Combermere Diary

by Janine Gobeil

Hello, it’s my opportunity to once again share with you what is happening in our little corner of Ontario. Like you, we live through the seasons which bring joys and sorrows, struggles and challenges, graces to hope, and signs of God’s presence among us.

And like you, because of COVID, more than ever, we constantly need to reconsider how to move in certain situations, what needs to get done, and what can wait. You each have your own list.

It has been a year since we have had a death in the family; then we had two within two weeks of each other—Fr. Pelton and Michael Lopez.

These were our first COVID-time funerals, and, of course they had to be done differently.

One way is that, because of the need to have space between us, we could not all attend the wake or the funeral Mass. Those not attending could hear the homily or eulogy piped into the St. Mary’s dining room.

Another difference is that no one outside of Madonna House could come—family of the deceased, friends, neighbors, Fr. Pelton’s directees, and others.

So we had wakes at the local funeral home in the nearby town of Barry’s Bay.

Our staff at St. Joseph’s House, our mission house which serves the local area, hosted. (Being outside MH proper, they were not able to attend the funeral either.)

Because it was outside (of course!) we were all able to be present at the burials. But after the funeral, we were not able to have our usual reception, usually a wonderful opportunity to visit with our friends and neighbors.

On “All Hallows Eve,” the eve of All Saints, which many know as Halloween, we did not have the usual visit of local children dressed as saints. The main house had an All Saints party where anyone who wanted to could dress up as a saint.

The most original was Sts. Mary and Martha (Philomena Lim and Teresa Gehred) dragging Lazarus (Steve Héroux) in a huge bag. Up he popped wrapped in a winding cloth.

On All Saints Day, St. Mary’s invited all our working guests for a short prayer service, consisting of a Litany of the Saints set to music played by Fr. Brian Christie on the violin and Veronica Ferri on the keyboard.

The service was not long, about 20 minutes; then the guests joined the St. Mary’s staff for treats and tea. Because most of the St. Mary’s staff also work there, they don’t often get a chance to meet and visit with the guests. So I consider that opportunity was one of the treats for both.

Over a period of three nights, including All Souls’ Day, our applicant, Blanka Pavlickova shared with us a custom from her native Czech Republic—honoring the dead by bringing lighted candles to their graves.

Whoever wished to joined her in doing this and singing and praying for our dead in both the parish cemetery and our own. One of the nights, she arranged to bring our elderly to take part.

Over the years, we have incorporated many customs that have been brought to us from other cultures. It certainly makes us all the richer for doing so.

Another custom we have here, some time in November, is a sugaring down, an event that only happens in rural areas in this part of the world, the large area in which sugar maple trees grow. This is an event in which people gather to make maple sugar out of maple syrup.

You boil the syrup until it begins to crystalize. Small amounts are then poured into pans or cookie sheets and people stir and pound it until it begins to dry and get powdery—a job that requires lots of people and muscle power. The finished product then becomes maple sugar, which we use in our Christmas baking.

For almost all our guests, it is a first-time event. It’s quite an enjoyable evening with lots of talking, laughter, and spelling each other off with pounding when we get tired. It is also an experience of family, people of all ages just working and being together.

This is quite a simple explanation of what is involved but I think you get the idea.

We also offer during the winter months, once a week or less often, what we call “Basement University.” What this basically means is documentaries and other educational movies on a large screen TV in the basement. The first one was about the Terra Cotta “army,” the large clay figures that were discovered buried in China.

Speaking of education and experiencing other cultures, Fr. Kieran Kilcommons and Fr. Denis Lemieux went down to Windsor to a Melkite (Eastern Rite) parish to spend a week-end mainly to celebrate the Divine Liturgy with the priest.

Both are in the process of receiving bi-ritual faculties so that they will be able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy here at Madonna House periodically.

We have had some very unusually mild weather for November. So the gardeners have been able to close up garden work and put compost and manure on our flower beds and main gardens without being cold and wet.

For Remembrance Day, the gift shop made an excellent display of World War I & II memorabilia.

Well, this pretty much wraps up my letter to you all. It is a joy for me to be able to greet you and chat with you through Restoration.