Posted May 21, 2013 in MH Combermere ON:
Growing Up Near St. Joe’s

by Christina Milan.

My earliest memories of St. Joe’s are of the toy box and being bounced on the knee of Marie Therese McLaughlin. That toy box held endless wonders for me while the adults chatted. And the bouncing knee, well, that was just plain fun. My siblings and I would stand in line for our turn of "Here’s the bumpy road. Here’s the smooth, smooth highway. Here’s the pothole!"

At the age of seven, I found myself at St. Joe’s on a day when the shops were closed. The problem was, I had a quarter in my pocket, and Mother’s Day was fast approaching.

I will be forever grateful to the staff member—my memory is fuzzy, but I believe it was Marian—who took me into the shop and helped me pick out the perfect Mother’s Day gift—a Holly Hobbie plaque. That plaque hung in our kitchen for years, reminding my mom of her child’s appreciation and reminding me of a kind gesture that made all the difference in the world.

Later that year, I woke up one morning and came downstairs to find that my mom was gone. She had been taken to Ottawa the night before for an emergency surgery.

One of the ladies from St. Joe’s was sitting in our living room holding my baby brother. Cathy Mitchell was a new staff worker assigned to St. Joe’s, and years later she told me that it was with much apprehension and prayer that she came to look after us five little ones that night.

I was a shy child, but my memory of that morning contains no fear or sadness. I just remember feeling peace and comfort as I looked at Cathy, holding my baby brother.

The Madonna House cross hanging around the necks of the staff of St. Joe’s was great for teething on, primarily because it had no sharp edges. It fit perfectly in a baby’s little fist, had a nice long cord, was shiny, and had a pair of warm loving arms to go with it.

Years later, I was stunned to find one of those crosses hanging around my own neck. I had joined Madonna House! And now that the initial shock has worn off, and my own cross has been gnawed on by countless little drooling gums, I still look with awe at the words engraved on the cross, pax and caritas, peace and love, and I am reminded of the faces of the staff at St. Joe’s.

I am now stationed at our house in Winslow, Arizona, and when I give a rosary to a child in my catechism class, I am reminded of the rosary I received as a fifth grader at George Vanier School, a rosary which was given to me by a lady from St. Joe’s, and which I treasured all the years I was growing up.

As a catechism teacher, I teach my students some of the same beautiful songs that first inspired me when I learned them as a child from Anne Marie Murphy during her time at the R.A. It was not only the lovely melodies and words that lifted my heart to God, but the love that shone on the face of the singer.

The clothing room at St. Joe’s was always a bit of an adventure and could have been daunting to some of the smaller folk without the staff of St. Joe’s, who doubled as traffic controllers. I can still see Diane Davis smiling at me as I approached the checkout. The shop was about to close, and I was asking for a scapular.

The names and faces of St. Joe’s staff flash through my mind as I write this. Some memories are humorous, some are poignant, some are joy-filled.

Then there were the good-byes to the staff who were being transferred. Transfers… I learned that joyous reunions cannot happen without the farewells.

And so it happened that 20 years later, I was sitting in the dining room at Madonna House, and I saw a beloved face across the room. She had returned from her assignment in Edmonton, and I hadn’t seen her in such a long time that—let’s just say I was probably teething on her cross at our last meeting.

I didn’t know her name; I only knew that I loved her. As we embraced and were reintroduced, I caught a glimpse of the Parousia, where peace and charity reign because God is all in all.

Please accept my love and gratitude, dear MH staff who have served at St. Joe’s, on behalf of my whole family and all the children who grew up around St. Joe’s. You have shared the gift of life and brought us Jesus in ways small and not so small.

You dried our tears, taught us to laugh when we thought we’d never laugh again, and driven with us (or bounced us) along bumpy roads, smooth, smooth highways, and over potholes.


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