Combermere Diary

by Doreen Dykers

Dear Readers,

For approximately twenty years, I have enjoyed sharing our life with you in “Combermere Diary,” and now it is time to give others a chance. But since I am still editing the paper, I will continue to be in touch with you.

Paulette Curran


Due to COVID, our life has been simplified; there has been little coming or going, and there have been fewer news events to write about. Plus, I am a member of St. Mary’s community. So this is a good opportunity for you to hear more about St. Mary’s.

This household, a community within the community of Madonna House, is located about a half mile from the main house. It was established in 1994 when we had physically reached full capacity. Currently, 53 people are part of the St. Mary’s community.

St. Mary’s building contains a number of things. Among them are dormitories, poustinias, the bread bakery, art studios, the Restoration editor’s desk, men’s workshops, an auditorium, and our main chapel. On the property are a vegetable field, an apple orchard, berry patches, and our cemetery.

St. Mary’s used to be a convent boarding school, and that property contained a large lawn. We made that lawn into an extension of the farm—a field for growing vegetables. According to our rotation schedule, this year potatoes are being grown there.

Farmers Augustine Tardiff and Chris Hanlon harrowed the field and dug a clean edge along the entire perimeter. Then in May every able-bodied person whose work was not essential elsewhere took part in planting the potatoes. It was a fun family event. Now the potatoes are sprouting leafy and green above ground. What a magnificent sight!

Speaking of potatoes, the first rough peeling of vegetables for the kitchens of St. Mary’s, the main house, and the farm are done at St. Mary’s, where there is a large vegetable peeler. This machine spins the potatoes with running water to remove the dirt and peel. Since we prepare thousands of potatoes a year in order to feed many people, we are very grateful for this machine.

All year round, many different things are happening at St. Mary’s. For example, Marysia Kowalchyk and Zoyla Grace have been writing icons. (Icons are said to be “written,” not “painted.”) Daniel Rabideau also paints—modern art.

It seems like there are often problems with various parts of St. Mary’s—the plumbing, the elevators, etc. etc. Recently it was the roof—a fairly big leak caused by a torrential downpour. And right now, our lift is not running—a hardship for those unable to do stairs. It is waiting two weeks for a new part. Needless to say, the men of St. Mary’s—especially Tom White and Ralph Edelbrock, are kept busy all over the building.

One ongoing reality this COVID-time is quarantine. Anyone who re-enters the community after being away, even for a short time, has to be quarantined for fourteen days.

Lately one of our members, who is in her nineties, was in the hospital for a few days. Then back home, she was finding the combination of physical pain and quarantine difficult. Another member of St. Mary’s, trying to come up with a way to lighten this lady’s burden, heard that the main house has just taken in three orphaned kittens. So she asked to borrow them. In almost no time the tiny kittens arrived, and one was deposited on the elder’s lap. It was exactly what she needed.


Well, we can’t leave out the news from the main house and both houses together, and so here is some of that.

Probably our biggest news is the re-election of the director general of women, Elizabeth Bassarear. She was unanimously elected—that is by sobornost—on the second ballot. Now all three of our directors general—one each for laymen, women, and priests—have been re-elected for their second term.

This year because of COVID restrictions on travel, we have come up with a practical idea for taking our two-week vacations: taking them here in Combermere. As many of you probably know, this is called a “staycation.”

Since the Cana property will not be used for family retreat/vacations this summer, it is available for staff holidays, and some have been going there. This is a bit rugged for the older staff especially, as there is no electricity or running water in the cabins, just in the cook shacks. So another building, called “Loreto House,” is another option. These are both good spots for quiet, restful holidays, and it seems to be working out well.

On Corpus Christi, Susanne Stubbs and others were moved by something they saw at our parish church, which is located between the main house and St. Mary’s. Ordinarily for this feast we have joined with the parish in a procession. This year, of course, COVID prevented that from happening, but it could not interfere with people’s faith. Outside the church, the pastor, Fr. John Lacey, fully vested, knelt in adoration before a monstrance and several people, parked in their cars, were silently worshipping as well.

Though we are not having the summer program, we still have some guests with us, and it was decided to have the usual weekly talks by priests, a few witness talks, and the Saturday Evening Seminar at which our directors general answer the questions of guests.

This year, for one of these seminars, Fr. David May, a former director general of priests, answered questions, and at another one four lay members (two men and two women) did so instead of the directors general.

On June 24th, Quebec’s national holiday, both houses had bonfires and St. Mary’s sang French Canadian songs. Then on July 1st we celebrated Canada Day, Canada’s national holiday.

At St. Mary’s Peter Lyrette entertained us at breakfast with a Canada Day quiz. At both houses, everyone had an hour off in the afternoon to relax and recreate together. Elizabeth Bassarear could not say ‘no’ to Kathryn Nugent’s invitation to “come, play soccer.”  At 23, Kathryn is our youngest member.


To close, here is a question for you to ponder. “Why do we celebrate Canada Day?” Fr. Blair Bernard has the answer.

Through the virtue of piety, God instructs us to have reverence for (1) the One who created us (2) our parents who brought us into life, and (3) our roots and our land of origin as it provided us with a place to live.

May God grant you peace and all the graces you need during this COVID-time.