Celebrating 75 Years of MH Combermere –

Catherine Doherty

It all began 75 years ago …


May 17, 1947 was sunny and very warm. My husband Eddie and I arrived in Combermere about three o’clock in the afternoon and our first sight of the little, unfinished six-room house was exhilarating.

Though it had no siding and was unpainted, it still looked cozy. The statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which had been enshrined the year before, stood over the window of an upstairs bedroom. We could see it from the road and it welcomed us.

Hungry and tired, we ate in the living room. In a state of great content, Eddie stared out at the Madawaska River and said, “Katie, welcome to your new home.”

Three dozen young apple trees had been delivered a few days before. The field for the orchard had been ploughed and manured.

All we needed now was a hole in the ground for each tree. Our neighbors Desire Mayhew and Wilfred Bouchard helped us plant them. Thus, the orchard, in a sense, is a memorial. It was planted on the foundation day of Madonna House, the day we arrived, and the trees are still there today.

In those early days we had a wood stove, an outdoor toilet, and a well in the cellar with a hand pump that took a thousand strokes to fill the water tank. We filled the tank three times a day to cook and do laundry.

We didn’t have much money and not many clothes. I planted a garden, did some sewing, and baked bread. Such were our early days in Combermere.

Grace in Every Season, (2001), May 17,
pp. 138-139,
MH Publications


Three months later

Greetings from Combermere. Things are really getting organized around here.

The vegetable garden is saving the day for us, because our two general stores get few greens or fruits; and what they do get are not cheap. We are too far from all the main lines. So the fresh green vegetables and the millions of raspberries that we grow ourselves are doubly relished.

Milky the pig is now a graying color, belying his original name; but he’s growing so fast he is a joy to behold. He and Skipper (our cocker spaniel) and Frosty (our black-and-white kitten) are at present our entire livestock. Next spring, we hope to add 50 pullets and one or two hives of bees on our 5-acre lot.

The apple trees are growing, and we are busy with beds and rows for berry bushes, strawberries, and perennial flowers that will be planted this fall. The house shines in its new white dress, with blue trimmings in honor of Our Lady. A new porch has been added, and a garage (with a workroom adjacent) will soon go up.

We are beginning to plan a little handicraft center. It will be another of our works here: weaving, rug-making, quilting, knitting and the like. If you have odd balls of wool yarn or pieces of materials suitable for quilting, please send them along. And Catholic children’s books for our youth library

Yes, the Canadian baby of Friendship House is growing lustily!

From Outer Circle Letter #31, August 1947


Seven months later in the first issue of Restoration

Many friends have been writing to us and asking: where is Combermere, and what are you doing there.

Combermere is about 120 miles west of Ottawa in the province of Ontario, near Algonquin Park.

Madonna House is located one mile outside of the village of Combermere, near the little white church of the Sacred Heart; and the Madawaska River practically washes its doorstep.

We are doing here what we have always done—working at the extension of Christ’s kingdom, Friendship House style.

Briefly, we are publishing from here the paper you are reading now. We called it Restoration, because to restore all things in Christ is the one most vital need of our tragic chaotic days, and we hope that by helping to clarify Catholic social thought, by discussing Catholic Action and the lay apostolate, we might help in that restoration

Yes, though dissemination of the knowledge of God and the things and ways of God, is of primary importance, these would be sterile without integrating their very foundation—caritas—love—through prayer and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. So we are engaged in all these.

Besides praying the Mass, Prime, Compline, the rosary, and other prayers of the Church, we have a clothing room from which we distribute such second-hand clothing as the charity of our friends and dealers supplies us with.
If you have any to spare, please remember us. The need is immense. Anything and everything in the line of clothing will be gratefully accepted.

Folks who take the clothing leave a little donation for the church, and most assuredly our reverend pastor, Father Patrick Dwyer, can use it. For many are the demands of a back-bush rural northern parish, too many to begin to describe.

Thus we “kill two birds with one stone,”—clothe those in need and help the Church of God.

Two libraries are in the process of being catalogued, for adults and for children. If you have good up-to-date Catholic books to spare for either or both of these groups, send them to us.

Books in these regions are priceless and oh so much needed. Also, Catholic magazines and pamphlets. We could use medals, rosaries, holy pictures, and prayer books, too.

Study clubs, children’s story hours, a handicraft centre, and a summer school for young lay apostles are some of our future dreams. In the meantime, we are content to work in the rural apostolate of Canada.

In the next issues of Restoration, we will tell you more about Combermere, Madonna House, our work, our lives and our dreams here. Won’t you send us your subscription?

One dollar a year to Madonna House, Combermere, Ontario, Canada.
Thank you.

From Restoration,
December 1947

P.S. Madonna House Combermere was not Catherine’s first apostolate. Before Combermere, she established several houses called “Friendship House”—the main ones being FH Toronto (1930) and FH Harlem in New York City (1938).