Posted July 07, 2011 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (July-August 2011)

by Paulette Curran.

Combermere has had a cool, rainy spring, but no weather lasts forever, and just these last few days the sun has been shining warmly, and you can smell that summer is not far off.

Spring comes late to these northern parts, and now in late May we are enjoying the warmth and sunlight—and the flowers, the grass dotted with dandelions and the trees richly clad in their new leaves. All that green is very welcome after the long winter.

And just this morning, I heard and then spotted high up in the sky a flock of Canada geese returning home. They are most welcome harbingers of summer.

But definitely not welcome are the mosquitoes and black flies that also come at this time of year. Black flies bite like mosquitoes, but they are smaller and don’t buzz. Fortunately, they also only stick around for a month or so.

This is also the time when the seasonal farm work begins in earnest, the shop keepers put a push on to get ready for the vacationers, and Joanne Weisbeck and others do the same for the Cana families.

We are still in the Easter Season, the alleluias and "Christ is risen!" less exuberant than they were on Easter Sunday, but still very much in our songs and liturgies.

Holy Week, as always, was rich and full. Besides the liturgies of the week, whose profundity we can never fully plummet, Madonna House has some extras: a penance service, Easter egg dyeing, and from the Byzantine Rite, the ceremony of the Burial of Christ on Good Friday evening. It’s based on their funeral service and is a good transition between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Our priests, members of the spiritual formation program, and applicants, also attended the Chrism Mass in Pembroke, our diocesan seat.

And, on Easter Monday, for those who wished to attend, Fr. Robert Johnson celebrated a Tridentine Mass. Several people, under the direction of Fr. Pat McNulty, had even formed a Latin choir for the occasion.

And then Easter. Ah, Easter! The Resurrection is the greatest tenet of our faith, and our foundress Catherine Doherty taught us numerous ways of celebrating it as such: pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs), koolitch and paska (Russian Easter foods), song, music, decorations, festive food, time to relax (including, if we wished, a trip to the farm to see the new lambs) and, of course, beautiful liturgies.

One other celebration during the time frame of this column was the 95th birthday of Mamie Legris, our oldest member.

There were a few events throughout the day—probably the most original being the arrival of some of the farmers during lunch. Their birthday song was accompanied by Wally, their musical dog. (Whenever you sing, "Happy Birthday to you-ou-ou-ou," he howls along!)

At Mamie’s request, Janine Gobeil and Sofia Segal serenaded her with fiddle and accordion, and at the morning tea break amid treats and coffee, Mamie answered questions.

In 1952, Mamie, one of our pioneers, was in the first group of staff to make promises, that is, to take the first step towards committing themselves to Madonna House as a permanent vocation. In 1954, she was appointed the first director of our first mission house—Maryhouse in the Yukon.

In answer to the question, "How do you persevere?" Mamie replied, "Get up each morning and make the cereal."

Our directors general were in Rome at the time and gave Mamie the gift of an ornamental crab apple tree, which they said would be planted when they got home from Rome and the snow was gone.

And so it happened. Just a few days ago, the tree was planted in a simple ceremony twenty feet from Mamie’s window where she, and the rest of us, too, will be able to watch it grow. Right now, it’s over six feet tall and full of small pink blossoms.

There was another lovely birthday celebration: Marité Langlois’ 85th. Seven of her cousins came all the way from Quebec for the occasion. Marité and Mamie are the only ones left of that first group to make promises in Madonna House.

Another event of note, one which happens every year, was the ending of the spiritual formation program with each participant giving a little farewell speech about his experience here.

The spiritual formation program, which began in 1980, is a pre-seminary program MH offers for men seriously considering priesthood.

It goes from early October until Easter and consists of living our life with us in the same way as the working guests, with some additions, mainly in the form of classes. Fr. Tom Zoeller is the director of the program.

We are currently having the annual meeting of the directors of all our houses.

These meetings are a time of their being together, of restoration (hopefully), of looking at the apostolate and what the Lord has been doing in it for the past year, and a time of discerning the direction in which he wants us to move. It’s a time of building sobornost (a particular kind of oneness) among them.

Now here are some news in brief:

The farmers have been taking courses, attending meetings, etc. Mike Huffman attended a sheep convention, and he and Scott Eagan attended a sheep grazing conference. And the farmers attended the annual meeting of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.

Patrick Stewart and Chuck Sharp took a cheese-making course, and Paul Mitchell and Derek Pinto took a first aid course.

Janet Bourdet and Anne Marie Murphy attended a regional meeting/pot luck supper with the Canadian Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Catechists.

Alma Coffman, whose background is Mennonite, went to Indiana to present a Biblical study paper at an Anabaptist conference on Mary, My Soul Rejoices in God, My Savior.

Fr. Bob Wild gave a retreat to the priests of the Vancouver archdiocese.

Peter Gravelle and Ralph Edelbrock have been meeting regularly with a group of local men for a time of prayer and discussion.

Charles Lewis, religion editor for The National Post, a national Canadian newspaper, visited and gave us a talk about the mass media and religion and a picture of what it’s like to work in the mass media. Highly, highly pressurized.

Dr. Patrick Kirkham, a chiropractor and the husband of a former working guest, Kyla (Holzer), gave us a presentation on body mechanics and ways of taking care of our bodies.

Though we are too far from Ottawa, the closest city taking part in 40 Days for Life to take a direct part, we participated by having a holy hour for the pro-life cause. Then, later on, about twenty of us went to Ottawa for the annual March for Life.

I guess that’s all the news for now. During the beautiful summer season, may the Lord give you times of rest, beauty, joy, and restoration.


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