties, but more importantly, they were surrounded with prayer.

After Mass on the Sunday before they left, we all gathered to pray over them as Fr. David May read the prayer from the Order of Blessing of Missionaries, a prayer that has been prayed by countless religious orders over countless missionaries probably for centuries. Here’s an excerpt from it:

[O Lord,] guide their steps with your mighty arm, and with the power of your grace, strengthen them in spirit so that they will not falter through weariness.

Make their words the echo of Christ’s voice, so that those who hear them may be drawn to obey the Gospel.

Fill the hearts of your missionaries with the Holy Spirit, so that, becoming all things to all people, they may lead many to you, the Father of all, to sing your praises in your holy Church.

After following this custom of the Church, at breakfast we followed a Madonna House custom: the bestowing of a key, a symbol of authority, to a new local director. This is a custom begun, as are most of our traditions, by Catherine Doherty.

In giving the key, our director general of women, Susanne Stubbs, highlighted that Jeanne and Jocko were being sent like pilgrims, having no home of their own. (They will at first be living in a borrowed one.) Then she blessed them using Catherine’s words:

By the power given me by God, I appoint you director, to lead your staff ever closer to Jesus through Mary, to serve all who come with ever-increasing charity, and to show ever clearer the face of Christ.

Remember: to govern is to love….

She concluded the ceremony by blessing first Jeanne and then Jocko.

On Tuesday, November 23, the morning of their departure, Fr. Louis Lebrecque said Mass in Catherine’s cabin for the team, the directors general and Steve Héroux. (Fr. Louis and Steve, both from Quebec, together drove them to Rimouski.)

Then after breakfast, we all went out to the yard to see them off.

Next, the 25th anniversary of Catherine’s death. We did it mainly as we do every year for her anniversary—with a day of recollection. This has become a tradition for us—a day of remembering Catherine, a day of quiet and prayer, a day to quiet our hearts in the midst of busy Advent.

We have a late morning Mass, brunch, an afternoon conference, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and, usually a Russian supper.

There were a few differences this year. For one thing: Bishop Michael Mulhall, the bishop of our diocese, came and said the Mass for us and stayed for brunch.

In the afternoon conference, Fr. Bob Pelton, the first priest specifically ordained for Madonna House and someone who knew Catherine well for many years, told us some of his memories of her, memories that painted a picture of her: of her readiness to repent and to forgive and ask forgiveness—and then begin again.

And of her ability "to turn on a dime" when she sensed God was asking her to. And of her unique and continually surprising humanness.

In the evening, those of us who remember her also shared memories: Here are just a couple of examples: Carol Ann Gieske and Alma Coffman, who were with her when she died, told us some of those details.

And Mary Beth Mitchell read a letter that Catherine had written her when she (Catherine) was attending a lay apostolic congress in Rome—a letter filled with rare tenderness and thoughtfulness to a young staff worker, a letter illustrating the deep and very personal love she had for each of us.

All together these memories gave a picture of the very human, very colorful, very wise woman who was our foundress and mother.

The next day, of course, it was back to Advent. There is much preparation work to "put on" the Advent feasts and Christmas.

The guests are very much a part of this as they attend their liturgy classes, learning about the various feasts and presenting them to the community. This year their classes are led by Veronica Dudych, Eliana das Chagas, Fr. Murray Kuemper, and Paul Mitchell.

There have been other classes as well. The applicants, men of the spiritual formation program, and guests all have their own. Then there were craft classes available on Sunday afternoon, on how to make Chinese dragon boats and Japanese Tamari balls (Christmas ornaments) and birch bark Christmas cards. (First you have to gather and prepare the bark.)

Also the men made available a class in mudding, that is putting "mud" on walls. Their students put their new skill into practice that day by helping with the work on the walls of St. Goupil’s, which is undergoing major renovations.

Marie-Thérèse McLaughlin organized a musical jam session—people getting together playing a variety of instruments. There was, of course, a wide range of skills, and there were instruments available that anyone can play.

Well, that’s the news for this month. May God bless each of you with his peace and love.


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