"It seems strange to say, but what can help modern man find the answers to his own mystery and the mystery of him in whose image he is created, is silence, solitude -- in a word, the desert. Modern man needs these things more than the hermits of old." Catherine Doherty

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A perfect time and place for Poustinia

Another silent night, muffled in fresh snow, the clear sky dazzling alight with stars. I walk over to the adoration Chapel for evening prayers, in this comforting silence, detached from the "whirligig of time" and noise of modern culture, to embrace a bit of Poustinia with my Lord.

Below is an interesting article by John H. Armstrong regarding Catherine Doherty's writings about Poustinia and her work at the Madonna House in Ontario 
which our facility was modeled after:

"Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer
Before I found the book, Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer, I confess that I had never heard of Catherine Doherty. She was a remarkable lady who sought to translate Eastern Christian insights (sometimes called “desert spirituality”) into the context of Western life. More than a half century ago Catherine arrived in Canada as a Russian refugee. She used her background in Russian Christianity to give her a matrix for responding to the needs of Christian life and work in the busy, modern West. Catherine became “poor to serve with the poor Christ” among the poorest people in Toronto and Harlem. But the work that led to my finding her moving book was the establishment of a spiritual lay center, the Madonna House Apostolate, in rural Ontario.

The title of this book bears the Russian word for “desert.” At the center of Catherine’s lifelong journey was her experience of the desert. She writes, in the opening chapter, “For the mystery of men in the midst of the world, nature, technology, and urbanization, is intrinsically a Divine Mystery” (Poustinia, 4). But, this great mystery is not to be found in the world as such. “It seems strange to say, but what can help modern man find the answers to his own mystery and the mystery of him in whose image he is created, is silence and solitude—in a word, the desert. Modern man needs these things more than hermits of old” (Poustinia, 4, italics are in the text).

If we are to effectively bear witness in today’s busy marketplaces, where we are continually bombarded with ideas that challenge our whole person, we need “silence.” If I have discovered anything that sustains me, and I am a novice at the practice really, it is this hunger for silence and the need to make it a regular part of my pilgrimage. She writes, “If we are to be always available, not only physically, but by empathy, sympathy, friendship, understanding, and boundless caritas, we need silence. To be able to give joyous, unflagging hospitality, not only of house and food, but of mind, body and soul, 
we need silence” (Poustinia, 4).

True silence is man’s search for God. True silence is “a suspension bridge that a soul in love with God builds to cross the dark, frightening gullies of its own mind, the strange chasms of temptation, the depthless precipices of its own fears that impede its way to God” (Poustinia, 4-5). In silence the speech of true lovers happens. In silence the soul can meet with God. And true silence is the key to a burning heart that stays alive to God and grace.
Silence does not call for special places, though I’ve found several that help me. Catherine Doherty is right when she concludes that deserts, silence and solitude are “not necessarily places but states of mind and heart” (Poustinia, 5). Such deserts can be found in busy cities as well as in places where we live each day of our lives.  These can be “tiny pools of silence” (Poustinia, 6). The prophet says, “I will lead you into solitude (the wilderness) and there I will speak to you” (Hosea 2:14). True silence is not always the absence of all speaking but it is always the act of careful listening. The mere absence of noise is not poustinia. Noises can become the echo of God’s presence but if we are filled with ourselves and our agenda we leave true silence aside. In silence we learn to repeat God’s intimate words, often words learned from Scripture that we’ve learned in the desert.

But how do we achieve this silence, this poustinia? Doherty answers, “By standing still!” (Poustinia, 7, italics in text). Stand still and look into the motivations of your soul. We were born to be saints and lovers. The Lord died to make us such and this we must strive for by faith. We must stand still and pray that the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit will clear out “all the cobwebs of fear, selfishness, greed, and narrow-mindedness” (Poustinia, 7-8).
But there is a danger here that is too often missed. We fail to distinguish between prayer and solitude. This is, in my view, the danger to evangelicals in particular but all people in general. I believe Doherty is correct when she writes that prayer and solitude are “two different aspects of the spiritual life” (Poustinia, 10). Prayer is contact with God. Without it life dies. Solitude, on the other hand, is a special vocation. Some can enter it for only brief times. This is my experience. Others are clearly called to it more permanently or as a unique vocation for life.

