Combermere Diary

by Janine Gobeil

This has been a very hot summer; July was the second hottest July on record. (The hottest was in 1921.)

Of course, COVID has been affecting our lives as it has yours more than the weather has, and this has been a unique summer in many ways.

A number of our members are elderly, and in order to protect them—and the rest of the community as well—we have had few live-in working guests and virtually no other visitors.

Our summer program for our few working guests (almost all of whom have been with us since COVID started) did have some staff witness talks, the Saturday evening seminar (in which guests can ask questions), and lectures, but almost none of the usual activities.

Several of our priests gave lectures on Wednesday evenings and one of our guests, a Ukrainian Rite priest, Hieromonk Teodosy, gave two talks about two different icons.

The first was on Rublev’s Trinity and the second, in preparation for the feast of the Assumption, was on the Dormition of the Mother of God (what the Eastern Rite call the feast of the Assumption.) He is very knowledgeable and the talks were well-received.

Another result of COVID is that our gift shop was closed for the summer. The plus side of this is that the staff who work there have been able to sort through their stock.

The backlog is due to the fact that in the winter the storage place is too cold (it isn’t heated) and the summers too busy to do much sorting. They are finding treasures to put in the shop next year.

Staycations have been enjoyed by most of us; though some, because of their work, have not been able to get vacation time in the summer. It was a joy to just stay home in this beautiful area, and in terms of vacationing and just enjoying the summer, the weather has been almost perfect.

For the farm and gardens, however, there was very little rain before August.

The harvest is coming in. Some of it we are enjoying now; most is being processed or stored in our root cellar. Scott Eagan, the farm director, says that we are having a good harvest.

We couldn’t irrigate the hay fields though, and have gotten only half the usual amount. We have had to buy the rest.

The garden crew who look after the fruits, are reporting a very good crop of raspberries and blueberries. They also look after our apple orchards, and in one of them the trees were hit by a blight. They had to do some major pruning to try to stop it. Even so, it has been a good apple year.

Our apple trees serve us in six different ways. From them we get apple sauce, apple juice, apple cider vinegar, dried apples for baking, wine, and, while they last, fresh apples for eating.

Six of our priests attended the installation of the new bishop of our diocese, Bishop Guy Desrochers. Because of COVID, that’s all who could attend, but we are all looking forward to his visiting us some time in the future. One of our priests, Fr. Louis Labrecque, was his classmate in seminary.

At the addition to the main house, the electricians have completed the wiring for the fire alarm system and the plumbers, the plumbing. Some landscaping has begun there as well, mostly bringing landfill to level the ground.

At the end of July, a number of us gathered at the cemetery for a simple ceremony of blessing the crosses that serve as the headstones for our three members who died in the past year—Fr. Gerry Wallner, Marité Langlois, and Irene DeRoche.

These are simple wooden crosses shaped like the crosses we wear, giving their name, dates of birth and death, and a short quote. All the lettering is hand-carved and painted, usually by members of our handicraft department, but sometimes by another person in the community.

Fr. Michael Weitl gave us a virtual tour of the scavi in Rome. While Fr. Michael was a seminarian in Rome, one of his summer jobs was to give tours of the lowest level of excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica.

These excavations were begun in 1939, and the bones of St. Peter were discovered while they were working. The tour he gave us was delightful and his enthusiasm was catchy.

August 15th, the feast of the Assumption, is always for us a day of joy and beauty. Among other things, it is the day we celebrate 50th and 25th anniversaries of membership in Madonna House—the 50th especially.

The morning dawned beautiful and sunny. At both the main house and St. Mary’s, there were beautiful baskets of flowers in the dining rooms and elsewhere. Most of the flowers come from our gardens; some were wild.

In the back of the dining room was an old statue of the Assumption that Eliana Ribeiro das Chagas had recently restored. She asked Daniel Rabideau to paint “the cosmos” as a background for it. He painted rays of different shades of blue, purple and gold that were very beautiful, striking, luminous even. He called it, “Beyond the Cosmos.”

Fr. David Linder, the celebrant at St. Mary’s, quoted what he had heard in his heart earlier in the morning as he was praying and preparing his homily: “Take my hand and I will lead you into glory.”

Our jubilarian, Carolyn Desch, joined St. Mary’s for brunch, and at the end of the meal, the local director, Joanne Dionne, talked about the fact that 26 years ago, when the building that had been St. Mary’s School officially became Madonna House St. Mary’s, Carolyn, an artist who has a gift for home decorating, was asked to “make it a home.”

This was not an easy task since it was a big institutional type building. But Carolyn succeeded.

Joanne also pointed out a photograph of Carolyn lettering a scroll which read, “My life is at the service of the Gospel.” That quote for sure says something of who Carolyn is.

At supper at the main house, Elizabeth Bassarear, director general of women, gave tribute to Carolyn’s faithfulness and gift of creating beauty, which has helped make “many places in Madonna House a home.”

Carolyn expressed her deep gratitude for the love she sees coming from each person in the family.

Well, I think this brings “Combermere Diary” to a fitting close. When I was asked to write it, it was suggested to think of it as a letter to a friend who has never been here. I hope this gives you all a little glimpse at our life over here in Combermere.