by Paulette Curran.
As I write this column, we are in the dying days of autumn—a time of browns and grays and dark evergreens, a time when most of the trees are bare and the ground is covered with crackling leaves and pine needles. But what an autumn it was! Milder than any I remember.
But the best part was the leaves. Many people were saying it was the best they’ve ever seen—brilliant reds, oranges, and gold, in oh so many subtle, blending shades.
In the middle of one workday, Elizabeth Bassarear, one of the directors at St. Mary’s, announced that the leaves were too beautiful to miss. She offered to take whoever could spare the time for a short drive up to a hill, Marian Meadows, where the leaves were even more beautiful than they were here on the river.
And during the week when the colors peaked, God made Sunday a glorious day. Need I say that most of us were out—walking, hiking varying distances, or on short drives. Some of the hardier hikers went on the annual Fr. Paul Burchat-led hike up Bear Mountain. It goes without saying that the views there and all along the way were magnificent.
How good God is! He could have made the leaves just fall off and die, but instead, every autumn, he makes each leaf shine forth in brilliant color.
The leaves were still in full color when we had a very special day. Well, October 11th, was a special day for the whole Church—the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II and the beginning of the Year of Faith.
We had been reading about both for spiritual reading and shortly before the anniversary some big colored pictures of Vatican II came in donation, and Rae Stanley plastered the wall with them in a super-size display in the dining room.
As for the Year of Faith, when has it ever been more needed?
For Madonna House, moreover, October 11th contained a third major anniversary—the anniversary of the first poustinia made in Combermere—perhaps even in North America.
These anniversaries were not a coincidence. Our foundress Catherine chose the day of the opening of the council for that poustinia (hoping the building would be ready in time) and its specific purpose was to pray for the council.
That first poustinia was made at what we call "Marian Meadows," a piece of property 3½ miles (5.6 kms.) from the main house. (It was an abandoned farm, which we now use for hay fields as well as for mens’ poustinias.)
That first poustinia was made in its farmhouse by two women staff: Mary Davis and Josephine Halfman. On that day in 1962, the entire community processed there with them.
Well, to celebrate that 50th anniversary this year, we reenacted that procession. That first time they probably all walked all the way, but this time we are older. People did however much of it they could, and vehicles were available for the rest of the way or all of it.
We began at the Russian shrine at the island, processed mostly in silent prayer, and stopped different places along the way for decades of the rosary. Towards the end, it began to rain, that soft misty rain that is so common in this area.
When we reached the farmhouse, Aliz Trombitas had coffee and hot chocolate and bread and peanut butter ready for us. Then we prayed a Litany of Faith followed by vespers. Some also walked home.
By one of those wonderful God-incidences, we had at that time visiting us, Fr. Francis Martin, the first person to live in the poustinia in Marian Meadows, the first person to live as a poustinik in Madonna House (perhaps even in North America). He had, in fact, also helped build the two other poustinias now there.
Fr. Francis, in coming for this visit, had no idea it was the 50th anniversary of that first poustinia!
That evening, he and Mary Davis and Fr. Pat McNulty (who had also lived in poustinia at Marian Meadows in those early days), shared about their experiences.
Mary Davis began by saying she hardly remembered anything about that day. She said when she asked herself why, she realized that she had no idea what was starting at the time.
Of poustinia, she thought, "It’s just one more Russian thing Catherine is introducing." Of the Council, she thought, "That’s nice; one more meeting for the bishops in Rome."
Makes me wonder what major thing God is doing these days that we are unaware of.
And, oh yes, there was one more co-incidence, or God-incidence: These past months an exhibit of some of the paintings of Canadian artist William Kurelek has been touring Canada. (He was a friend of Madonna House and lived for a time in this area.)
One of the paintings on tour is of the farmhouse in Marian Meadows. The title of that very simple painting of a very simple farmhouse is, "Poustinia: Light of the World."
Our other major event, of course, was the dying and death of our sister, Martha Shepherd. Like Helen Schreiner, who died only seven weeks before her, she died not very long after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Martha was cared for at first by the staff at MH Ottawa, where she had been stationed for thirty years, and then on September 30th, she came to Madonna House, to Our Lady of the Visitation, "at least for a time."
Her time of dying, like her life, was a holy and beautiful thing. Her wake and funeral, too, were holy and peaceful. Martha was much loved by her friends in Ottawa, and Ottawa is less than a three-hour drive away. Many of them came for her funeral.
As we said in the box announcing her death, we’ll be telling you about Martha before long.
What else has been happening? Well, the harvesting has been ongoing and is almost finished. The slaughtering and meat cutting, the sauerkraut–making and the harvest of the carrots were among the last things.
We celebrated Thanksgiving including, as always, lovely displays of the fruits and vegetables of our harvest. The display at St. Mary’s included, as it has for the past couple of years or so, a Thanksgiving cross-stitch by Peter Lyrette.
Several Ukrainian Rite seminarians and their rector spent a day with us. A number of us took part in Life Chain, an annual international pro-life event consisting of lining the streets or roads and praying for life.
The applicants went on a day’s pilgrimage to the Canadian Martyrs’ shrine in Midland, Ontario. We had an evening bee to mail out the begging letter that many of you have received. And at St. Mary’s, some of the men have been converting a room, which had been used as a pantry, into a walk-in freezer.
Last but not least, Fr. Denis Lemieux’s newest book is hot off the press. Titled Going Home, it explores Catherine’s experience of the mercy of God in the context of the Prodigal Son. It’s published by Justin Press and is also available from MH Publications.
Blessed Advent to each of you. May it be a time of peaceful anticipation of the coming of the Christ Child. And may the day of that coming be filled with joy.
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