Posted August 16, 2011:
Our Family Goes to Cana

by Deacon Forrest Wallace, associate deacon of MH.

My wife Mary was a Cana kid. When she went to Cana Colony, Madonna House’s retreat-vacation for families, with her family, she was only five years old.

The year was 1960-something, and she remembers a tall woman with a booming voice, white hair, and a commanding presence. Mary thinks it must have been "the B"—Catherine Doherty.

She remembers camp fires and white birches and a walk with her Dad in the woods. And stories so scary no one could sleep, and the warmth of a wood stove on a cool summer night, and the stars. Oh my, the stars!

Twenty years passed.

Not long after we were married and had started our family, Mary began suggesting that we go to Cana Colony. Something always made her want to go back there. She had had other vacations, of course, but she never cared to repeat any of them—only Cana in Combermere. She had never forgotten that one week there.

Mary had been touched by Madonna House in another way, too. The spirituality of Catherine Doherty had enriched the daily life of her mother, a wonderful woman who filled her home, her husband, and her children with joy. Mary’s Mom understood the hidden life of Nazareth.

Mary cherishes two special family photographs: one of her mother at Madonna House sitting on the grass in the flower garden, her yellow dress as bright as the flowers riotously blooming around her; the other of her dad in the same garden, standing next to the statue of St. Joseph the Carpenter, looking strong and kind.

Time passed and life happened. And for one reason or another, though Mary recommended Cana Colony to friends and strangers, we never got there ourselves those first few years of our marriage.

Finally, some time after we had moved from New Jersey to the Boston area, everything fell into place for us to go.

We wrote our letter, late of course, asking to go, little expecting to be accepted the first time we inquired. We didn’t know that new families go to the front of the line. It’s like "everybody line up in reverse alphabetical order starting with Z" in a Catholic grade school. It just doesn’t happen.

So in the summer of 1991, we arrived in Combermere. By then we’d been married for ten years and had five children.

What could be so special about this place that it had stayed in my Mary’s heart for so long? What made her mother keep sending us old issues of Restoration to read and reread. Was there really something that special going on in Combermere, Ontario?

The week began. A young priest, Father David May, gave us conferences, played cards with us, taught with stories and phony beards from the dress up box, and showed us by his joy how satisfying the priestly vocation can be.

We shared our lives with a "host family," the Shingledeckers, lovely, friendly people who made us feel at home in the rustic cabins, at the lakefront, and in the cook-shack where we cooked and ate our meals.

And then there was Peggy Cartmell, a Madonna House staff member, who watched over us with care.

We saw the Little Mandate, the spirituality of Madonna House, being lived out by all these people and by the other members of the apostolate whom we met.

And then there were the other families. They were doing strange things like home-schooling their children, praying together, trying to grow organic gardens, and just trying to not be like everyone else. They were families trying to be Catholic in a world rapidly rejecting Jesus and his Church.

Best of all, the Faith was alive in these families, families like ours, who struggled to pray the family rosary with toddlers. These families were so much fun, so authentic; each one with a different story.

We fished, we swam, we prayed, we explored, and we saw the face of our Creator in the wilds of Canada. We came to know and love one another in the simple process of living a week of faith, and family fun.

It was a week of challenge and peace. And it was so sublime to be in the presence of Our Lady of Combermere and under her protection.

We learned so much, and we came to realize that we are small and poor. That is so freeing!

Then all of a sudden, the week was over. We said good-bye and promised to never forget each other (we never have) and to stay in touch (we tried and mostly failed). (These were the days before the instant message.)

Cana isn’t a cure for anything. The same family that comes to Cana Colony leaves it six days later. But it does change hearts, and it’s a chance to push the reset button and begin again, warts and all. It’s a place to experience God’s mercy.

We returned to Cana eight times and now, twenty years after our first visit, we are a host family, part of the team that serves the families. We come back to Combermere because it is our spiritual home, and now that most of our eight children are grown, we want to share the gift of Cana Colony with other families.

For more information, write: Cana Colony, Madonna House, 2888 Dafoe Rd., R.R. 2, Combermere, ON K0J 1L0 Canada or phone: (613) 756-3713.


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