Posted December 18, 2013 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (December 2013)

by Paulette Curran.

In his poem "Ode to Autumn," John Keats (1795-1821) speaks of the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness." Keats lived in England, and so, of course, not all his poem can be applied to the backwoods of Ontario. For sure, the word "mellow" couldn’t. That is, until this year.

This year autumn has been very mild, in fact, the mildest I remember. We had a beautiful autumn.

The main event of this time frame has been the meeting of our associate priests and deacons (and deacon wives). They came for a time of renewal and retreat, and to be with one another and imbibe the spirituality and atmosphere of Madonna House.

The associates often tell of how much Madonna House has given them, and that is certainly mutual.

At the homily of the opening Mass, Fr. Denis Lemieux spoke about the gift, the mystery, that God has given us in the associates, who come from such diverse geographical areas and who are a sign to us that the spirit of Madonna House which God gave to Catherine Doherty, is a prophetic word for the whole Church.

One difference in the meetings this year was that Fr. Pat McNulty, who usually organizes them, was unable to do so since he is recovering from open heart surgery. He said he really enjoyed simply participating in the various events and visiting with the priests. This year, it was Fr. Blair Bernard who did the work.

During the meetings there are always some who make or renew their promises as associates. This year, the making of first promises by Deacon David Cavalier and Fr. Nathaniel Kumeh was especially moving.

The Cavaliers were a Cana host family for many years, and just a few months ago Deacon David was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

Fr. Nathaniel is from Liberia, West Africa, where we had a house for a number of years. He was still in school when we were first there, and he was one of the boys who hung around our house.

In one of those wonderful "God-incidences," Diane Lefebvre, who was on staff at MH Liberia at the time, had just arrived from MH Belgium for part of her holidays and was thus able to witness his entering into our family in this way.

Fr. Nathaniel is now staying on for an extended visit.

Making final promises were Fr. George Fekete, who has been coming to the meetings for the last few years with fellow associate Fr. Mark Mitchell; and Fr. Bill Muench, who has known us since the 1960s.

Another major event took place, not in Combermere, but in Rome: the ordination of staff worker, Michael Weitl, who has been studying at the North American College, to the diaconate.

Several of his Madonna House family were able to attend—Fr. Denis Lemieux, Michael’s spiritual director, three who were already in Europe—Joanne Dionne and Dina Lingard from MH Belgium and Fr. Murray Kuemper, who is studying in Italy—and Cynthia Donnelly from MH Washington. (A close friend of her house was also being ordained.)

Plus "half of Iowa." Well, not really; it just seemed that way. 34 of Michael’s relatives and friends came from his home state.

The diaconate ordination, which took place at St. Peter’s Basilica, was, Fr. Denis tells us, very beautiful. Forty men were ordained, three hundred priests concelebrated, and a couple of thousand people attended.

Coming up next: Deacon Michael’s ordination to the priesthood this coming June.

Meanwhile back at home, autumn events were taking place. Food processing was finishing up, the last part of which is the slaughter.

And classes have begun for the applicants, working guests, and members of the spiritual formation program (for men discerning priestly vocations).

The members of the spiritual formation program this year are Zachary McKinney from South Carolina, Dylan de Leskie from Cobourg, Ontario, and Neil Perriera and Henry Liu from Toronto.

One lovely thing that happened under the category of applicant events was their get-together with Mamie Legris, the oldest member of our apostolate both in age (97) and seniority. (She and Marité Langlois are the only living members of the first class to make promises).

Mamie’s mind is "as sharp as a tack" and she is very interested in everything having to do with the apostolate. So she was very glad to meet with our applicants, and they were glad to be with her, too, and to hear some of her stories of the early days.

Our celebration of Canadian Thanksgiving was, as usual low-key. At St. Mary’s, in what is becoming a tradition, Peter Lyrette did a harvest display whose center piece is a Thanksgiving cross-stitch he made.

At the main house, the focus was a bit different from our usual display of the varied fruits and vegetables that make up our harvest. One fruit—apples—was featured. On display were two each of the 50 different varieties that Madonna House grew this year.

Catherine always encouraged us to keep learning and experimenting, and ever since the 1980s, Mary Davis has been doing just that with the apple trees. (In more recent years, Ruth Siebenaler has been working with those trees as well.)

On Thanksgiving Day, Mary and Ruth gave a presentation: a history of apple-growing in Madonna House. They’ve used grafts from heritage trees from all over the area. "Each tree has its own story," said Mary, "often connected with the love and friendship of our friends and neighbors."

Thanks to their efforts, there are now apple trees all over our properties.

And I do mean effort. When the trees are young, growing them to maturity entails much battle against, among other things, borers (tiny worms that will, if not killed, destroy a young tree), scab (a fungal disease) and deer. Only about 200 of the 900 or so of the trees they planted over the years have grown to sufficient maturity to produce apples.

The day after Thanksgiving was Foundation Day, the anniversary of the day Catherine began her apostolate in Toronto. On this occasion, Renée Sylvain put together a presentation on those beginnings. She, Darrin Prowse, and Aliz Trombitas narrated, and the applicants and Jean Doucet acted it out.

On Sunday, October 13th, the anniversary of the final Fatima apparition, Pope Francis celebrated a Marian Day in Rome as part of the Year of Faith. The day ended with the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In order to unite ourselves with this event, we had a procession with our Pilgrim Virgin from the main house to Our Lady of the Woods Chapel before Sunday Vespers. There was a time of quiet prayer, and at the conclusion of vespers, we all renewed our Act of Consecration to the Mother of God.

Last but not least, some of us took part in Life Chain in the nearby town of Barry’s Bay—an international public hour of prayer for an end to abortion.

This takes place every year on the first Sunday of October, and it is growing every year. This year it took place in 1890 locations in 1552 cities (and towns) across the United States and Canada.

Blessed, blessed Advent and Christmas to each of you.


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