A Mother’s Heart

by Linda Owen

I became a member of Madonna House on August 15, 1972, only a few days after my 21st birthday. This year, I will be celebrating fifty years of wearing my Madonna House cross. I suppose you could say I grew up at Madonna House.

Madonna House was only 25 years old when I made my first promises. Funny how people seemed so mature and experienced to me at the time! Few of them had been here since the beginning, but many were 15 years older than me or more. I was blessed to see the zeal in them, the love of service, the very large vision of life they were trying to live.

Catherine had such a big heart—the heart of a mother. She took me on early, in my first year here, taking me to the statue of Our Lady of Combermere; teaching me to stand still under her (Our Lady’s) mantle. I had come from a family with active alcoholism and some physical abuse. Catherine recognized the signs and blessed me with her compassion.

However, there was no running away here. My first assignment was to serve at Marian Centre Edmonton among the street people, many of whom were alcoholics. I had to face those wounds of neglect and allow them to be transformed through forgiveness, acceptance, and eventually love.

This took time, but I was surrounded by the grace of my promises and our Madonna House family which was committed to loving one another and those we serve.

I would like to remark on one specific grace given to me through this life—how Our Lady of Combermere under whose mantle I still stand, gave me a mother’s heart.

For four years, I served at St Joseph’s House here in Combermere and along with a local lady, I directed the parish choir.

One Holy Thursday, a choir member, a young mother, had with her a child of about ten months who wanted to nurse. The timing was not good and the mother offered the child a bottle. But the child would not take it; she just kept screaming. The poor mother tried to calm her, but eventually there was nothing else she could do but give her the breast.

While I was directing the music, the thought came to me that this child, once grown up, would never realize the sacrifices her mother had made for her—hidden yet real, nurturing her young life.

At that moment, I felt Our Lady saying to me, “If you let your heart pour out with a mother’s love like this young woman, those you are serving through your promises will never know the sacrifices you have made for them, but I will bless them through you.”

I helped care for Catherine in her last days of life. She knew I liked to cook and asked if I could help her with her food needs. These were wonderful years at first when she could still enjoy what I made for her, but, of course, at the end, I had to hold her up and help her eat the gruel that would sustain her body for the day. This was not easy for either of us. I knew, though that she loved and trusted my skills.

One day she said it would not be much longer and she would be gone. This was in 1985 and I had been in Madonna House for 14 years.

I remember saying off the top of my head but really from my heart: “You can’t die yet, Catherine. You have more to teach me!”

She looked at me with tired but loving eyes and said, “This life will teach you.”

Among my assignments, I was blessed to have been asked to serve our seniors at Our Lady of the Visitation wing at St. Mary’s for ten years. This work, I think, was the most formative for my heart. At Visitation, I cared for those with debilitating dementia or end of life issues as their housemother, making sure their needs were taken care of, their rooms clean, and so forth.

This was no “professional” job. This was growing old together. These brothers and sisters whom I accompanied on their final journey were, in fact, my family, and they were still forming me in this Madonna House life.

They taught me how to go deeper, and to make the even greater commitment of surrender. Mine was the privilege of being present as they made their final fiat (act of surrender) to God. This grace of being a companion on their journeys was an unspeakable blessing.

Currently, I am part of a team serving at our giftshop where the proceeds from sales go directly to missions throughout the world. I have been serving these missionaries for six plus years and have come to know and respect each of them.

The needs are so great and our help is so little, yet their lives are so much a part of our lives. Literally, we become conduits of love between the benefactors who provide the items we sell, those who contribute through their purchases to this outreach, and the poorest people I have ever had the privilege to know.

Now, after fifty years at Madonna House, I can honestly say in the words of a hymn we sing: “My heart has been broken open, it’s flower has appeared, and grace has blossomed there.”

All of this has only happened by the grace of our mighty God who makes the tiniest grain of wheat sprout and bear fruit.