My Journey in Prayer

Bonnie Staib

Madonna House celebrates 75 years! I have been blessed to be a part of this community for 55 of those years during which God has been teaching me, house by house, step by step, new ways to pray.

In our Little Mandate—the accent of the Gospel Catherine Doherty passed on to us—the Lord calls us to follow Him, “going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me.” My Madonna House journey has led me into this mystery and it has become a prayer.

The first MH mission I was assigned to was Marian Centre which serves the poor in Edmonton, Alberta: unemployed men and street people and families in need.

It was not unusual to welcome 400-500 people into our dining room each day for a hot meal or our recreation room to relax or our clothing room for needs.

But they were not just hundreds of people – for soon they became Rob and Dick, Irene and Mrs. P, whose name I could not pronounce, whose language I could not speak, but who looked just like my Aunt Dorothy. (This was when I first discovered I looked Polish!) Their burdens and needs entered my heart and I learned to carry them deeply.

At the same time, I began to discover my own inner poverty, perhaps a more hidden poverty than theirs, but just as real. They helped me accept this in myself. One with them…

After a few years in Edmonton, I returned to Combermere and helped first in the office, where I was comfortable and competent, and then in our kitchen where I was neither.

I wanted to serve the MH family there, but I felt so inadequate, and I really was not a good cook. I seemed not even able to learn to cook well. This may have been my first deep experience of failure and one for all to see. I left the kitchen that way.

How many of the poor have no jobs or can’t keep a job or have no opportunity to excel in something. I see now it was one more way the Lord was forming me and helping me to accept myself and others. One with them.

Months later, I was asked to cook at our farm for a couple weeks. I did it and much to my shock (and I suspect others’ shock) I was a good cook! I could be creative, make meals beautiful and tasteful.

It was not me, I knew, it was grace and mercy. And a hope in God who can turn things around! I think I was also learning to pray with hope for others through this experience. (I stayed on cooking at the farm for a few years.)

Then I went to the Yukon, and God expanded my heart as I got to know many First Nation people and others struggling in their lives.

A series of circumstances, and what seemed again like a huge failure, led me to a very hard point in my life where I had thoughts of suicide.

I learned to pray and sing with Scripture and eventually God healed this heartache within me, and I met his mercy upon mercy upon mercy. He was there for me, and a new conviction that he would be there for others entered my heart and prayers. I became ever more deeply an intercessor.

I was transferred to our house in Moncton, New Brunswick, a prayer-listening house, and my heart-now-broken-open became a heart praying and hoping for others. One with them.

This continued as I moved to Madonna House on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., also a prayer-listening house.

We would walk around the Capitol every night, passing the Senate and House offices, looking down the Mall at the expanse of the city, walking by the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. We would hold the people who lived or worked in D.C. in our hearts, as well as the government, the Church, the nation.

At home we would listen to the pain or hopes of those who came to the house to talk. At times my own struggles prepared me to hear theirs; at times their struggles would enter in my heart and at some other time in my life, the Lord would let me live some of the same pain they had described. One with them.

In D.C. I learned yet another way of intercession. I would walk the streets of the city praying for those who lived in the houses I passed. My walks became times of intercessions. This has continued to this day. Lord, have mercy… Lord have mercy…

I spent some years in our house in Winslow, Arizona, where I met some of the kindest people I know. Many struggled with addictions, family problems, violence and poverty, yet had deep faith. They had hearts of gold and they embraced me with love, and we supported one another. They carried me as my twin died of breast cancer. They showed me more deeply the love of the Mother of God.

I have been years back in Madonna House Combermere, working first in our archives and now as Restoration’s circulation manager.

Here, too, I have learned a new way of intercession. Our mandate calls us to go into the marketplace and stay there with the Lord. Edmonton… the Yukon… Combermere… Moncton… Washington… Winslow—varied marketplaces!

In these last 14 years in Restoration my marketplace is the world! I receive letters and phone calls from all over. I work on our database and “meet” our friends.

I see their names over and over and place them in God’s care. Sometimes I talk to someone on the phone and I feel like it is a friend I have known for years whom just now I am meeting. I pray for their intentions. With each issue mailed, I pray for all who will read it.

Finally, COVID has led me into yet another aspect of intercession. As it began, with all its limitations and isolations, I decided that I would be as connected as I could to others.

So, as I walked down our country road, I waved to everyone who passed me in their cars. Few I knew, but I asked God’s blessing on them, especially as they were feeling the pinch of the pandemic.

If someone walked on the opposite side of the road, I always greeted them and wished them well.

It has been almost two years of COVID. Part of this time I walked with Mary Kay, a close friend and senior who needed an arm as we walked. We waved at everyone. Everyone. After a while, sometimes they would wave at us first! A FedEx driver stopped one day and told us she loved seeing us walk together.

After that, at times she would stop just to visit. Ellen became a new friend, and she cried when she heard Mary Kay was moving to Windsor.

Months later as I am out walking, someone may say to me, “Where’s your walking partner?” (Praying for them now from Windsor.) The disconnect of COVID was trumped by God’s connections of love, friendship and prayer.

From one house to another, God has been leading me to be one with them, one with Him. Step by step as I walk, he cements in me his intercession, his hope for others, his care. It is a walk and a journey I look forward to continuing.