The Word Goes Forth

by Linda Lambeth, founder of MH Publications

Madonna House is a small simple community hidden in the backwoods of Canada, but the spirituality of our foundress Catherine Doherty is quietly spreading. This article, written in 1997, tells about just one of the ways Madonna House has used and is using to proclaim the Gospel—publishing Catherine’s books in other languages.

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In the late 1920s and early 1930s, our foundress Catherine Doherty had no idea she would found a new family within the Church. She just knew that she was called to move into the slums and serve the poor in simple neighborly ways.

Archbishop Neil McNeil of Toronto, who gave her permission to do so, told her that her vocation to the lay apostolate was fifty years ahead of its time.

As he blessed her, his words dropped into her heart and rested there. Their meaning was not yet known to her.

When she landed in the slums of Toronto, she was like a pebble thrown into the ocean, but her yes to God formed ripples and eddies in ever-widening circles. Yet she saw her vocation in very simple terms.

As she wrote to the staff nearly 35 years later: “My vocation was simplicity itself. I wanted to sell all I possessed, give it to the poor (literally and personally as it said in the Gospel about the rich young man), take up my cross, and follow Christ into the slums of our big cities and the hidden, substandard rural areas.

“I wanted to serve these poor personally, to be poor with them, and witness to Christ before them by a life lived in gospel-like simplicity, in the spirit of the counsels of perfection—with or without simple, private vows. And I wanted to do it as a lay person. What was a woman to do when the desire to serve the Desired One burns night and day in her soul?”

As this vocation began to formulate itself through everyday living, Catherine also began her life-long work of writing and speaking.

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At first it was simply the words of a beggar, begging for the needs of her brothers and sisters in the slums. Soon she was called to write and speak of their plight. As the years rolled by, she was called upon nationally and internationally to speak and to write.

By the later years of her life, the eddies of her words were circling the earth. Since her death, those eddies have not diminished but increased many times over.

She could not have known in Toronto in the 1930s, or in the early days in Combermere, that what God had placed so tenderly in her heart would feed multitudes.

She could not have known—when Pope Pius XII told her to “persevere no matter what the cost”—that her apostolate would actually cover the earth. Nor could she have known the people who would be touched by her life and want to translate her writings into their own languages.

Toward the end of her life, Catherine was to say of herself: “I am only a voice the Holy Spirit has bent down and chosen to use. Of myself, I am nothing—empty.”

For those of us who work with her words in Madonna House Publications, Fr. Brière, a Madonna House priest now deceased, gave a motto: “Be subject to the Holy Spirit present in Catherine’s works.”

As we work, we are learning to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit. We read through literally hundreds and thousands of words spoken or written by Catherine from the beginning of the apostolate. At times the voice is a gentle whisper; at other times a resounding thunder.

We have published her writings in books, and Madonna House spirituality is available on the internet. And now her books are being translated in more and more languages. Through these translations, many more people are hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, our lives are beginning to intertwine, and a deep communication of the Spirit is flourishing.

A new phase of the apostolate is forming as Catherine’s writings spread throughout the world.

We ourselves cannot go to every corner of the world. Each of us has cultural and physical limitations. We cannot know what Catherine’s spirituality should look like when it is lived out in another part of the world. Yet we know it is the blueprint for a new civilization, a truly Christian civilization.

As translators come forth who grasp the work of the Holy Spirit in Catherine, we are glimpsing what a tremendous gift a translation is.

The people who have taken on this task have done so for the most part with very little financial reward. They share in the poverty we’ve all embraced in the apostolate; in so doing, they enter into the apostolate with us. As they translate, a new work of the Spirit begins in their culture. Occasionally we see the fruit of these unions.

We’ve come to realize that Catherine was prolific not for herself but for us, and for multitudes of people she would never see. She was being used by the Spirit as a “light to her neighbors’ feet.”

It is in the hiddenness of Nazareth that this work of the Holy Spirit takes place, joined to the cross. We are given a deep trust that—in each culture into which her words are introduced—the Holy Spirit will accomplish greater works than we’ve already seen.

Today I took a moment to look and see what has happened, and I found that we have works in French, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Flemish, Korean, Arabic, Japanese, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Tagalog, Lithuanian, and Vietnamese. Others are underway. Each has its own incredible story to tell.

We know we are seeing only the beginning of what is to come. Please pray for us as we continue to spread the Gospel through Catherine’s words, that it may flow in ever-widening circles.

Adapted from Restoration, May-June 1997

Throughout this issue, we will be telling you more about the spread of Catherine’s spirituality through Madonna House Publications.