A Heart on Fire

by Miriam Stulberg

Linda was short in stature, but as an apostle, she was a giant. Apostle: that’s the best word I can find overall to describe her. She had a zeal for the Gospel, for Catherine’s teaching, for “passing it on.” This was her passion and it filled her heart and her life.

Linda was born in Seattle, Washington in 1938. Her first contact with Madonna House came through Stella Maris House, our house in Portland, Oregon, where she was going to college.

She visited Combermere in 1959. Apparently, she stayed a short while, decided that was enough, and hopped the bus to Toronto—and turned around and came back! She became an applicant and made her first promises on August 15, 1960.

Gift Shop

Linda was trained by our foundress, Catherine Doherty, and worked closely with her especially in setting up the gift shop—first in St. Veronica’s, a one-room cabin, and eventually in its present location.

She was open and eager to take in everything Catherine had to give her, especially her vision of the gift shop, her breadth of vision that nothing was foreign to the apostolate. Everything was Christ.

It was passing on Christ’s love—person to person in a big chain that went from the people giving things to be sold, to the people who sorted them and cleaned them and fixed them, to the people who sold them and bought them, to the missionaries who received the proceeds, and to the people who were helped by them. It was all the Mystical Body; it was all Christ.

Catherine sent Linda to Carriacou, a small island in the West Indies, where we had a house, to set up a gift shop there as part of the Handicraft Cooperative, and later to Marian Centre to Edmonton to organize a gift shop there.

Linda’s own heart was on fire and passing on Catherine’s vision became what she would later call “a sacred trust.”

Mission Correspondence

Later Catherine passed on to her the correspondence with missionaries all over the world who were supported by the MH Gift Shop. This became an important apostolate in itself. Linda developed it. She sent MH books and Restoration. She corresponded with the different missionaries. These initiatives were significant in making Catherine and Madonna House known throughout the world.

Applicants

Linda was director of training—the equivalent of mistress of novices—from 1981 until 1997. That’s a long time. Sixteen years.

Here are some of the things her former applicants had to say about her: “I trusted her.” “I knew she loved me, no matter what.” “She was always there for me.” “She had a hundred irons in the fire, but she always had time for you.”

“She had the ability to connect all the dots—it wasn’t just about getting the job done. It was about the whole picture. Working with her became an adventure.” Plus: “She was a lot of fun.”

It always struck me how Linda supported people, not only by her hours and hours of listening, but in all the little day to day things: She was very practical.

She made sure an applicant with special diet needs had things she could eat on treat nights. She got groceries for a staff worker on holidays around here who had no way of getting to a supermarket or grocery store. She helped one of the employees at Publications move into a new apartment.

One applicant tells the story of how Linda was trying to get her to wear skirts on Sunday. She had her standing on the counter in the back of the gift shop so that Linda could pin and sew the hem for her.

She gave her life for the Kingdom—day by day by day.

MH Publications

Madonna House books were originally published by commercial publishing houses. When they began going out of print, Linda received permission to acquire the rights, and we began reprinting them ourselves.

Madonna House Publications was born in the little backroom of the gift shop, around the year 1989 with all the gift shop things going on around it! People working there with Linda at that time remember, in addition to the chaos, her enthusiasm; her being on fire for the Word.

Linda didn’t know anything about publishing; nobody here did. But she learned as she went along, leaning on Our Lady for guidance as she did in everything. She had a gift for finding people who knew the things she didn’t!

Her vision was always expanding. She had what Catherine would have called the “ingenuity of love”. She wasn’t afraid of the new technologies but used them to “pass it on”—audio cassettes and then CDs, videos, the Internet, e-books.

Hiddenness

When Linda finally stopped working with the applicants, she moved into her mother’s summer house, which was a fifteen-minute walk away from the main house. She went there to recover from what was probably close to burnout. As it turned out, she lived there, I think, for almost twenty years, until shortly before her cancer diagnosis.

She always considered that house as part of Madonna House, using it generously for the staff. Countless staff spent countless hours there bending Linda’s ear or were given whatever else they needed.

While she continued to be totally available, she was less visible in the community. She remained thoroughly involved with Publications, and at one point took over the Gift Shop for a while, but I think those years were also a time of going inward. She spoke of it once as kind of a poustinia for her. She was also dealing with a number of health problems, including a serious heart condition.

Friendship with Linda

I think I began to get close to Linda when I went to Russia in 1993 and began overseeing the publication of Catherine’s books in Russian. Talk about not knowing what you’re doing! I was humbled by Linda’s trust in me and her personal support. Over the years, we became friends.

Vulnerability

One thing I came to see about Linda was her vulnerability. Like so many of us, most of us, she was emotionally wounded. She was always sensitive to rejection and could be easily hurt. But because she knew and accepted her own poverty, she could accept that of others. She went out to people and brought out their gifts and capacities, just as Catherine had done for her.

I came to see this as one of her greatest qualities, on a par with everything else she accomplished. It was to me another example of our very wounds becoming a source of grace for others.

I often thought in this regard of St. John Paul II’s words at the Toronto WYD: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures. We are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

There is a quote from Catherine that strikes me with regard to Linda: “Jesus asks us to lift up our pain and lay it in his cupped hands. It then becomes like the water that is added to the wine in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The Lord takes our pain, especially the pain of rejection, and uses it to help others throughout the world. He and his Mother are at our side to help us walk in faith.” (from God in the Nitty-Gritty, MH Publications)

Linda had a deep and childlike faith and she lived from the depth of her consecration to our Lady. Linda was a giver. She liked to be in charge; she liked to be in control. But in the last two years of her life, she wasn’t in control and she had to let go. She had to let go of everything. She had to learn to receive. And what she learned to receive was love.

The last words she heard before she drew her final breaths were: “You are beautiful. You are shiny. God is waiting for you.”

The eulogy at Linda’s wake