A Day of Joy and Friendship

by Susanne Stubbs

What to say about our 75th anniversary open house and picnic on September 4th? Members described the event as wonderful, surprising, amazing, graced, moving, fantastic, edifying, gratifying … and on and on.

Among other things, the experience was a celebration of our friendships as never before. Before Madonna House was founded in 1947, the houses founded by Catherine Doherty were all called “Friendship House.” Through the past decades, we have come to realize that all our houses, past and present, continue to be houses of friendship.

No matter what corporal or spiritual works of mercy we might be engaged in, the essence of our work continues to be our deep connections with people.

It was because of this that we decided to have as our main 75th anniversary celebration an open house and picnic to connect with as many of our friends as possible.

Between 1 and 3 p.m., people had the opportunity to visit a number of places at the main house compound.

Then from 3 o’clock on, a picnic and tea on St. Mary’s big lawn provided more opportunity to reconnect and visit with one another.

Things moved along very smoothly during the whole event, largely because of the many hours and days spent planning and preparing—first by the 75th anniversary planning committee, instituted months ago, and then by all the many members on the ground.

As part of the last days of preparation, many sign-up sheets adorned our dining rooms. Volunteers were requested for all kinds of jobs—setting up, serving food and drink, cleaning up, etc., etc., etc..

Multitudinous garbage cans appeared everywhere. The day before the event, our brothers erected marquee tents at both houses for protection from sun or rain. People were appointed to offer hospitality in all the buildings at the main house compound that would be open to our visitors.

Signs, signs and more signs appeared everywhere, especially at St. Mary’s—directing people to the lawn to eat, to the chapel for private prayer, etc. We did not give tours of St. Mary’s during the picnic.

There were so many details to think of: for example, putting risers on some toilets for the handicapped and elderly. Extra parking needed to be arranged using the parish and school lots, and traffic attendants wearing fluorescent vests were assigned. Such a lot to be organized!

Leading up to this celebration, there were two important unknowns: what the weather would be (we had no rain date), and how many people would come.

We were impelled to storm heaven, especially our patron saints for good weather! We implored Our Lady of Combermere to bring those she wanted to come and to give us the wherewithal to welcome each one properly.

Between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., people were invited to walk around the main house grounds. Many came especially to visit Our Lady of the Woods chapel and B’s cabin, both of which are not usually open to the public. It was also an opportunity to tour our new kitchen addition, which has provided such a wonderful new space for our needs. The members stationed at these spots were kept busy greeting old friends and friends we hadn’t met yet, sharing stories of B, laughing, praying, etc., etc., etc.

In the old kitchen, our archives department put up a comprehensive display of the history of our buildings. At St. Raphael’s handicraft building, the little ones enjoyed doing the crafts offered. As usual, face painting was a big draw—pun intended.

Our outdoor kiln had been fired three days prior and the potters opened it revealing the newly fired pots. It’s always a surprise to see what fire, clay, and potter have produced.

Madonna House Publications had a booth featuring some of its offerings. And music was in the air, played by Sofia Segal and some musician neighbors.

Then at 3 o’clock Madonna House provided “tea” at St. Mary’s. We served several trays of cake baked at Madonna House and eight watermelons, sliced. People brought their picnic suppers, and we provided ice cream for dessert. Approximately 80 litres of ice cream embellished with our own maple syrup were served. There was plenty for all.

There is no way of knowing how many people actually came between 1 and 9 p.m., but the educated guess was that there were 500 on St. Mary’s lawn. There were also those who came through the main house and shops and B’s cabin who did not come down to St. Mary’s.

Throughout the afternoon on St. Mary’s lawn, under the linden tree, Melanie Murphy and Helen Porthouse attracted many small children. Melanie Murphy read and told stories, using props and hand puppets, and Helen Porthouse played a penny whistle.

At 5 o’clock, there was a theatrical presentation about the main fruits of Catherine’s life—the vocation to Madonna House, Cana, apostolic farming, etc. Veronica Ferri read a script with a mike, while different members, guests, and applicants created tableaus on a homemade stage that had been erected on the lawn in front of St. Mary’s dining room windows.

It was a simple production, but very effective and sometimes amusing, while still being inspiring. Many were moved to tears at certain points.

During the performance, when Cana was mentioned, cheers went up from parts of the crowd. Many of our guests were Cana families and/or Cana kids grown up. Afterwards, we all recited the rosary.

We were so grateful for sun and clouds all afternoon with none of the rain that had been predicted. A bonfire was lit in the early evening and spontaneous music-making continued until about 9:30 p.m.

At the end of the day, our hearts were filled with gratitude for all that had transpired. Many members said that they shed tears of joy at several points throughout the hours, as we welcomed people and visited with them. There seemed to be an atmosphere of grace.

It was astonishing to witness how many people came to express such deep gratitude for what Madonna House has meant in their lives and to the Church. Most of our guests were Catholic friends, but there were some from other faiths and some were friends we hadn’t yet met.

Here are a few vignettes and impressions:

—Three people came who had attended their parish Mass that morning, a Mass celebrated by our Fr. Brian Christie. He had announced the event and invited everybody at the Mass. One of these was a man who had just moved to Canada from Germany and had never been to Madonna House.

—The sight of hundreds of people walking down the road between the main house and St. Mary’s

—Catherine’s cabin crammed with people the whole time it was open.

—Our Lady of Combermere surrounded by crowds of people, chatting or praying silently.

—At least four married or engaged friends who came to introduce their beloved to us.

—A woman and her children, having arrived from Ottawa at 3 o’clock, were so grateful to be welcomed with snacks.

—Many people described the scene as “it feels like a family reunion.”

—Two women from Chapeau, Quebec, came for the first time because Fr. Zachary was at their parish. They sat with him at the theatrical presentation and said they learned so much about MH.

—A long-time friend who lives in Peterborough, a couple of hours away, wanted badly to come to our event. She has no car so she posted a note on her parish bulletin board asking for a ride from anyone who was coming here. A couple who had not planned to come decided to come and bring her. All had a wonderful time.

There are many, many more wonderful stories.

Please thank God with us for all the many blessings that came to us and our friends on September 4th. We poured ourselves out trying to do many small things exceedingly well so as to offer this opportunity to our friends to be with us in celebration. Our efforts were indeed rewarded a hundredfold—or perhaps infinitely!


Other News

by Paulette Curran

Our big celebration took place in the midst of harvesting and food processing, and this season also included a few other events.

On Sept. 8, the birthday of Mary the Mother of God, we had the blessing of receiving three women applicants –Laura Dramis from New Jersey, Eun Sun Jo from Korea, and Rosemary Waclawik from, Arnprior, which is in our local area.

They were received in our usual simple ceremony and will be joining our second-year men applicants, Alexander MacAdam and Daniel Perren for classes and formation preparing them to become members of Madonna House.

We also celebrated the 65th anniversary of Promises of Réjeanne George and the 60th anniversary of Toni Austin and Emily Huston very simply with a special table at a Sunday supper at St. Mary’s.

At the end of the meal two of them spoke about their years in Madonna House. Réjeanne said that she joined because she knew this is where the deepest desires of her heart would be fulfilled, and Emily spoke of the call of Abraham and paid tribute to our spiritual directors, especially hers, Fr. Wild.

Toni led us in singing a Madonna House song, one that means a great deal to her—“It’s the Little Things You Do That Count.”

Just before our deadline, our associate priests’ meetings took place. We’ll tell you about them next time.