Posted April 21, 2014 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (April 2014)

by Paulette Curran.

Lent has come; as I write this column, it has just begun.

It seems so timely that it is Lent; for there is so much for which to pray and fast these days. But then, I suppose, this is always the case.

Each of us here especially carries certain people and intentions in our hearts and prayers, and all of us are especially praying these days for the people of Ukraine and Syria and for the victims of human trafficking.

February 8th, the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, a modern slave, was a World Day of Prayer Against Human Trafficking. Besides praying, Andorra Howard felt moved to bring the subject to our greater awareness.

She and others put up displays, and mainly using quotes from the heart-rending stories of former slaves, put on a powerful presentation about this terrible situation. Then, a few days later, Andorra led us in follow-up discussions on the subject.

Yes, the suffering of the world and of individual people is never far from our hearts and prayers, but, as this issue of the paper keeps bringing out, in the life of a Christian, joy exists alongside the inevitable pain—both our own and that of those we love and carry.

Some of our news this month is about simple pleasures. One of these was the Olympics—two kinds, the Sochi Olympics, of course, and the "So Cheap Olympics." (Sochi—So Cheap. Get it?)

Let me explain. First, the Sochi Olympics: Like so much of the world, when we had a little free time in the evenings, some of us watched some of the Olympics. (One can certainly see why St. Paul used athletes as an example of people giving all of themselves.)

Then Veronica Ferri and others organized our own—what they called "The So Cheap Olympics."

These began one Sunday evening with, you guessed it, a torch lighting ceremony, and they included ice hockey, relays, and various other types of races and games.

The next day, Monday, was a civic holiday, Family Day, and though we don’t usually observe civic holidays, we did this one. We stopped work a little early, at 3:30, for the final events of our "So Cheap Olympics".

These included curling and a biathalon, not with skis and rifles, but with snow shoes and water guns.

Another enjoyable Pre-Lent happening was a favorite books display. We each could select up to three books and write on a card why they were our favorites. Paul Mitchell and Melanie Murphy also presented short reviews of their favorite books.

Finally, in connection with the display, three people gave talks about their favorite writers. Fr. Bob Wild talked about G.K. Chesterton, Karen Van De Loop about Flannery O’Connor, and Raandi King about Annie Dillard.

All in all, it was a great way to find good reading material.

Then there was our annual version of Mardi Gras: what we call "The Pre-Lent Event," an evening of skits and other entertaining presentations, most of them funny.

The MCs were Michael Amaral, with his magic tricks (which only sometimes worked), and Doreen Dykers with her sword dance using a folding fishing rod.

One highlight was a "Ferri Tale" narrated by Veronica Ferri: Little Red Riding Hood. The casting brought the house down, including Marité Langlois, a small, very gentle, elderly lady as the Big Bad Wolf.

On the Pre-Lent weekend, whoever of us wished to attended a play at the nearby school of higher learning, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy—The Sound of Music. It was directed by Jenna Henry, a former working guest. (Her whole family are longtime friends and neighbors of MH).

On a slightly more serious note, this is also the time of year for the Friday afternoon staff study groups. This year we could choose whatever subject we wished, and of course, there was much variety.

The subjects included: Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel, Catholic Poetry, Music Appreciation, the Joy of Math, Korean Culture, Understanding the Brain, Anglo-Saxon Saints, the Old Testament, and the later history of Madonna House.

Since we only have seven two-hour sessions, these topics had to be very much limited.

Here at Madonna House, we see our various anniversaries as important: a time to remember God’s work in our community and a time to pass on our history to our young members and visitors.

The anniversary we celebrated this month, the twentieth anniversary of St. Mary’s, was done simply and quietly: some displays and photo albums and a festive meal at St. Mary’s. Susanne Stubbs, who was the first director of St. Mary’s, was a special guest.

What is St. Mary’s? It is a separate community within MH Combermere, a community which started when what we now call "the main house" or "the training center" became too big.

St. Mary’s, to which 37 staff currently belong, is a ten-minute walk from the main house. It has its own sleeping quarters, meals, and liturgies.

Both houses, however, get together for Sunday and feast day Masses, meetings, and various events, such as days of recollection, picnics, lectures, meetings, and work bees.

There is also a fair amount of back and forth. Some of the St. Mary’s staff, for example, work at the main house, and some of the main house staff sleep at St. Mary’s.

St. Mary’s is many things: as a smaller, less at-the-center-of-things community, it is more conducive than the main house to inner silence and to going more deeply into forming a community of love.

St. Mary’s has a crafts room, artists’ studios, carpentry and machine shops, and poustinia rooms, and it is a place where staff returning from the field can more gently and gradually re-enter into the life of Combermere. Plus, in this land of long winters, it is a place where the aging can function more easily.

St. Mary’s has a "wing," Our Lady of the Visitation—a place where our elderly members, our handicapped and those recuperating from illness or surgery can be cared for and at the same time be able to take part in the everyday life of St. Mary’s as much as they are able.

What else is happening? Well, our directors general went on visitation to our house in Winslow, Arizona.

And as always, staff have been giving retreats. David Guzman, Fr. Brian Christie, and Martha Reilander, led a diocesan retreat for about 65 high school-age youngsters. Trina Stitak and Veronica Ferri assisted as group leaders.

Fr. Wild gave a day of recollection at St. Peter’s Seminary in Toronto. Margarita Guerrero and Helen Porthouse gave talks at a retreat for the women students at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, and Larry Klein will be giving a talk at their men’s retreat.

On the home front, Aliz Trombitas gave a workshop on card-making and Anne Marie Murphy, one on decoupaging, and the applicants had a short Ignatian retreat.

Fr. Pat McNulty continues to recover from his heart surgery. He has returned to his life as a poustinik, and, among other things, he was well enough to give a talk at our day of recollection in early February.

Well, those are the news for what is usually a relatively uneventful time of year. May God give you many graces this Lent and joys along the way.


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