But prayer is first, like silence, a journey inward, as are all pilgrimages of the Spirit. I must journey inward to meet the Triune God who dwells within me. This is why I do not need a special spot to pray. “Prayer is a contact of love between God and man” (Poustinia, 10).
It is good to have periodic solitude. Indeed, this is what Doherty experienced and called others to as a Christian. But you can have solitude in many places and ways. A quiet room is helpful but might not be accessible. Prayer is a full-time affair but solitude is a temporary thing, unless you are one of those rare people called to it permanently. The desire for solitude is good but it must be understood. Poustinia is one of the best attempts to explain what it is and why it matters that I’ve yet encountered. You might not be ready for a book like this but if you are I encourage you to read it with much care and very slowly.

John H Armstrong"

It's no wonder that Catherine Doherty's process for Canonization and Beatification to become a Saint is currently under consideration by the Vatican.

If you are looking for your poustinia, come see us at,

The Mary Theotokos Retreat Center
Newark, VT.

A great event and a inspirational film

We wanted to send along this wonderful event in our nation's capital, for pro-life and the screening of this film;

"The Blood and The Rose"

film synopsis
On December 9, 1531, the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared to Juan Diego, an ordinary man of extraordinary faith. Juan Diego humbly embraced the call to serve as a Messenger Eagle. Today this apparition is known as "the Virgin of Guadalupe."The beautiful miracle of that day is chronicled in this story that begins with Mary's faith filled yes. This eternal struggle of good versus evil is the battle for our souls.

For more about the Pro-life march in Washington and this special film screening go to this link:


Support Catholic films in this year of faith.

If you haven't yet seen this next production, you must check out the most powerful evangelization tool in this year of faith as well as a captivating documentary to see;


That's all for now,

Deus Tecum 


The Mary Theotokos Retreat Center
Newark, VT.

Long time no write! But to answer all the calls, here is a post!

Well Advent has come and gone and so has Christmas, the time flew!
There was work with single moms, long term retreats, two advent plays to direct at two different parishes, services, Holy days, Christmas parties, hiking through the woods for a tree to decorate, fending off attacks from bears after chickens and ducks, time with friends and family and lots of long distance work to do ever since Sandy.

So keeping a blog updated was the last thing on my mind. 

I was going to get to it today then the plow truck broke down during a blizzard, the tractor snow thrower broke down next,..only after chomping my hand in the drive chain; 
but I still have all my fingers.

Seems God is telling us to slow down and make some time to be with him in quiet prayer, as with the entire season. Avoid distraction of world and refocus our lives.

Here is hoping your Christmas was blessed and peaceful.

As the new year approaches we gear up for many more retreats, already booked, more original Catholic theater productions in our multi-parish theater ministry, more work with pro-life organizations, young mothers and the local poor and the food shelf work, etc. Through it all staying focused on God’s will for the center and putting all trust in him.

Deus Tecum


The Mary Theotokos Retreat Center in Newark, VT.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Would you like a brochure?

If you are interested in having one of our brochures and or business cards, please mail us a self addressed and stamped envelope to:
The Mary Theotokos Retreat Center, PO. Box 88, West Burke, VT, 05871

Construction and Conferences

The work at the retreat center continues, but now with an emphasis on the arrival of winter as we have had snow flurries the past few days!

With the help of a retreatant from Connecticut, a skilled carpenter, we were able to use scrap lumber and cement boards salvaged from other deconstruction jobs here to hook up and fire wall the room heater on the third floor.

His expertise came in very handy as we worked to fit the cement board together in a house that has many varying angles!

This is the second retreat here for this pilgrim who has proven to be a great help in the farm work and in construction. Just what we need, retreatants who understand,.."laborare est orare" work is prayer. In fact the son of this individual came last summer for two weeks and trained us all in organic farming and vegetarian cuisine. A real legacy of service.

Now the third floor will be toasty all winter long! A lot better than when we would see our breath up there last year.

Once this project and a few others were done it was time for another major event. Our attendance at the Vermont Catholic Conference in at St. Monica's parish in Barre, VT. 

