Why Do they Come?

by Catherine Doherty

Since its very beginning, Madonna House has been a place where people could visit and immerse themselves in a Catholic community. Our foundress wrote this in 1966.


Madonna House is truly a strange place to which, in a sense, the world comes. The main house has five doors, and from hour to hour we never know who will enter through any one of them into our hearts.

An avalanche—a beautiful, joyous, avalanche of youth—has been coming this summer to Madonna House. They are young people giving of their time and talents to the work of our apostolate.

They work on the farm and in our main training center, sharing our life of work and prayer. They enliven our discussions, dialogues, and seminars. They give as well as receive from us. To us they are the hope of the future—and the joy of today.

The farm enables us to open our doors wide to all who want to come to Madonna House. Without it, we couldn’t feed the hundreds who pass through our home every year.

The young people marvel that our farm kitchen bakes 100 loaves of bread a day. These disappear as fast as we make them. It is good homemade bread. We also make our own butter and cheese, and of course we have our own milk and cream.

There are also 14 acres of truck gardens. Each year we consume about six tons of potatoes, a ton of carrots, a ton of turnips, a half-ton of beets and parsnips, not to mention hundreds of heads of cabbage which end up as sauerkraut in the fall.

We freeze much Swiss chard (which takes the place of spinach), red currants, black currants and gooseberries. All these are grown on the farm.

We also make our own apple juice with apples from our own orchards and from some of the orchards in the surrounding countryside. One year we made 600 gallons. And then, of course, we grow hay for the cows.

It is wonderful to see the joy and eagerness of our young guests as they enter into this manual labor. They realize that the food they are now eating came from the labor of people the summer before, and that their present labor will provide food for those coming next year.

But the real fruits of our days cannot be measured, weighed or counted in terms of quantity. For we have really only one goal, one thirst and one desire: to be a community of love.

A community of love must be open to all who knock at its doors. It must be a community aware of the fact that charity, hospitality and availability are the visible signs of its own internal life—signs of its thirst, its hunger for God and its love for one another.

Sometimes, as God’s instrument in founding this apostolate, I wonder why all these people come to the backwoods of Canada. I have never quite understood.

True, we have seminars and discussions about the things of God. But it seems that our guests find something more than words here, something impossible to put into words.

They are nourished by just living in Madonna House and being part of our family, our community of love. Though none of us can really explain that, we thank God for it and for being able to share it with others.

As I sit on my island during my few free hours, I thank God again and again for bringing so many people to us.

It gets hectic sometimes, and we are tempted to wish the numbers would decrease, but the stranger of a moment ago becomes, in a matter of hours, a deeply beloved friend. No price is too high to pay for that. I am deeply cognizant also that in each person, Christ himself comes to meet us.

My bridge joins me with all the youth of the world, but also with the others that came this summer to Madonna House. It also joins me to the hundreds of priests who came in a steady stream.

Our priest guest house has been in constant use. Priests come to learn about our apostolate. They come to rest a while in the gentle hills and quiet countryside that surround us.

They come for retreats, to share their troubles with us, their joys and their pains. Through these priests who have come as pilgrims I am joined in a special way with all the priests of the world.

Yes, all these people come to Madonna House, and my bridge of love leads me to them and to the Lord. God, in his infinite mercy, enlarges our hearts in Madonna House and fulfills our burning desires to be nothing more—but nothing less—than a community of love to which all people can come to experience God. That is all we, in our poverty, can give or be.

Excerpted and adapted from Restoration, September 1966