Posted September 23, 2011 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (September 2011)

by Paulette Curran.

As I write this, it is the height of summer, a summer that is bursting with life in more ways than one.

It’s certainly bursting in nature. Ever since late spring, we’ve been having lots of rain and, more recently, lots of heat and sunshine. The trees and grass are lush, the flowers bright and sparkling, and at the farm the crops are growing, growing, growing.

Summer is a time of lots of people coming through. It’s the peak time for our shops (gift shop, flea market, and second hand bookshop) and museum.

And lots of people are coming for tours—individuals, families, and groups. The groups have included 52 ladies from the Legion of Mary in Kingston, 20 ladies of Polish origin and descent (brought here by a former applicant from Ukraine), and 25 people on pilgrimage from Brazil to New York City and parts of Canada.

Other visitors stayed with us, and these included members of Catherine Doherty’s family and Fr. Gerard Bradley, the spiritual director of a seminary in the south of England. The staff of MH England have given teachings there especially about poustinia.

Cana Colony, our retreat-vacation camp for families is also in session. The families seem to love Cana and get so much out of it—especially the spiritual input and being with families like-minded in their desire and struggles to live the Gospel.

Our priests are also helping out at two other family camps, one in Quebec and one in New York State.

And our summer program, a big focus of our attention these days, is in full swing. The young people attending are getting lots of input: talks, work, recreational activities, etc. The theme this year is Living Faith, and the witness talks, staff telling the stories of their vocations and/or sharing about their journeys with the Lord, seem especially moving this year.

So far, the summer program has included, among other things, a picnic, a play (a very original adaptation of Tolstoy’s short story, "How Much Land Does a Man Need?") and a day of recollection.

But probably our most joyous day came before summer began: on June 8, the feast of Our Lady of Combermere and the day some of our members made their promises, their commitment to God through this Madonna House vocation.

For what is more awesome, more joyous, more hopeful than watching young people give their lives to God?

This year the day turned out to be a celebration of the vocation of marriage as well. Three of those making first promises, Veronica Ferri, Beth Scott, and Gudrun Schultz, come from large families: families of 14, 8, and 7 children, respectively.

And what is unusual: those three come from our diocese of Pembroke. Needless to say, lots of their families came for the occasion.

Plus one of those making finals, Teresa Gehred, who is one of six children, had 35 guests.

Not surprisingly, many of the brothers and sisters of these young staff are in the early years of their marriages, and among the many children attending were 25 tots four years old and under.

All told, this may have been the largest number of people we have ever had for promises.

It was the very presence of all these young families in the midst of our celibate community that was a celebration of marriage, and Fr. David May brought them into the homily.

"A vocation is a beautiful thing," he said, "And marriage, too, is a vocation, a gift of love from God. To have a vocation is to be chosen for a special mission. To have a vocation is to know you are loved, for God has chosen you personally."

There were, as always, a few individual touches: Tina Tan, whose background is Chinese, wore a beautiful Chinese dress which her mother brought her for the occasion, and Hugo Isaza, who is Colombian, made his promises in Spanish.

One very special guest was the bishop of our diocese, Bishop Michael Mulhall. Though he told us he was very grateful to be able to listen to a homily instead of giving one, he did say a few words at the end of Mass, a few very encouraging words including these:

"In the faces and voices of so many present I can see an enormous joy, a joy that is the fruit of your lives, a fruit which spreads not only throughout this area, but far, far beyond it. Something beautiful is going on here and it is bearing fruit. The fruit is there, though sometimes it is only seen years later."

At the end of Mass, the joy he spoke of burst out into spontaneous song and dance.

In the afternoon, after the reception and while we were all relaxing together, Fr. Brian Christie (a former longterm guest who is now stationed in a parish in nearby Barry’s Bay), and a few of the staff played classical and Celtic music on the front porch.

Then suddenly, and I do mean suddenly, a huge storm broke out knocking out the electricity. The storm cleared up quickly, though, and by 5:30, we were able to follow our custom for the feast of Our Lady of Combermere—gathering at her statue and saying the rosary.

Another joyous event was the reception into the Catholic Church of Carla Wicklund, who first came here as a working guest ten years ago and has returned for other visits during those years.

Some of you might remember hearing about the one-woman play of the life of Catherine Doherty, a play adapted and performed by Cynthia Donnelly, who took it on tour for a time. Well, it was performed recently by Sister Anne Kathleen McLaughlin at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa.

Three of our staff attended it and found it interesting to see it outside its Madonna House context. During the play, the audience was riveted, and talking with some of them at the reception afterwards, our staff were struck by how deeply they had grasped Catherine.

Fr. Denis Lemieux’s thesis is available as a book whose title is: She is Our Response: The Virgin Mary and the Church’s Encounter with Modernity in the Writings of Joseph Ratzinger.

Fr. Denis now also has a blog: Life with a German Shepherd—mainly dedicated to the teachings of Pope Benedict. You can check it out at:

Fifteen staff, under the direction of Beth Holmes, led First Vespers in a nearby parish that was hosting the relics of St. André of Montreal.

On one Sunday afternoon, a few staff hosted a display of a pioneer bedroom at a fair celebrating 150 years of Renfrew County (our county). Our museum also lent them some old photos for other displays.

Two of our brand new staff, Tina Tan and Beth Scott, told the story of their vocations to the group, Friends of MH, in Ottawa.

And last, but certainly not least, St. Mary’s, because of leaks, is in the process of being re-roofed.

That’s it for this time. God’s peace to all of you.


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