Posted October 19, 2015 in Memorials:
An Ordinary Treasure

by Trudi Cortens.

Like so many of us who ended up joining Madonna House, Josephine Halfman originally came only for a visit. She had a chemistry degree and, having left her native Fort Wayne, Indiana, was teaching in California. She was not looking for her vocation, and she never intended to stay.

But lo and behold, she caught the eye of Catherine Doherty. There was an instant "magic," and before long, JoJo’s heart was caught by Catherine’s dream to restore the world to Christ. After that, she never looked back.

Josephine became an applicant on the feast of the Epiphany in 1958 and a member of Madonna House on August 15th, the feast of the Assumption.

Among Josephine’s assignments in Madonna House, the one she treasured most was the one she had from 1960 – 1967, when she worked as office manager side by side with Catherine.

She and Catherine enjoyed one another. Josephine was very intelligent, and Catherine liked having intelligent people around her.

As time went on, JoJo had assignments to Peru and Cleveland—and she was head of the subscription department of Restoration. Then except for a year or so in Combermere just before she died, she spent the last 28 years of her life in Madonna House Toronto. There she was much loved, and she considered this her happiest time in the apostolate.

I was director of MH Toronto, and it is here that I got to know Josephine. Both of us were among the early staff personally trained by Catherine at a very dynamic time of her life, so we had much in common. We became close friends.

Madonna House Toronto was founded in 1982, and Josephine joined the staff here in 1987. In 1989, the owner of the house we were renting was forced to sell it for financial reasons, and we had to move out. We started to look for something more permanent, a suitable house we could buy, and this became a great challenge.

The story of our search for a house, is a long and fascinating one, and it bonded us into a very tight community.

A group of knowledgeable friends formed a committee to give us advice and other kinds of help. Finally, we found what we were looking for at 501 Parkside Drive.

There was one problem, however—a big one: the house had been slated for demolition, and major work would be required to restore it. Plus, due to our lack of funds, hiring a contractor was out of the question.

Friends came to our rescue, and together we began the huge work of restoration. It took two whole years to make that house livable.

Along with the rest of the staff, JoJo scraped floors, restored the windows and doors we picked up along the way, and did other physical work on the house. And she made major contributions in two other ways.

First of all, she elicited the help of her family. When technical problems arose, she would call her brother Frank, who was in the building trade, for his help and advice. He was there for us in season and out of season, and he always had an answer.

Another brother, Rob, and his wife Lois donated safety bars for our windows, bars made in the Halfman Iron Works in Indiana.

And every year, JoJo’s other siblings and their spouses (including a brother-in-law, Paul, who is a cabinet maker) came and gave us some hands-on help. We never ran out of work for them.

Josephine’s other contribution, and it was a huge and very necessary one, was in her area of responsibility in the house: the office. And this, besides the routine work of any Madonna House office, involved some very complicated work indeed.

One example was the bookkeeping. Josephine had done simple bookkeeping before, but for various reasons ours was so sophisticated and complicated that it almost required a professional accountant.

However, JoJo liked to work with numbers, and with some hard work, she somehow managed to balance our books each year—though she couldn’t always explain how she did it.

Josephine did the work on what the city calls, "work orders," requirements that had been placed against the house prior to our purchasing it, but which had to be addressed before the city would "get off our backs."

Moreover, as a "charitable organization," we needed to be registered as a company, and this required a letter patent, the obtaining of which is a very complicated process.

Since we couldn’t afford a lawyer, we purchased a do-it-yourself booklet, and between the two of us, we succeeded in getting the necessary documentation without one. We considered this a major accomplishment.

And all these things required dealing with lawyers, bankers, real estate companies, and mortgages, all of which was totally new for Josephine.

In 1989, Josephine began learning how to use an old, donated computer which had half its wires bound up in a tin can. JoJo’s adventures with it gave us many laughs, but she learned how to use it and was able to get a lot done with it.

Finally, we were all thrilled, especially Josephine, when we were given a good computer and the rest of us started taking night courses to learn how to use it.

Josephine had a lot of common sense, which, of course, was a great asset. An introvert by nature, she had a tremendous love for her blood and Madonna House families. And she had a great sense of humor.

She loved classical music and plants, and every year, she had petunias on her window sill. She was our house photographer, and she loved cats, taking great joy in looking after JJ, her Russian Blue cat. JoJo loved to read, and she did a variety of handicrafts.

You could sum it all up by saying that Josephine was fascinated by many things, and she was always learning something new.

On June 12, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, Josephine went home to the Lord whom she loved more than all else. We in MH Toronto rejoice with you, JoJo, and we know the day will come when we will be together again, but in the meantime it is hard to let you go. You have left a hole in our hearts.


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