Posted October 14, 2013 in MH Combermere ON:
How It All Happened

by Posie Douthwright.

I first came to St. Joseph’s House in 1973. I was very poor, living with my husband and 2-year-old daughter Becky in a semi-converted pig barn in the nearby hills.

We had a romantic back-to-the land dream, wanting to live simply off the land, but the winter reality of that dream was hitting us hard. We had no electricity, no insulation, our wood supply had almost run out, and we had no money. We were living on potatoes, carrots, onions, lentils and beans which we had bought in bulk that fall.

We weren’t Christian or Catholic, but we were on a search for God. We knew there was a God, but weren’t sure who he was or how to find him.

He took us on quite a journey, in order to bring us to him. It might have seemed a roundabout way, but he respected our free will, and addressed our doubts and hang-ups uniquely, giving us exactly what we needed to open our stubborn minds and hearts to him.

One day a friend told us they were going to a used clothing store nearby, and asked if we would like to come along for the ride. We had no transportation of our own, since we had lent our truck to someone who towed it back broken, and we had no money to get it repaired.

Although we didn’t have money to buy clothing, we welcomed the chance to get out and get our mind off the harsh realities of the life we had chosen.

When I arrived, I realized to my delight that as well as a clothing store, there was also a wonderful library, and it was free! Books had always been a great love for me since childhood, and my mother had always taken me to a library, wherever we lived.

My daughter also loved books, and loved being read to. We were delighting over this treasure trove, and poring over books, when a woman appeared and asked us if we would like to come into the "parlour" for tea.

This was a very welcome invitation! Tea, although it was a fond memory shared so often in my family during my childhood, had lately become a luxury beyond our means.

We went into the back room, where the tea was prepared for us lovingly; the warmth of the tea and the warmth of this wonderful staff worker were such balm to my body, mind and soul. Becky played with a basket of toys which was thoughtfully supplied, and we chatted about many things.

I can’t even remember what we talked about, but I felt loved, accepted and welcomed in a way I had not encountered often, especially at that time in my life. I could never forget it.

I wasn’t preached to, or told what I needed to do to change my life. I was simply loved—just as I was. I knew nothing of the Catholic Church, Madonna House, or Catherine Doherty. When I left that day, I still knew nothing, except the tangible, unconditional, unmistakeable love I felt.

We managed to get through that winter, and then embarked on a physical journey to find God: first out to the West Coast (we’d heard that winters were kinder there!), then to Northern Ontario to explore my husband Don’s roots, and then down to Kentucky, where he plunked us right next door to a monastery…but that’s another story.

Through that experience though, Jesus became real to us. Not only did we realize that the Jesus of the Bible was real, and that he was the Son of God, and died for us, but that he was truly in the Eucharist—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

It was our monk friend and mentor who suggested we go to Madonna House. He didn’t realize we had lived in this area before, but it seemed like God calling us back to this area, to satisfy a new hunger for his Church.

So four years later, now with three children, we arrived on the doorstep of Madonna House in our "Sunship" (soon to be renamed the "Sonship")–a bright yellow bus we were living in, festooned with hearts, flowers, and a big yellow sun.

The first person we met was a woman who introduced herself as "B". We thought she was the cleaning lady. Even if she’d told us that her name was Catherine Doherty, it wouldn’t have meant anything to us.

She climbed up into our bus, and spoke to us of many things, wanting to know about our life, and telling us stories of delivering babies in the surrounding area. Again I felt that warm enveloping love—she accepted us just as we were, no judgment, no barriers, no strings attached. And indeed, thanks to this "cleaning lady", so began the cleaning of our souls, and eventual entry into the Church which Jesus founded.

We learned from her that although we were welcomed as Christ at the blue door of Madonna House, the door we should really use was St. Joseph’s House, the door to Madonna House which was our own, as well as all our neighbours in the surrounding area.

So here we were back where we started, and a beautiful nurturing relationship began with St. Joseph’s House, where we were taught, mostly through example, about Catherine’s Little Mandate, and about the beauty of our Church’s many traditions and celebrations.

This, along with spiritual direction at Madonna House, continued to form us and teach us in our faith, and prepared us to make our Profession of Faith the following year, and to have our 3 daughters baptized at Madonna House’s Our Lady of the Woods Chapel.

We were never told this was what we should do, or how we needed to "clean up our act". We were drawn, like a moth to a flame, irresistibly following the Light. Our old ways and old attachments just started to fall away.

Those first staff workers at St. Joe’s were very special to us. They became dear friends, fellow musicians, and godmothers of some of our children. Two of them were present at the home birth of our 4th child, Christopher.

It was a difficult transition for us when they were one by one transferred to other field houses of Madonna House. But it was part of our formation, in learning about detachment as well as obedience. As the years ensued, we began to see what a great opportunity it was to really get to know more of Catherine’s "children".

In these forty years since that first meeting, the staff workers and directors have changed many times, but through their dedication and example, the Light of Christ shines through each of them, and helps to illumine the path of those of us who meet them and share our lives with them. Their openness to each one, their willingness to give of themselves without asking anything in return, but mostly the love of God which emanates from them—these things warm and heal, in a world which can seem cold and which often wounds us.

I have felt so cared for by each one of them, and have received so much. I am sure I received every one of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy from them at different times in my life, especially during my seven years as a single parent. So much of what they do for us is hidden from the world and the community, but they are God’s instruments in taking care of us all.

Thank you, all you staff workers who have opened the doors of St. Joseph’s house to us, over these 50 years!

Thank you, Catherine Doherty, for saying "yes" and reaching down through the years to us all, not just to your own staff!

Thank you St. Joseph, for animating, leading and guiding them and us, in your own strong, just and quiet way!

And thank you God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—for all your many blessings and gifts!


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