Posted November 28, 2012 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (November 2012)

by Paulette Curran.

Early autumn, harvest time, is always a busy time here, as well as a beautiful one.

Helen Schreiner’s death was both sudden and not so sudden. For a few months, she had been somewhat seriously ill and in a lot of pain with a few different illnesses and conditions.

Then on Friday, August 24th, after a series of tests, she was diagnosed with bone cancer. The plan had been that she would come home on Monday, but God had other plans.

Sunday, during the night, she lost consciousness. She died on Monday morning at 10:30.

There are things we do at every funeral, and always there are individual touches. Helen had requested George Gershwin music during the funeral reception. (I don’t think we’ve ever had background music for the reception before.)

And we ended her memories night, a time when we share stories of the deceased, with a showing of the You Tube of Susan Boyle. (Helen hadn’t requested that, but she would certainly have enjoyed it!)

Then two days later, over Labor Day weekend, we were plunged into another event: the gift shop and handicraft departments put on for local people and vacationers, what we call "Heritage Fest," a festival celebrating the pioneering past of this area.

It’s amazing what we can pull together; well, maybe not so amazing, because at Heritage Fest, we simply display what we are doing all the time: engaging in a wide variety of work and hobbies that use old methods and old materials.

Many of the displays were interactive. In the yard, you could turn the crank to make ice cream; you could card wool, and you could churn butter. You could even help Patrick Stewart paint a picture in oils.

In St. Raphael’s Handicraft Center, you could knit, quill, or try using a jigsaw to make a piece or two of a puzzle. You could watch weaving, spinning, pottery making, and try your hand at dipping candles.

You could watch Mark Schlingerman carving a door sign and Peter Amaral making lampadas (vigil light holders for icons) and other things out of tin cans and see a bee and honey display.

You could try calligraphy, and children could get animals and other things made out of balloons and get their faces painted. If you came at the right time, you could watch a puppet show.

And that’s only some of what you could see and do.

Lots of families came with lots of children, and it was a great time for visiting with old friends and making new ones.

Then a week or so later, the women staff all got together to watch the kind of movie that Helen (but not most of the rest of us) loved: a sentimental, romantic, 1935 musical comedy—Naughty Marietta.


We’d experienced death, and on September 8th, it was time for new life: the reception of applicants, people entering into a period of formation for the MH community.

The ceremony is a simple one which takes place at the end of a supper whose dessert is a chocolate cake with white icing topped by a stark black cross. The cake is a symbol of the sweetness of the cross "when it is embraced with love."

The directors general also presented the new applicants with what’s called "the brown folder," containing some key writings of Catherine Doherty, writings passing on the spirit of our apostolate.

Mark Schlingerman, director general of laymen, read a letter our foundress, Catherine Doherty, had written to future applicants.

Those applicants and "staff workers yet unborn" whom Catherine, ever mindful of the future, sometimes referred to, are now with us.

This year, there are three women applicants: Zena Hitz, Miriam Story, and Giulia (pronounced Julia) Velocci.

Our fourth big news item is occurring as I write: the annual meeting of our associate priests, associate deacons, and deacons’ wives.

The theme this year is "The Year of Faith: Minds and Hearts Renewed." "Retreat" might be a better word for them than "meetings," though they aren’t a typical retreat either.

But whatever you call them, they are a graced time for those who come—a time for them to be fed spiritually from the font of Madonna House spirituality, a time to be affirmed in their priesthood and ministries, a time for them to be with one another and to support one another during this difficult time in history.

At one of the Masses, Frs. Tim Hanley and Zach Romanowsky made their final promises as MH associates and Fr. James McSharry renewed.

Then last Sunday at breakfast, Susanne Stubbs, director general of women, officially appointed Sandra Novecosky local director of St. Joseph’s House.

Among other things, Susanne said, "I am passing on a special grace to Sandra, the grace of authority. Authority is a concept, a reality, that is not well understood or respected in these times. In our Church we believe that authority is a gift of God, a gift of love….

"Catherine had a sign in her cabin: To Govern is to Love. We also believe a special grace comes on Sandra today by the power of the Holy Spirit…"

Then, using the words Catherine specified for the occasion, Susanne presented Sandra with a key, a symbol of authority.

All throughout this time of early autumn, we have been harvesting and putting up that harvest for winter.

As I said last month, this has been a less than ideal year for the farm; the summer was dry but there were other factors as well.

July weather in March caused the apple blossoms to come out too early, which hurt our apple crop, and a blight resulted in small, sparse, potatoes, less than a third of our usual crop.

But one of the blessings of mixed farming is that conditions that are bad for some crops are good for others. The tomatoes and corn—big August favorites, did very well, and, as we said last month, there were record crops of broccoli and honey.

We had, as usual, two all-house work bees: a chicken bee (killing, plucking, gutting, washing and freezing). and a potato harvesting bee. Both were good times of working together.

For the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, we did something lovely which could become a tradition, something that was Andorra Howard’s idea.

We, or rather about twenty of us, had a candle-light procession through the fields up to the cross on a hill overlooking the farm. It had been raining all day—though it did stop before the procession began. Those who went said it was beautiful.

Finally, I’ll end this column with a couple of brief news items:

Our directors general made a visitation to MH Toronto. Patrick McConville, Peter Gravelle, and David Guzman put in a week of hard dirty work at St. Mary’s, converting a pantry into a walk-in freezer.

That’s all the news for this time. Even if you live in the city, may this harvest time be a time of deepening gratitude to God for the countless gifts he gives us.


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Notes From Near and Far: St. Joseph's House, Combermere



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