by Beth Holmes.
Our summer has begun, as usual, with a full plate of activities.
June 8, the feast of Our Lady of Combermere, is our "promise day". This year it coincided with the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so our celebrant Fr. David May was able to weave the two celebrations together with the celebration of Promises. Our Lady has an apostolic heart, Fr. David said—"immaculate" does not mean passive or still. Thus she is always saying, "I’m coming to help you. I love being with you." Our Lady learned with the incarnation of Jesus in her womb that nothing is impossible with God. At her feet, we too learn that the impossible is possible with God. Those who take promises in Madonna House are apostles of Our Lord’s compassion. This burns in our hearts, because the Lord had compassion on each one of us. We then want to reach out as Our Lady of Combermere does (we see her outstretched arms in her statue), but it is really the Lord reaching out through us. When we make our promises, as the eight did in Combermere this day, we put our faith in the promises of God, just as did Our Lady. We allow God to enter our hearts, to do his work there. As he has promised, so we promise too.
We welcomed three new Staff to our family (see accompanying photo), while Michael Amaral, Sara Matthews, Martha Reilander, Alexandra Do, and Fr. Murray Kuemper all renewed promises here, with Neil Patterson and Lisa Diniz renewing in their field houses.
In preparation for the 8th, there is a three-day retreat for the promise takers. This year Fr. May was the retreat master, with some help from the laity. Fr. David opened with an evening conference. The following day, Scott Eagan, St. Benedict’s farm manager, joined him for a talk on the priesthood of the baptized and the ordained priesthood. The next day, Raandi King gave a presentation on prayer and being a prayer. The DGs had the last word on the final day: they spoke on the overall theme of the retreat, the hidden treasures of Madonna House.
While we all pray for the retreatants during this time, there are also volunteers to cook meals, to serve and do the dishes, while the Staff from the Handicraft department do beautiful table settings and décor for each meal and day. Besides the talks, these days are filled with quiet, prayer, laughter, songs and stories.
Susanne announced soon after Promises that Loretta Fritz was assigned to St. Joseph’s House down the road, although she had a week in one of the St. Mary’s dorms. As has become a tradition in that dorm, she travelled downriver in a canoe, escorted by dorm-mates. As the canoe approached the RA, Alma Coffman and Martha Reilander canoed out to escort her in. A good time was had by all.
Soon after these days, we had an all-house cleaning bee at Vianney House, the priests’ guest house, which has been undergoing renovations for some months. Peter Gravelle orchestrated the day, with outside and inside work. We repaired, washed, and moved in furniture of all sorts, from filing cabinets to chairs to lamps. We swept floors, dusted and mopped. We painted, put up curtain rods, measured windows, and made the beds. Patrick McConville and Fr. David Linder had constructed new wooden beds and closets, very simple and beautiful. All the beds have new foams for their mattresses. The day itself was sunny and warm, with a breeze that helped keep most of the bugs away. For this we were most grateful.
Fr. Wild and Fr. Johnson have moved back in, having spent the renovation months at Marian Meadows, and are putting on the finishing touches. We look forward to receiving our guest-priests again!
Cana Colony opened the first week of July, after another all-day, all-house bee to clean and prepare the cabins, cookshack, outdoor jons, and grounds. Joanne Weisbeck has worked all winter as registrar, and getting ready for the summer. Seven cabins surround the chapel at Cana, and this first week they were all occupied, as well as our two sites for camping families. There were over 40 children of all ages, which kept the week hopping. A host couple volunteers each week, with one of our MH priests and a lay man to help, and Joanne. It was evidently a beautiful week, and a great start to another summer of "holiday-retreats" for families.
The theme of this year’s Summer Program is "I Believe: the Fire of Faith—Encounter With Love". Each of the program’s five weeks has a related topic. Mondays and Fridays there are witness talks from the Staff; Wednesday nights a talk on the weekly topic by one of the priests; and Saturday nights questions and answers with our DGs. Fridays there is a time when guests and Staff can share on the previous week. There are also weekly farm bees (although some take place at St. Mary’s "back forty"); our first was thinning carrots.
We officially began the Program with a Sunday picnic. Although the sky was overcast that day, we experienced only a few sprinkles, so could spend lots of time outside. This meant playing bocce ball, croquet, soccer, volleyball, even hopscotch! (Give me the heart of a child.) Beth Scott and Jo-Anne Paquette organized entertainment in the form of a big relay race, where teams competed in catching water-filled balloons, putting on gardening outfits the most quickly, setting tables blindfolded guided by another team-mate, and throwing socks into the laundry basket. There was also a round of partially filling a glass by running back and forth with teaspoons of water—although this started out as a one-person task, soon all team members got hold of teaspoons and everyone was running back and forth.
Summer also means food processing, with Maryana Erzinger and Alex Do leading the team up to the farm each day. We have prepared rhubarb, strawberries, and currants for this coming winter, and that’s only the beginning. As summer progresses, the food processors’ days get longer as we store the Lord’s bounty.
For some years now, Madonna House has been keeping our stretch of the highway clear of trash. Ruth Siebenaler and Mary Davis received an award from the township for their spearheading of this work, and even had their photo in the local newspaper.
Mark Schlingerman has been working on carving a new sign for Fr. May’s John XXIII poustinia, since this pope had been declared "blessed". He had just replaced the old sign with the new, when it was announced from Rome that this beloved pope will be canonized this year! Well, Mark has a few more months before the actual canonization.
Recently, Raandi King put up a display entitled "what I did on my summer vacation"—a display of new-made pottery. She had studied with a well-known potter, Sumi Von Dassow, who specializes in pit firing. Raandi encountered that method when she was assigned in Brazil some years ago, and has continued to work in it, as well as kiln-firing. The various pieces she made were lovely and a joy to see—hand-crafted beauty always cheers us.
The days of summer are a welcome change from our long winters—parkas and boots give way to light clothes and sandals. May our souls also breathe more easily, and rejoice.
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