Our 50th anniversary celebration at St. Joseph’s House was like a family reunion because of moments like this:
"I suffer so much, Sandra."
Monica, (not her real name), called to talk. She suffers from chronic pain, and needed to be encouraged.
I was having a hard day, too. When Monica had finished talking and asked for prayers, I said, "Pray for me, too, Monica."
"Why do you want prayers?"
"Ummm, well, you know, family life has its ups and downs."
"Yeah, that’s right…"
"Oh, Sandra, you have no idea how much the Lord loves you people. He has a special place in His heart for people like you, because you’ve given your whole life to Him. I’m sure He will take care of you. I will pray."
Monica had called for encouragement, but her words were a blessing and healing balm to my soul.
Last weekend, at St. Joseph’s House, the staff and people of the valley celebrated thousands of intimate moments like this: times of sharing faith, love, and courage, building and growing over 50 years.
There is a mutuality which is the fruit of Catherine Doherty’s vision of friendship in the missions. We go not so much to give Christ, but to find Him in our brothers and sisters.
And in finding Him, there is peace and love.
We planned a weekend-long event to celebrate the many ways the Lord has been active in forming these bonds of love and service for 50 years.
The weekend began Friday night with a slide show and memory sharing. This first gathering, and indeed the entire weekend, was intended for all of us—staff and people of the Madawaska Valley—to give thanks to the Lord for the manifold ways he has blessed us over the years. St. Joseph’s House has been a source of blessing through the many intimate friendships which have formed through serving one another, praying together, and helping each other through tough times.
We gave a very broad overview of the history of Madonna House serving the local people, as well as the development of our property, outreach programs, celebrations and feasts, staff who have served over the years.
The largest segment of the show was a slide presentation entitled, ‘Friends’. There were many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of recognition and joy. And applause at the slide of Mary Yaraskavitch and Velma Keller showing their homemade quilts in the 1970s. Perhaps the photo that garnered the most laughter was the one entitled: "Sandra Wood with a gun, hunting chipmunks, 1995." After the show, local friends and staff shared heartwarming memories of being touched and changed through St. Joseph’s House.
Saturday afternoon we hosted an Open House, with a variety of activities and entertainment. Local musicians played on the west lawn. Two friends of the house who were playing had written songs about us.
Our friend Howie Hazelton wrote about his experience of praying vespers with us, "A Song and a Prayer":
There’s a house that’s by a river
There’s a family living there
You can follow in their footsteps
To the top of the stairs
In the shadow of the altar
You can hear a song …
And a prayer
Sing the vespers to on high
With words that flow so softly
Like the river going by
There’s a promise for tomorrow
There’s a blessing on the breeze
If you’re walking by some evening
You will hear the song with ease
As the prayers go up to heaven
You can join in … If you please
They pray for the world
The poor and the troubled
The sick and the children
In hardship and pain
Christ had died
Christ is risen
And Christ will come again.
We had planned three showings of a puppet show during the afternoon, but since they played to standing-room-only crowds, we added two more so that everyone could enjoy it.
We presented our slide show continuously in the house for friends who had not come Friday night.
People also came inside to see our "historical" display of photos and mementoes.
We had a photo of Alma Beauchamp, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after being assigned to St. Joe’s; she went to the Father in December of 1971.
We paid tribute to Dr. Peter Peloso, who volunteered dental services out of our basement clinic in the 1960s.
We put together a special bulletin board to honor Mary Ann Gilmore, who was the director when we moved to our current location in 1963. (Her word at that time was, "Lord it is good for us to be here", Mt 17:4. A plaque of same hangs in our front room.) The Lord took her to himself in a car accident in April of 1964, at the age of 32, while driving a neighbor.
Mary Ann quoted Pope John XXIII to describe our life, "When one is animated by the charity of Christ one feels united to others, and the needs, sufferings and joys of others are felt as one’s own." She responded, "This is our aim—to be so motivated by the love of Christ." Her love for Christ, and zeal to serve, gave her a special place in many hearts and touched many lives.
Also on display was a gift from the men’s department of Madonna House: a painting by Patrick Stewart entitled "Because he said ‘yes’." On the left is St. Joseph, sleeping at his workbench. The angel of the Lord hovers above him, telling him to take Mary as his wife. A heavenly swirl around the angel extends to the right side of the painting, where Mary is crowned Queen of heaven and earth by her Son. As Patrick explained, because of Joseph’s fiat, his ‘yes’ to the Lord, the rest of salvation history could unfold, to culminate in the coronation of Our Lady.
We rejoiced at the presence of almost all of the former directors: Trudi Cortens, Mary Jean Beaudoin, Beverly Maciag, Marie Javora, Sandra Wood, and Jo-Anne Paquette. Carol German was unable to attend. Sandra remarked this created a sense of continuity for the staff and the local people. The directors and staff who came to the celebration united with friends whom they hadn’t seen in 30 to 40 years. Many families have been friends from the time Catherine and Eddie came to Combermere in 1947.
We kept our second-hand shops open as usual on a Saturday. Our visitors nostalgically looked around the shops. We asked the former St. Joe’s staff to "man" the shops, so that the current staff could circulate and be present to the hundreds of friends who had come. Local cottagers also came for the shops, and found a celebration to join! That day we charged "pay what you want", which was fun for many guests.
Our local friends donated refreshments. Our local youth volunteered to keep food and drink replenished, and the kitchen clean. By the end of the party at 5 p.m., there was only one plateful of food remaining, and the kitchen was sparkling!
The highlight of the weekend took place Sunday morning. Our Bishop, Michael Mulhall, celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at the local parish, Holy Canadian Martyrs. Concelebrating were Fr. Wilf Lenius of the parish, and Fr. David May, director of Madonna House priests. The church was full.
To begin, Bishop Michael invited all of us to recall the blessings received through St. Joseph’s House, and to offer them to the Lord in gratitude. In his homily (see pg. 2) he spoke of the service Catherine, Madonna House, and St. Joseph’s House have given and still give to the valley, and the world. As we experience Christ in our blessings, we can then give him to others in kind gestures and listening hearts. This is evangelization in which we can all participate.
May the grace of God and B’s vision of friendship continue to blossom in the next 50 years and beyond!
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