3 Dgs in front of St. Basil's in Russia

Combermere Diary

by Patricia Lawton

Over the past couple of months life has been rich with activities and visitors. And warmer temperatures have finally banished the memories of our extra long winter that kept snowstorms and icy conditions around until late April.

One major piece of news is that our directors general (DGs)—Fr. David Linder, Elizabeth Bassarear, and Larry Klein—traveled to our house in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, to other parts of Russia, and to Rome.

Wanting to touch the cultural and religious world that formed our foundress, Catherine Doherty, they spent a few days in Moscow and in St. Petersburg (where Catherine spent part of her early life).

In Moscow, among other things, they met with the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Migliore and prayed before two famous and holy icons: Rublev’s Trinity and Our Lady of Vladimir.

Then a train took them to St. Petersburg, where they stayed just a few blocks from where Catherine lived, and they visited the Kazan Cathedral and prayed before the icon of Our Lady of Kazan, which Catherine would have venerated as a child.

In Krasnoyarsk, they had a full and blessed week with our staff, Catherine Lesage and Aliz Trombitas. There, among other things, they helped with a parish day of recollection and met many friends of the house.

Then accompanied by Catherine and Aliz, the DGs traveled to Irkutsk, a 19-hour train ride. There they had several visits with Bishop Kyrill Klimovich of our diocese of St. Joseph. His warmth, service, and vision for the Church were striking. He especially spoke about service and creating a family spirit, which certainly resonate with our Madonna House vocation.

Then it was on to Rome where the DGs were probably hoping for a little warmth. But the city, very unusually, was paralyzed by a snowstorm!

In spite of the weather, the DGs enjoyed the sights and sounds of the eternal city between meetings at the Dicastery of Laity, Family and Life, and the Congregation for Clergy, their reason for going to Rome. These meetings were part of an ongoing process to deepen our relationship with Rome. They also enjoyed a visit with Cardinal Ouellet, Fr. Linder’s former rector in his seminary in Edmonton.

Back in Combermere, we were getting depressed by the ice and snow which seemed never to end. So one Sunday in mid-April, while a snowstorm was battering our psyches, St. Mary’s decided to have an indoor picnic supper.

Diana Breeze and Joanne Dionne cooked hamburgers and fries and made salad and brownies. Sixties music played in the background, and some of the staff arrived in picnic hats, colorful shorts and tops, and bug scarves.

The dining room tables were covered with bright checkered cloths, and on the wall a banner proclaimed, “Christ is risen! This is joy!”

The lingering winter also made for a slow start to the maple syrup season. At this time of writing we have 225 gallons of syrup and more sap to boil down. The season is just about over.

It was also a long winter for our bees, and our faithful beekeeper Andorra Howard gave them a lot of TLC. She also did research about protecting them from viruses. She and helpers worked on 200 beehive frames, de-waxing, rebuilding and fumigating or replacing them.

Part of Catherine’s spiritual legacy is our love for the Eastern Rites of the Church. Both she and Archbishop Joseph Raya, a Melkite of the Byzantine Rite, taught us about Eastern spirituality, which is an integral part of the spirituality of Madonna House.

Two recent events highlighted this aspect of our life. On the Feast of the Annunciation, the Melkite Bishop from Montreal, Ibrahim Ibrahim, and ten of his priests of the Melkite Eparchy from across Canada spent four days with us.

As a young priest in Lebanon, the bishop knew Archbishop Raya, and he also knew about Madonna House. He has wanted to visit Combermere for many years and also to expose his priests to it, so he decided to have their annual gathering this year at Madonna House.

Each day they joined us for meals and liturgies. One morning, Fr. Michael Weitl gave them a talk about the priesthood, and Teresa Reilander one about Catherine and the Little Mandate. The questions and discussion that followed could have gone on all day.

On a visit to the farm the bishop was delighted to be photographed with a new lamb on his shoulders, just like in the traditional picture of the Good Shepherd.

The group also enjoyed a lively evening social with our priests. On their final day with us, we all participated together in the Divine Liturgy led by Bishop Ibrahim. The Arabic chants added a particular depth and beauty to our celebration.

The Bishop gave a moving homily and told us that “You didn’t try to impress us when we came here. And we were impressed by that. Instead we are having an encounter with your way of life. Your honest, simple approach is what impressed us!”

Although they were here for a short time, our Melkite brothers have entered our hearts and become part of our family.

For many years now, we have had an ongoing relationship with the Ukrainian Catholic Seminary of the Holy Spirit in Ottawa. Our Fr. Michael Weitl stayed there while he studied at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies to obtain a license in theology.

This seminary will be moving this summer to Edmonton, and nine of our staff attended the official closing.

Back in Combermere, the spiritual formation program, our program for men discerning priesthood, has ended, and as is the custom at the end of the program, the four men who completed it gave reflections about their six-month sojourn with us.

Peter Burke put his reflection into a humorous poem that included both the spiritual and the everyday rhythms of our life. And Nicholas Da Silva described Madonna House as a unique environment in which to receive love and said that he discovered how essential the laity are to the life of a priest.

These young men loved and served each day they were here, doing everything from emptying the compost pails to serving at Mass. They will always be a special part of this little family of God.

In other news, novices from Fr. Groeschel’s group, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFR), came from New York for a week-long visit. As well as participating in our daily work schedule, they got in some good ice hockey on our rink in the wetland between our island and the mainland.

The first year applicants had their vacations, which included time in one or another of our mission houses. About forty new lambs were born at the farm.

And this week, the local directors of our houses arrived from near and far for the next big event—their annual meetings.

May God give you a very blessed summer!