Passing on the Word

by Linda Lambeth

Have you ever wondered about the nitty-gritty of beginning a work in the Lord? Here Linda tells about some of the challenges she faced at the beginnings of MH Publications.


Ever since Catherine Doherty began our apostolate, passing on the word has always been an important part of it. Right from the beginning, she authored many articles and a number of books.

But always (until 1988) some kind publisher took care of the details: editing, printing, keeping track of expenses, taking care of advertisements, distribution, and selling the book.

Over the years we have had many small pamphlets and booklets printed through the goodness of friends. But a book? That would be a very different thing.

After all, publishing is a very complicated business. So we carefully confined our works to the pamphlets and leaflets.

Then came the fateful day when a treasured book went out of print. There seemed no hope of getting it printed again even if we placed what for us would be a large order. The book was Dear Father, which gave a vision of priesthood, by Catherine. We were advised to consider reprinting it ourselves.

We had to think and pray about that suggestion. Could we reprint it? If so, who would do it for us? How?

One Sunday the parents of one of our staff were here for a visit, and it turned out that Dina’s mother, Mrs. Lingard, worked at a large press not too far away. Here was the golden opportunity.

I entrusted the book into her hands and said “Could you find out how much this would cost and what is involved?”

She did so very rapidly and before long I was sitting in the office with a wonderful man named John Mink. I blurted out to him that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I knew we could do it with his help.

He was two hours of patience incarnate, starting from the beginning, and eventually taking me on a tour of the plant. My little brain had fairly exploded.

Had Fr. Eddie [Catherine’s journalist husband] still been alive, he would have loved this place and these people. The roar of machines, the smell of ink, the constant deadline, which is always just out of reach, the hubbub of it all. And in the midst of it, the incredible ability of the people there to concentrate on details down to making sure every comma is in.

I was amazed at how interdependent all these operations were, and just how much they all had to work together and trust one another.

Then John described to me the various proofs that we would receive. Finally, he said “after you approve the final vandyke proof, if you then decide there are mistakes or changes on a page, it will cost you $11.00 each!”

Eleven dollars each!

I went home terrified. Dear God, what if there is a mistake on every page? We will never get out of debt and our good benefactors will be horrified.

After a few days and lots of prayers, the courage to carry on returned to me. In the meantime, the priests had put together several additional chapters for the book which would make it an even greater treasure than before.

Then came the discoveries of what goes into a book. I had seen cataloguing in publication pages before, but had never considered how one would go about getting all the information that would be contained on one.

The Imprimatur—whew!—the priests would take care of that. The Nihil Obstat: our Fr. Pelton had been authorized by the bishop to do that. The Copyright? ISBN? Other CIP (Cataloguing in Publications) data?

Off I went to Ottawa to the various branches of the National Library and in the process made some wonderful friends who were most helpful and who with great patience showed me what to do.

What about the cover? A few tries and nothing really was suitable. Then just before it was time to take it into the printers, a wonderful photograph of Fr. Callahan came to mind.

Perfect, since he was the founder of the priests. But where to get a suitable copy before I left to take in the contents of the books?

I told Our Lady that if she wanted that cover then maybe she could produce it within the hour. And so she did, through the hands of one of our staff who knew just where it was.

We needed to put the name of the publisher in the book. What to call it?

So, being very original, we called it “Madonna House Publications.” Later it occurred to us that one doesn’t just do these things; there are government regulations. So we rushed to a lawyer and asked about it.

He was kind enough to explain a few essential things and give us the right forms to fill out for the government. Now we were legal.

The day came to go and pick up Dear Father. Our first book!

On the way there, I said to my angel, if there is anything wrong with this book make sure I see it.

My angel was really good about it. As I stood on the shipping dock and picked up one of the books, I who am notorious for mis-spelling and not noticing mistakes, saw one.

The number on the back of the book was wrong, part of the ISBN number. All I knew was that it was somehow wrong and maybe that meant they had put some other publisher’s number on the book. This could be disastrous, I thought.

They agreed that it was a mistake. So off came the books from the truck. A few days later the mistake was repaired and we had our book. Mr. May and Mr. Reid were wonderful about it. They did wonder, though, when they asked me how I saw it, and I told them it was because of my angel!

Dear Father became a great hit with the people who pass through our gift shop from all parts of the world. They know how much priests need a word of encouragement.

In the meantime, one of our staff and one of our priests had been working on preparing Catherine’s letters to the staff—letters sent to all our houses—for print. These were letters of encouragement, correction, clarification, inspiration—always leading us to the Gospel and its incarnation in the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

It was a big move to consider making these letters, which touched upon the marrow of our life, available to everyone. Many of them are so personal to each one of us.

But since Catherine’s death we had come to understand that her message is not just for us, but for anyone who has ears to hear.

Some publishers looked at them and they were rejected. “Too personal!” “Too much that would be hard for people!” “Not the trend today!”

 Gradually it became clear that if these letters were to go out to all the world as they should, we would have to publish them. (This would be our first complete book).

After much prayer by our directors, the decision was made. Yes, we would publish them. This would be a message that would console, enlighten and give clarity to many of our friends and many others who will come to know the Gospel more deeply through these words.

There were a lot of letters from our foundress because we needed a lot of instruction! The first letter was written in 1956, to our first mission in the Yukon. The last shortly before Catherine died in 1985. But of course, that would be too much for one book and so we stopped at where our editors had stopped! About halfway through.

We called it Volume One. While working on the letters, the editors noted how often Catherine used the salutation, Dearly Beloved. And so the title came into being.

The sub-title followed easily—Letters to the Children of My Spirit. Yes, that is who these letters would be for. Not just the staff workers and associates of Madonna House, but to all who were fed by Catherine’s spirituality—the children of Catherine’s spirit.

Dearly Beloved went to press on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption. It went through many stages and everyone at the press was so good to us who were so young in the trade world. We knew that we would have to have the book at the end of November or early December if we were to have it out to our houses for Christmas.

One day, in the midst of feeling that this publications thing may have been a little more than I could handle, I felt as if I were sitting out on the end of a limb waiting for it to be cut off.

Then I had the distinct sense of the presence of Our Lady of Combermere with arms outstretched standing behind me saying: Do not worry about these publications. They belong to me. I want them for the sake of my children whose hearts are famished. Do not worry, every step is in my hands. You have only to take one step at a time, as I have always taught you to do.

My heart became quiet again and I rested in that awareness. A short time later I found out that we could have our book on December 9th.

That meant that it was off the press, trimmed and in the process of being bound on December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

After a moment my heart was in awe. Yes, Our Lady had arranged that this most precious of our first publications would go in and come out between the two major Marian feasts of Madonna House: the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception.

Truly Madonna House Publications, the newest child of Catherine’s spirit, came under the mantle of Our Lady.

I picked up Dearly Beloved on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12) and we had it out for the first time on the third anniversary of Catherine’s death, December 14.

This new child of ours had 400 pages.

Excerpted and slightly adapted from an article in Restoration, January 1989