drum and pots from wood kiln firing May 2018

Combermere Diary

by Patricia Lawton

It has been two months since our last column, and every day has been filled with activity.

One major event was the gathering of the directors (“local directors” or “LDs”) from our field houses for their annual May meetings.

Eighteen directors from the field along with the LDs of the two communities within Madonna House Combermere (main house and St. Mary’s) and a few other staff met each morning for three weeks with our directors general (DGs).

Smaller meetings also took place in the afternoons or evenings, and occasionally, work bees. For example, it has become a tradition that the LDs join the gift shop staff in cleaning and preparing the Pioneer Museum for its summer opening.

The annual March for Life in Ottawa is also becoming an annual event for local directors and the rest of us as well. On that day no meetings are scheduled, and a number of the LDs, as well as a number of us, traveled to Ottawa to attend.

In another tradition, each day for our after-lunch spiritual reading, one of the directors gave a short talk about their house—its history, what is happening there now, and how our Madonna House spirit is lived there.

While the directors were here, Garth Pereira, the associate director of National Evangelization Team, (NET Ministries), an organization in which young adults travel across Canada giving presentations to young people in high schools and parishes, gave us a talk on how to reach out to youth in this day and age.

Among other things, he told us that they need help in navigating the hard things, but when they are challenged, they rise to the occasion. And—good news—contrary to popular belief, parents have more influence on their teens than they think.

NET does amazing work.

We had the first picnic of the summer while the LDs were here, as a time to visit with them and to celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of Madonna House in Combermere.

Activities that afternoon included: a demonstration of Turkish Ebru paper marbling by Bonnie Staib and of silver work by Peter Gravelle; and salsa lessons (a dance) with Colombian staff worker, Hugo Isaza.

About a dozen people joined Veronica Ferri for an outdoor drumming circle using a variety of instruments, ranging from a Nigerian Udu drum that Raandi King made to ordinary plastic buckets.

People also participated in “gentle” soccer (so that those not-so-young could join in), volleyball, bocce ball, and horseshoes.

In the evening, special entertainment marked the 25th anniversary of Madonna House in Russia.

Three songs were performed in Russian by the staff women who had served there over the years: Katia Lesage, Aliz Trombitas, Alma Coffman, Beth Holmes, Sushi Horwitz, Sofia Segal and Karen Maskiew. The refrain was printed out on big paper sheets so we could sing along.

Between the songs they told the story of the opening of Madonna House in Magadan, a city that was built during the Soviet era as an administrative center for the gulag.

Then we “traveled south” from Magadan to Korea. Ten Korean staff and guests along with a few others proclaimed a lively and beautiful Easter Alleluia.

The day closed with a campfire.

Patrick McConville has been building a second greenhouse at our farm. At the time of this writing, he has poured the concrete for it. We are planning to use it to grow tomatoes and English cucumbers.

At our existing greenhouse, we grow zucchini and start the lettuce. The lettuce seedlings are later transported to a greenhouse on the main house property, next to St. Raphael’s Handicraft Centre.

In the early season, while the nights are still cold, the gardeners take turns sleeping there so they can get up throughout the night to keep the wood stove burning. After a long winter without fresh greens, it’s wonderful to have this lettuce for some of our meals.

We’ve mentioned our outdoor wood-fired kiln before, a kiln which Darrin Prowse built at Raandi King’s request. Well, the potters, including Raandi King, Diana Breeze, Gretchen Schaefer and a couple of local potters, collected pots they had been making and did another firing.

They told us the times of the loading and opening so that all who wished to could come and watch.

Perhaps the most exciting item was a Nigerian pot-drum called an Udu that Raandi made. Udu drums evolved from clay cooking pots. The drum is large, 14 inches in diameter, and shaped somewhat like a gourd, with a hole in the belly, and a short neck that is open at the top.

This drum, made for Steve Heroux, fired beautifully and has a wonderful sound.

In this firing, the potters also tested out various glazes.

Three men and four women from the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy, a very new community, visited here for a week. The group is discerning whether or not to form a permanent community.

Fr. Denis Lemieux gave a talk about the sacrament of matrimony at a diocesan marriage appreciation banquet.

Fr. David May traveled to St. Joseph’s parish in Crosby, Minnesota and gave a parish mission. The theme: “When the Advocate Comes: Reflections on the Holy Spirit”. The pastor there is the nephew of staff worker Carol Ann Gieske.

Fr. Kieran Kilcommons gave a mission to a Korean parish in Toronto.

Two workshops, “Birding for Beginners,” (about identifying birds) were led by Anne Marie Murphy—one at the main house and one at St. Mary’s.

St. Mary’s had a Taize prayer service. Sara Matthews played a flute and a group led everyone in the songs in various languages.

On Pentecost Sunday, we all received a gift and fruit of the Holy Spirit printed on decorated paper.

Later that day, Fr. Michael Weitl, Paul Moore, and Martha Reilander led Byzantine Kneeling Vespers at Our Lady of the Woods Chapel, a service at which the hymn to the Holy Spirit, “O Heavenly King” is sung for the first time since before Easter.

In other news, the Rideout family who run a museum mended two of our spinning wheels. The main house has a new puppy, a black lab mix called Bailey. Sheep shearing was done at the farm.

Karen Maskiew and helpers have been busy setting up Cana Colony, our family retreat-vacation camp, for the families coming this summer. And new windows and new energy-saving LED light bulbs are now brightening up some of our buildings.

May your activities and encounters this summer bring you joy.