First Impressions

by Fr. Denis Lemieux

MH Missouri

Fr. Denis, who writes the monthly column, “Word Made Flesh,” and who is ordinarily in Combermere, has been assigned to our house in Missouri for the winter. Here is his first impressions newsletter.

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So, how is Missouri? Such is the rather vague question I am often asked by directees, friends, family members, random strangers on the street, etc. My standard response is “Great!” which has the double benefit of being (a) true; and (b) short.

The longer answer is that, well, it’s just like yogurt, you know. Among the many new experiences of my time here has been overseeing the “manufacturing” of that white gloppy stuff I have eaten for breakfast every day for the past 33 years.

What has struck me in the process is that, of course, it’s not me making the yogurt. The acidophilus bacteria take care of that. The contribution of the “maker” to the process is to provide the raw material (milk) and the proper environment in which the invisible hidden life can grow and work its little miracle of transforming clabber. We, at best, merely c’labberate with the bugs.

So it is here. We provide the raw material—ourselves—and by God’s grace the environment—community of love, simple Nazareth way of life, rhythm of prayer and work.

Having made possible the conditions for hidden life to grow, we fling open our doors to all comers. And, by the mysterious working of God in the hearts and souls of those who step onto our grounds… well, that’s the hidden part.

Life happens, prayer happens, grace happens, and what comes of it all in the end is strictly God’s business.

So what has been God’s business in the midst of all this metaphorical yogurt making, if I may put it that way? Well, for starters, a whole lot of comings and goings. Most important of these was Carol Ann Gieske’s departure and Trina Stitak’s arrival. Carol Ann made a deep impression on people’s hearts in her time here, is much missed and frequently asked after. Trina, with her gift of the chit-chat apostolate and ready friendship is already finding her way into those same hearts.

Admittedly, the hearts of the people of Salem are not hard to enter; they are a warm and welcoming bunch down here, especially to us MH folk.

Aside from tortured yogurt analogies, perhaps the most striking first impression I have is just that: the ready love and warm hospitality of the people we live among and strive to serve. It makes it an easy apostolate to enter into.

Many others have come and gone, too—short-term guests and long-term ones, some we knew before and some we met when they came.

MH Roanoke came for Thanksgiving, and MH Winslow for Christmas. It was a blessing beyond description to have all our sisters from these two houses here to celebrate with us, and a ton of fun to boot.

We had to make extra yogurt, literally and metaphorically, for what was probably the single busiest event of recent months. This was a retreat we gave to the Sisters in Jesus the Lord, a new religious congregation based in northern Missouri.

They have a charism to serve the Church in Russia, have a mission in Vladivostok, and have met Catherine and Aliz, our staff in MH Russia.

Our MH spirituality and its Russian core are of great interest to them, and so the whole community—all six of them—came for a two-day intensive retreat.

A high point of the retreat was the Divine Liturgy for Theophany complete with the blessing of water. This group has a beautiful spirit and were happy to receive what we could give them; we were happy to meet vibrant young religious.

It was two days of rich encounter and much beauty and joy. As the movie line says, “This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Our Nazareth life continues apace. The property always needs work, and the fall/winter season has seen much of it.

The driveway was widened to allow easier access for trucks. St Rose’s guest cottage received a new roof and a much-needed interior paint job.

A great deal of Patrick’s time has been dedicated to finding and purchasing a new truck for which we are trading in our existing truck and faithful Explorer.

With two new staff, he has also had an increased burden of training, orienting, and keeping on top of all the little details of things that make or break the smooth running of any house.

Wood, wood, wood—felling, hauling, splitting, stacking—and food, food, food. We get a large percentage of our food in donation. There has been a marked increase in volume lately, far beyond our own need.

Trina’s ingenuity has been put to good use in finding others in the area to redistribute it to, which has also opened the door in turn for new friendships and apostolic connections.

All of this is occurring, as in all of our houses, within a nexus of apostolic encounters, ever-deepening friendships, everyday moments of hospitality and personal connections face to face, by phone, e-mails, Zoom, and so forth—all of which of course is impossible to enumerate or even summarize.

All of that is the warmth of the (Christian) cultured atmosphere which makes the invisible life grow not only for our guests and neighbors, but in our own hearts as well.

In short, Missouri is great!