Posted October 23, 2014:
Fifty Years in Madonna House

by Marie Javora and Doug Guss.

When two people shared about their lives from their hearts at their anniversary celebration, well, what can I say? Here are some excerpts.

Doug Guss: My heart is full—full of the people who have passed through my life, especially B (Catherine Doherty). I didn’t want to come to a Catholic summer school or to have anything to do with the Church or God. But that wasn’t really true; we’re made for God.

B gave me the Trinity. After a few weeks, I was on fire. I thought you could change the world—in two or three years!

I didn’t even know how to say the rosary when I came. Everything was new.

In a spiritual reading when I was first here, B said—and I always felt she was talking right to me—"You need a personal relationship with Jesus, and you do that by talking to him. So you tell him everything—your shortcomings, anger, stupidity—whatever it is that divides you from him. He’s the one who destroys all that in us."

B kept saying this was Our Lady’s house of love, and I began to see through a different pair of eyes. If we do little things, and bring Christ into them, it does change the world. When Christ is in your heart, everything is meaningful.

I was sent to work at the farm and started the journey inwards; it takes a lifetime. There I saw all the stuff that was in me. The animals taught me; a cow would hit me on the head with its tail.

It’s like B said [in her poem]. You get rid of your shoes, your coat, all that keeps Christ from being at the centre. Then I went to Marian Centre Edmonton to finish high school and worked with the Brothers Christopher (the poor on the streets) and then I became an applicant and joined Madonna House.

Marie Javora: My heart is filled with gratitude. There are four big gifts that convey it all: my baptism, my vocation, B, and Our Lady.

And there are all the people that helped along the way. Sister Auxilia at my high school was a friend of B, so B came and gave a talk in our auditorium. I’d never heard anything like it; it was like a fire coming into me.

I was sixteen—there was no age limit then—and a friend and I came to Madonna House for summer school. I fell in love with Madonna House and B, and I came back the next summer.

Then I went to nursing school and was involved with another lay apostolate for four years. But Madonna House wouldn’t go away from my heart, and I found my way back. Madonna House is the most unique, wonderful, exciting, crazy vocation in the world.

B prayed daily for faith; I never met anyone with more faith. Each day after Holy Communion, she would go before the statue of the Infant of Prague and kneel and ask him to give her the heart of a child.

As I got older, I began to understand that if I know the Father, I have the heart of a child. I’m still working on that.

B was earthy and filled with the Spirit. When I would be upset, I’d sit by her at the dinner table, and her peace would come into my heart.

She was a Russian prophet. God’s word would "eat" her; a word from God would "eat at her" until it came out. A prophet speaks the truth and it isn’t always nice. Her heart was pure, full of love—"God alone" to its depths. I’ll never be able to thank God enough for having known her.

My first assignment was to Carriacou in the West Indies. (Not quite having finished her midwifery training, Marie was covering for Elsie Whitty, and the arrangement was that she would take a certain mother to the hospital for the delivery.)

Towards midnight I heard, "Sister, sister…" That meant a baby was on its way. We went across dark fields by flashlight. I arrived and the baby was already coming! I had a moment of panic, but the woman said, "It’s all right, nurse!" And it was.

I delivered many more babies after that and formed a mothers’ club. It was fun. I bow down before the courage of these women, managing often with very little support.

I remember most dearly my time in Russia. In 1993 Alma Coffman, Miriam Stulberg, and I went to Magadan to open the house. I just knew a few words of Russian.

The survivors from the slave labor camps became dear to us. They had suffered so much and had come through it with no bitterness.

They had kept their stories to themselves, but gradually they would open up and talk. We became their family.

It was only during our time there [during the 1990s] that many were finally declared "rehabilitated" by the government. Up until then, years after they had been released, they were still considered "enemies of the people."

We helped them find their dignity. We had Mass every Saturday for those who had died in the camps.

With Fr. Michael Shields, our pastor, we had Mass in the watch tower of a former labor camp. We had another Mass on the site of a camp that had ice punishment cells. We crept into one of the cells; the floor was covered in ice, and it was July. People were sent there to freeze to death.

Both Doug and Marie are former directors of training for the applicants. They were asked in if they had a word for the new applicants.

Marie: Openness. It’s very important that you are open with your spiritual director, with the director general, and with your director of training, according to the grace of state of each one. B said you should be like an open book to them. You can save yourself from many pitfalls that way. God’s grace will save you.

Doug: Have a personal love of Jesus and everything else will flow from it. We are called to love God and one another. This is impossible, but it’s what the Lord wants us to do.

Being director of training was a privilege. You are the one being taught. You have to "take your shoes off," as you are dealing with something really holy. God is always trying to make love to us, but we get caught up in other things.

Marie: You are getting trained, receiving as you are giving. In calling others to live the life you have to try and live what you are saying.

What aspect of Madonna House made your life the way it is today?

Doug: B’s words at my first promises: "You did not choose God; God chose you." It’s really God who does things. He says "Follow me," and you have to drop everything. When you’re ready to run away, you remember, and try and stay faithful—and ask for mercy.

Marie added a final word about living our Madonna House life: Stay very, very close to Our Lady and entrust everything to her.

At the end of the evening, Chuck Sharp, the MC, did not say a word. He simply bowed before Doug and Marie. Then they in turn bowed to all of us.


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