I Was Guided by a Saint

by Fr. Bill Muench

I was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, NY, about five years when I heard Catherine Doherty talk for the first time. It was at a priests’ conference about preaching.

I remember Catherine speaking boldly to us priests, telling us to remember our ordination by the Lord and the Church. We are blessed with his power, she told us. We have his message, and we must not be afraid to pass on that message to our people.

Let me tell you, she touched my life deeply. I knew I had to find out where she lived. In this way, I discovered Madonna House Combermere, and it turned out to be the first of many visits.

I suspect that when I first drove to Madonna House, I thought I would sit around all day listening to Catherine talk. That is not what happened.

I remember my first day. After morning prayer and breakfast, I was told in a friendly manner that the van would take me to the farm. I still remember falling asleep during supper after that first day of working on the farm.

But they easily taught this young priest to be a bit of a farmer. In those days so long ago, I learned to love the farm and getting my hands dirty. I also learned that much of my life as a priest needed some good hard work. I discovered more than I had imagined—a family, a community of people I wanted to be with and learn from.

In the seminary, I had studied under many excellent theologians. I had been guided by many truly holy counselors, priests, and lay men and women. But during my many visits to Madonna House, I was guided and led by a saint.

Catherine led me to realize that prayer is about the heart. To pray must mean to put myself and my destiny in the hands of God. Prayer must foster my relationship, my friendship, with my Lord and Savior, Jesus. So I learned to go to poustinia to allow Jesus to find me.

Like Jesus, Catherine challenged me to pray continually and never to lose heart. Prayer, she told me, must spur me to action as a priest. Prayer must keep strong my courage and hope. It must give me the assurance that God will never abandon me, and that God will give me strength to live more deeply, more fully.

When I returned home to the parish, I began to realize that something was changing in me. My prayer life had changed. I even discovered something very different about my celebration of Mass.

As I think back, I know what was happening. Madonna House and Catherine Doherty were opening my heart and allowing God in to fill me with love of my Savior.

I also recognized something much better about my preaching. I recognized who the people of my parish were and how I must truly care about them.

Early on in my priesthood, I wrote on a regular basis for our diocesan newspaper, The North Country Catholic. I have no doubt that over the years Catherine and Madonna House helped to bring the Holy Spirit into my writing. I am a different and better writer because of my closeness to the spirit of Madonna House.

I often pray in gratitude for all I have discovered and received from my visits to Madonna House. I wish I had spent much more time there. But I do know that God stepped into my life so long ago in a most powerful way when I found Catherine Doherty and the Madonna House family. These blessings continue to flood into my life.

Over the years, Fr. Bill served in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, New York, first as a high school religion and chemistry teacher and then as a pastor. He continues to write for The North Country Catholic.