Posted October 14, 2015 in Memorials:
A Hidden Woman

by Fr. Denis Lemieux.

When Fr. David May asked me to lead the wake service for Josephine Halfman, I said, of course, "Sure! Happy to do it." He’s my director, and I generally try to say yes to whatever he asks me to do. But, no. To be honest, I was not entirely happy to do it. You see, leading a wake service involves saying a few words about the person.

And I said to him right off the bat, "But, Fr. David, I really didn’t know Josephine very well."

She had been in Madonna House Toronto pretty much my entire life in the apostolate, and while I’d been down there a few times over the years and she’d been up here a few times, I never really got to know her.

Fr. David said, "Well, that was true for many of us."

And that became something of a point of meditation for me. "Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbour’s feet."

That’s from the Little Mandate of Madonna House, which contains the essence of our spirituality. It’s a line that Josephine certainly seemed to live.

Josephine was a hidden woman in many ways, even when she was "hiding in plain sight." And that’s all right, because it is to God that each of us must give an account of ourselves (Romans 14:12).

It’s all right, too, because a life hidden in Christ has its influence, but in ways that are very mysterious.

Well, what’s a poor priest to do, one who has a little more than twenty-four hours to pull something together? So I went and did a bit of research.

First of all, I looked up the poems that Catherine wrote to Josephine. (In 1970, Catherine wrote a poem to each of the staff, a poem about that person.)

There are two poems about Josephine and they are both quite lovely, but like many of Catherine’s poems, they leave more shrouded in mystery than they reveal.

Then I read the history of Madonna House Peru that Josephine wrote. Josephine founded and was the local director of that house from 1968 to 1972, which was almost the entire time that that house was in existence.

It is a very informative document about that mission house; it tells the story of MH Peru very well indeed. In fact, it is so well written that she probably could have been a professional writer. But in it, Josephine says very little about herself.

Then I looked at the memorial book that Marian Moody of the archives department had pulled together and what did I find? The same thing held true across the board.

For in all the newsletters and other materials in that album, Josephine had always put forward the works of the apostolate and talked at length about what everybody else in the house was doing. But she consistently said almost nothing about herself.

Josephine had worked in the office in Combermere for quite a few years, and she kept the books in MH Toronto for most of the time she was there.

She knew what it meant to render an account. She knew, then, that you don’t open up the books and show the accounts to just anyone. You give it to the appropriate person. There is a certain discretion called for in these matters.

And so, her life remained a hidden one, at least to some degree, at least in the things that count most, life in God.

Oh, people caught glimpses of it in her lifetime—a life spent in glad service. A life of faithfulness in endless little things done well, a life of courage in embracing difficult apostolic works. Madonna House Peru was not easy; neither were a few other experiences she had over the years.

Josephine had her crosses, but she seemed to carry them lightly, with a joke or a ready smile or that twinkle in her eye that she often had. She exhibited in this a readiness to endure, to forgive, and to persevere. In her last years, she manifested a most gracious acceptance of suffering, illness, and old age.

But though you were given occasional glimpses of all of this, the depths of these things were hidden. And rightly so, because it is to God that each of us must give an account of ourselves.

P.S. from the editor: I asked one of the staff of MH Toronto if it was only because we in Combermere almost never saw JoJo that we knew her so little. "No," she answered, "She was a very private person."


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