Combermere Diary

by Paulette Curran

As I begin to write this column on a cloudy day in mid-October, I am looking out my window at three tall trees clothed in red, orange and yellow, and towering over them, a dark green pine. What a gift autumn is!

This has not been an easy time. After a long time without any deaths, we have had five since March, and three of them occurred in the last seven weeks.

Three of our deceased were in their nineties, one in his eighties, and the youngest, Irene DeRoche, was 69. Her death was sudden; the others were expected.

Though we grieve them, we also rejoice that they are now or soon will be risen with the Lord.

The theme for this year’s associates’ meetings was Nazareth. Thirty-one came: 14 priests, 9 deacons and 8 deacons’ wives. It is always moving at that first Mass to see so many priests and deacons (including our member priests) processing to the altar.

Deacon Bob Probert and his wife Lois live the closest—just a short walk away. Fr. Javier Hinojosa, a Mexican missionary in Kenya, the farthest.

As always, there were many blessings during this time of prayer, talks, and sharing.

At Wednesday’s Mass, three of the associates made promises and one became an applicant, as we told you last month.

In everyone’s mind, heart and prayers during this time was Fr. Gerry Wallner, one of our member priests, who was dying. Some of the visiting priests had beautiful encounters with him. One of them said that it “felt like heaven” when Fr. Gerry blessed him.

On Wednesday evening, we were asked to pray especially as Fr. Gerry was having great difficulty breathing. The next morning, September 26th , the Feast of the Canadian Martyrs, Fr. Gerry left this earth. It was the last day of the meetings.

Zoyla Grace had planted some blue morning glories outside Fr. Gerry’s window, and it had few blossoms. That morning, she counted twenty!

The funeral was on the following Monday, and a couple of the associates who had stayed on were able to attend.

Meanwhile, Linda Lambeth, who had entered into the final stages of her cancer, was slowly dying.

Meanwhile, too, of course, life went on. The applicants and their directors of training made a weekend pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Canadian Martyrs in Midland, Ontario.

The annual spiritual formation program for men discerning priesthood has begun. In this program, which lasts approximately six months, the men live the life of working guests, taking part in our life, and have some classes and other input added on.

This year there are four: They are: Matthew Gratton from Alberta; George Leberio, a Sudanese, from Saskatchewan; Gaudius Lukas from Winnipeg; and Martin Mika from Slovakia via Austria where he has been living.

We had a staff meeting to update us on the upcoming renovation of the main house.

The renovations are, we were reminded: (1) necessary, (2) expensive, (3) complicated with a lot of regulations, and (4) slow. Much planning, prayer, and listening to one another have gone into this big project, and the permit has finally come through.

Today after lunch, in a mild rain, we had a simple ground-breaking ceremony for the annex we will be building on to the main house. Prayers began with the very appropriate words from Scripture: Unless the Lord build the house, in vain do the builders labor (Psalm 127:1)

After the prayers, Peter Gravelle, who is the over-all person in charge of the renovation project, dug up one shovelful of earth, and Fr. Linder, director general of priests, walked around blessing the perimeters of the spot the new building will be built on.

The actually digging and building will start next week. Alleluia!

We celebrated Thanksgiving Day. (In Canada, this comes in October.) As always, both the main house and St. Mary’s had lovely displays of our produce.

We have so much to be grateful for: for the goodness of God, for the freedom to worship him, for Madonna House, for the blessing of living in Canada. The list is endless, both collectively and individually.

Even the weather has been a gift and joy—mostly sunny and in the high teens, 15 to 17 degrees Celsius (59 – 62 Fahrenheit).

The fall colors are glorious. They are now at their peak and the hills are gaudily robed in bright red, vibrant orange and many shades of yellow.

As one of our priests said recently in a homily, “God has only one intention for us—to bless us and to bring us joy and fulfillment.”

The day after Thanksgiving and the anniversary of the first house Catherine founded, Linda Lambeth died.

The harvesting and food processing are in the last stages. This week the slaughtering and the meat cutting began. We are grateful to Joe Baklinski and his two teenage sons, Joseph and Samuel, and his father-in-law, Craig; and to Dave Peterson, who have been helping in this process.

One big part of the harvesting and food processing at this time of year is apples, which, with our soil and climate is the only fruit we can grow in the quantity we need on a daily basis for our numbers.

Mary Davis and Ruth Siebenaler have done a lot of grafting over the years and we now have 73 varieties, some of them unique to Madonna House.

The apples have to be picked, of course. Except for the eating apples, someone climbs the tree and shakes it, the apples fall off, and then they are gathered from the ground.

Ruth, who is in charge of this operation, tells me the crew has to take turns doing this, since everyone wants to climb the trees.

For Thanksgiving Day, partly as a kind of celebration of the apple harvest and a thanksgiving for it and partly just to give everyone a treat, two of the gardeners, Ruth Siebenaler and Mary Ellen Kocunik organized us into a work bee to make apple pies for Thanksgiving supper.

We just have two items for “news in brief”: Fr. Robert Johnson and Cynthia Donnelly gave a day of recollection in Montreal. A number of us went to the Life Chain in the nearby town of Barry’s Bay.

May God give each of you a blessed, peaceful Advent and a joyous Christmas.