Posted November 21, 2011 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (November 2011)

by Paulette Curran.

Most funeral times at Madonna House are intense, all-encompassing affairs, times in which the rest of life seems to stand still—times when all efforts, thoughts, and prayers seem to center on the person who died and on the funeral preparations and events.

But that did not happen with the funeral of Fr. Paul. It couldn’t. He died at a time when too much else was going on. He died during the harvest and neither harvesting nor the work required to put up the harvest can wait.

He died, moreover, three days before what we call, "Heritage Fest," an event which MH, in recent years, has been putting on every year, one which we had already advertised widely in the area. We could not cancel or postpone it.

But God works all things for good. The word that comes to me—the word for the very few days in which Fr. Paul was dying, his death, and all the events of his funeral time—is "peace."

You couldn’t ask for a more gentle death than Fr. Paul’s. Though he had been weakening for the past couple of days, on the afternoon of August 31st, he had a 20-minute "laugh-filled" visit with Patti Birdsong.

Not long afterwards, he experienced some distress. Elizabeth Bassarear, a nurse, stayed with him, Linda Owen, (a care-taker) went for a priest, and he died in Linda’s arms shortly after she and Fr. David May returned.

I’ll now report the events of those very full days in the order in which they happened.

The next event was on Saturday and Sunday: Heritage Fest. Heritage Fest, as we call it, is a kind of combination craft fair and celebration of the pioneering past of this area put on by our handicraft department, gift shop, museum, and the people who do the various crafts and works using old fashioned methods.

It was a major event, and quite a number of us were involved in it in one way or another.

At our handicraft center, visitors could, among other things, watch Mary Davis and Charlie Cavanaugh spin; and Gretchen Schafer and Mary McGoff weave.

They could watch Raandi King or Diana Breeze at the potter’s wheel. Diana even gave simple potting lessons to some children.

All sorts of demonstrations were going on. Janine Gobeil (on Saturday) and Julie Coxe (on Sunday) dipped candles and told all about candle making.

Eliana das Chargas did some encaustic painting (You can look up what this is, if you wish.)

And visitors could try their hands at some of the crafts. They could help gouge out a bowl from a block of wood, knit, quill (this one can be looked up, too), and dip and mold candles.

At one point all ten chairs at the quilling table were occupied with young quillers, one of whom could not be lured away even with the offer of freshly-made ice cream.

Children also put together and took apart handmade jigsaw puzzles, and Anne Marie Murphy demonstrated several times—to fascinated adults, mostly men—the making of the puzzles.

Those are only some of the crafts featured!

In the yard, people could learn about bees and honey and taste our new honey on homemade bread. They could watch Jeannine Biron and Loreta Fritz card wool. They could also churn butter and turn the crank to make ice cream. (Yes, they got to sample the homemade ice cream.)

They could see (on Sunday afternoon) a marionette show.

And that’s only some of what was happening in the yard!

Plus our pioneer museum and all the shops were open: the gift shop, the flea market, and the bookshop. And staff, some in costume, milled about and chatted with the visitors. It was a wonderful opportunity to visit with friends and neighbors and get acquainted with others we didn’t know.

Reporters and photographers from three local newspapers covered the event.

And, obviously, other things were going on that weekend, as well.

On Saturday, a good number of people were up at the farm cutting and canning peaches, which had been donated from a region further south.

Sunday was even busier. At 12:30, we had the reception of Fr. Paul’s body, which was then waked from 2 to 4. And a call went out to anyone not involved in Heritage Fest or hospitality to people attending the wake to help prepare the food for the funeral reception.

Sunday evening, we had a wake service.

On Monday, we had the funeral Mass, burial, and a reception afterwards. In the evening, we had memories night, a time when we share stories and memories about the deceased. (Some of them are in the article, "Memories of Fr. Paul.")

In all those events, all that time between the death and memories night, the peace was palpable. Only the Holy Spirit could have brought that about.

Death and new life were certainly juxtaposed that week. For the following Thursday, September 8th , was the day we officially accepted applicants, those entering into a time of formation to become members of Madonna House.

This year we welcomed three of them: one for each part of our community: one layman, one woman, and one priest. (See "Milestones.") The priest, Fr. Brian, was the parish assistant in Barry’s Bay, 18 km. away, the closest town to the village of Combermere.

The next week was filled with work bees—two of which had been postponed from the week before because of the funeral. I don’t ever remember more bees in one week.

Monday, it was clothing sorting—sorting the clothing we had received in donation in preparation for its distribution to those who need it.

Tuesday, after lunch there was—once again for anyone whose work elsewhere could wait—a corn shucking bee. (We had a bumper crop of corn this year.)

Wednesday was our annual chicken bee—when the chickens are killed, plucked, gutted, washed, and frozen to be made into "chicken soup for the sick." Once again it was all hands on deck.

The chicken bee finished early, and people went to the kitchen to de-cob the corn that had been shucked. We ended up with 1000 cups of it in the freezer for the winter.

Then Friday was the monthly Restoration mail-out bee, the day we mailed out the October paper. ("This is better than chickens," said one of the new guests as she folded a newspaper.)

Then the following Monday afternoon, we had the first half of the potato harvesting bee.

Towards the end of the afternoon, rain was "sprinkling," and it was a push to get all the baskets of potatoes we had picked inside before it began to rain in earnest. (Actually, it never went beyond the sprinkle stage, and we ended up gathering more potatoes.)

We had time to change out of our gardening clothes to greet our associate priests who were arriving for supper. Then at 8 p.m., we all attended the opening Mass of their four days of meetings.

These meetings are a time of retreat and of being together and with us. It’s always a graced time.

During this time, among other things, two associates renewed their promises and one made finals.

Well, after that whirlwind, let me add just a few other items of news:

The resident assistants and proctors (student houseparents for dorms) of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, our local school of higher learning, spent a day of training here. Among other things, they were given a workshop on communication skills by Mary McGoff.

New staff, Veronica Ferri and Gudrun Schultz, gave a talk to local young women on modesty in dress, a talk which one of their mothers had requested.

Several members of Marg Stobie’s family came for the blessing of her cross.

Fr. Denis Lemieux, who attended World Youth Day, reported that he was surprised and delighted, at a talk by Archbishop Tim Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, to hear him talk about Catherine Doherty.

Our directors general made a visitation to Maryhouse, Yukon.

I guess that’s all the news from this quiet little corner of God’s Kingdom in the backbush of Ontario.


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