Combermere Diary by Paulette Curran

Here at Madonna House, June 8th is one of our big feast days. It is the anniversary of the blessing of the statue of Our Lady of Combermere and Promises Day. It is the day on which those in formation make their promises thus becoming members of Madonna House and those in temporary promises renew them or make them “forever.”

But this is COVID-19 time and some Promise Day things had to be done differently—more simply. For one thing, family and friends of those making promises could not come, and even those of us here were too many to crowd together as usual for one wonderful festive Mass.

Moreover, usually those in mission houses making final promises come home to do so. But this year due to the travel ban, coming here would have been impossible for Fr. Brian Christie at MH England and problematic for Loretta Fritz at MH Toronto.

So it was decided to postpone finals. Instead, Fr. Brian and Loretta renewed for three months in their respective houses.

In Combermere, the two promises people living at St. Mary’s made promises there, and the other six made them at the main house.

So how did things turn out? Well, it was abundantly clear that it is God who makes the feast, not us, though we do work hard making the necessary preparations.

First of all, he gave us beautiful weather, about as good as it gets around here—radiantly sunny and just a little bit cool. And—amazingly for this time of year—there were hardly any bugs around.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, promises were simpler than usual, but we could still have a festive meal and lovely decorations—this year featuring large black and white photos of the statue of Our Lady of Combermere, photos taken at different angles to bring out her tenderness.

And how can the promises themselves fail to be beautiful? Young people—our brothers and sisters—committing their whole lives to God.

Usually the new staff are given their MH crosses, the only distinctive thing we wear, at a promises Mass, but this year it was decided that, for the first time, they would be given at the statue of Our Lady of Combermere. Outdoors.

This was especially fitting as June 8th was the 60th anniversary of the blessing of this statue. The crosses were given in a simple but beautiful ceremony that included prayer and song to Our Lady and the reading of the words of the bishop when this statue was blessed.

All in all, in spite of the restrictions, God gave us a joyful day.

As for our everyday life, whatever happens with the coronavirus, summer will be very different for us this year. All our shops are closed, and we will not be having Cana, our camp-retreat for families, or our summer program for young adults.

Outside of these and other pandemic-related changes, our life continues, as much as possible, normally.

Cooking, cleaning, chopping and stacking wood, and growing and preserving food, we always have with us—as well as many other things needed to keep our community going. The farm and gardens which give us our food are huge priorities right now.

Though our activities have been limited at this time, we have not been without some good recreation and spontaneous surprises—such as a movie now and then.

And just a few days ago, Teresa Gehred, the women’s director of the main house, and a couple of helpers could be seen baking a big batch of chocolate chip cookies.

What’s the occasion, those passing through wondered? Then when the cookies came out of the oven, Teresa just said, “Help yourselves.”

Probably our biggest fun event was a game—an adventure game—which was invented and organized by Martha Reilander and others.

Teams of three went from one “station” to another facing a different challenge at each.

These challenges were certainly varied: answering catechism questions, “fishing” for plastic lids in the swamp, unscrambling a quote, counting the number of windows in the addition, stacking wood, singing to Our Lady of Combermere, etc., etc..

One big piece of news is the re-election of Fr. David Linder as Director General of Priests. He was elected by sobornost, unanimously, on the first ballot. And now the election of the women’s Director General has begun.

Another exciting piece of news is that, after a wait of over a year, our diocese now has a new bishop: Most Rev Guy Desrochers, C.Ss.R. At the time of this writing, we are awaiting his installation and arrival and are looking forward to meeting him.

And how is our new addition doing? It is now sided and looks great. If you were coming here for the first time, you would never guess that it was an addition. It just looks like part of the whole, albeit a lot whiter and (so far) without blue trim.

On Sunday, another beautifully sunny day, head gardener Ruth Siebenaler organized a sort of plant fair.

The gardeners always grow flowers from seedlings and besides taking what they need for the flower gardens around the main house, give them to whoever wants to plant some near their dorm or workplace or wherever.

Then whatever is leftover they give to the local horticulture society to sell. But this year, due to COVID-19, the horticultural society is not having their sales.

That afternoon, our gardeners spread out the fresh healthy young annuals on the grass in the apple orchard, and we could come and choose whatever we wished. Lots of us have little flower gardens here and there, and it was great seeing people so enjoying selecting and carrying away their choices.

News in brief will be even briefer this time. We haven’t been having all-house gatherings, our priests are not going out to give retreats, none of us are going to conferences, and no one is coming here to give a talk. So here are just a couple of items.

Due to a greater need for our priests to be bi-ritual, Fr. Denis Lemieux and Fr. Kieran Kilcommons are receiving training in “all things Byzantine.”

Every evening, the staff at St. Mary’s have been singing in Latin, “Stella Coeli,” a song that was composed in 1317 to ward off the black plague.

Let me finish this column with a quote from one of the staff about her experience during this COVID-time:

“This time has brought about a deep conversion and a going back to the beauty of my vocation. I had been lured into a way of living that was not in keeping with the whole-heartedness of our life.

“What do I need? What do I long for? This time has brought me to face the reality that I have often put many things before God and my vocation, things that are definitely unessential. This is a blessed fruit of this time for me for which I am deeply grateful.”

May God give each of you peace, beauty, and love—regardless of whatever is happening in the world.