I Was a Cana Kid

by Elaine Antholzner-Ball

The blurb in the May-June issue of Restoration asking for memories of Madonna House had been calling to me. I grew up in a Catholic family with 4 brothers and 4 sisters, for a total of 9 children, not all that uncommon back in those days.

Somehow my parents heard about Cana Colony (Madonna House’s family retreat/vacations), and we went there for our vacation in the early ‘60’s.

We went every two years for several years, as it was so popular you could not go every year. To this day, Combermere and Cana Colony remain the place where my relationship with God was closest. I know most of my siblings feel the same way.

The atmosphere was just full of God everywhere—from the other wonderful families we met each session (some of whom we are still in contact with 50 years later) to the natural beauty of the place—Bennet Lake, the “lonely pine”—to the simple yet profound chapel where we shared Mass each morning, and the bare bones cabins we lived in—to the communal cookhouse named St Zita’s, our mother’s first name.

Catherine Doherty would come to St Zita’s each day and give a talk to the parents, while the children were taken care of by Madonna House members. We went hiking and swimming and made friends and had bonfires. It was a child’s dream vacation.

We usually cried sadly on the way home, sang all the kumbaya songs we had learned, and counted the time until we could go back again. It was truly a very special time for each of us.

As we got older, several of us went back to Madonna House as working guests, living in the dorms and at the farm, staying anywhere from a week to the whole summer. The draw to go back was so compelling and being there was so fulfilling.

Again, we got to listen to Catherine share about her deep love of God and her insights on everything and anything for hours at a time. We shared meals with her and with the members and other visitors, and of course we had daily Mass, tea time, and vespers—not to mention working our butts off in any way that was needed.

It is a special honor to have known Catherine Doherty in a more personal way, and I learned many lessons that I carry with me to this day. All this changed me in a profound way.

I know my siblings feel the same way. We talk about our time at Cana and Madonna House often. And we thank our now deceased parents for opening that door for us.

Many of us have been back over the past several years for a weekend, to breathe in the Combermere air and get renewed and replenished. It never fails to help.

Then just recently, I was able to attend the 75th anniversary picnic of Madonna House, with 5 of my siblings—3 of us from our hometown of Buffalo, New York, the others from California, New Mexico, and Minnesota.

We had decided to make the 75th anniversary celebration of Madonna House the occasion of a mini-family reunion. It was my brother Tom from San Francisco who really pushed the idea. He had worked at the Madonna House farm in the ‘70s for a summer or two, and it had impacted his life in a positive way.

No one needed much convincing. (We had also come up with our parents for the 50th anniversary Cana reunion 25 years ago.)

We made the “pilgrimage” to Combermere in one vehicle, reminiscing all the way there and all the way back.

It was a wonderful celebration, very well planned and attended. So many locals and old Cana families. The members was so friendly and willing to help and teach in every possible way.

We were able to see the new addition, Catherine’s cabin, and the island chapel. Best of all was the feeling of love, camaraderie, peace, serenity, welcome that we always felt at Cana and Madonna House. We received everything we had hoped for, and even more.