We attended last year but only as visitors, This year armed with our banner, brochures, a PowerPoint slide presentation, business cards, guest book testimonials and much more; we attended the conference as vendors.

An exciting venue, but required our departure at 4:00 AM to get there in time to set up.

The entire conference was inspiring and faith filled. This year we handed out lots of materials and fielded many questions! Many groups talked to us about our location and facilities for future retreats. After a while I had almost memorized the pitch. As one person said, "It's no surprise you folks are a big hit this year at the conference,.there is no other Catholic retreat center in the state!" And to think I was not going to go to all this effort to create a booth or do a vendor set up, but after that decision God made a lot of circumstances fall into place, so I had to. As always, I find my work in life or at the center is just to keep out of God's way.

As many other in attendance we thoroughly enjoyed the speakers.

Msgr. Stuart Swetland spoke at length about Christian ethics and faith in politics. Both talks were exciting and energized. The faith in politics talk had such a sense of urgency and an appeal to truth it was often interrupted by applause.

Another presenter this day was Father Jon-Daniel Schnobrich who continued his series on Theology of the Body from his part one presentation at last years conference. His talk was heart felt and incredibly insightful. It was done with such intimacy, knowledge and truth that one felt he was speaking directly to them instead of a packed auditorium. Truly a gifted speaker and a gifted Priest.

There were a few more gifted speakers as well but it was difficult to get shots of them all. However they too, were able to reach the audience present with authority and insight, inspiring all of us who attended.
Including Father Luke Austin, Msgr. John J. McDermott and Julia Roberts. (not to be confused with some actor with a similar name. Ms. Roberts spoke powerfully about Faith in Action and won many more fans than the actor by the same name.)

All in all a faith filled event that sent us home tired but enlivened to continue our work at the retreat center.

As winter approaches we get ready for another set of retreats and outdoor work. I am thinking maybe a some younger folks will be ready to help us up here in our work soon,..or maybe, help us walk around! 

Maybe we will see you soon up here in Vermont,

Pax et Bonum

From the Mary Theotokos Retreat Center in Newark, Vermont.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fall means departures and brilliant colors

Fall has come to the Mary Theotokos Retreat Center and even though we are about a week away from peak colors, the display has been breathtaking. That would explain the recent visits from people with out-of- state plates, "leaf peeping" all around the lake. So we are assured our "hospitality ministry" is doing well and offering a conversation,  a cup of coffee and a bit of nosh to the random pilgrim.

But aside from the visits there has been a departure or two.

Father Ignatius has finished his retreat and has left to return to his Parish in Ohio. I can't tell you what a blessing it was to have him here. DAILY Divine Liturgy, so many wonderful conversations about the faith and state of the church. A wonderful addition to the place. I am glad he will be coming back soon. Until then ,we will be arranging for a Mass schedule as time permits.

But before he left we had a Memorial Mass for Father Von Faur who built and created this Retreat Center. It was a beautiful service where many who knew the Father personally were able to share some thoughts and memories about how the Father impacted their life and how they came to know this center.

It was a really cloudy day, but during the service the sun broke through the clouds. As it broke through the clouds it was at such an angle that suddenly, through the incense smoke, a shaft of bright light came through the window in the roof of the church and shown a blinding light on the picture of Father Von Faur that was placed on a stand before the altar.

Now I know that many of my friends who read this will say, "there he goes again!" But I'm not going anywhere, I am just telling you what happened and what I saw. I am not making any interpretations on this event, although you know what I am thinking. But still, it happened and it happened almost as if on cue during the memorial service as we spoke of Father Von Faur. No mater how you look at it, it was a chin dropping moment for us all.

Here are some of the people who spoke that day.

The next day, Father Ignatius or "Brother Iggy" as we called him, blessed gallons of Holy Water for us and then preceded to bless the house. The entire house! Every room, hallway, nook and cranny. 
He was a man on a mission, with a Aspergilla. 

(Look that one up, I had to.)

"Bro Iggy" you are missed, your love and joy made this a happy place indeed. See you soon!

Fall also means canning and harvesting. 

But some of the zucchini here are so big they have a mind of their own. We have enormous pumpkins and squash and many other veggies. Here is just a sample of the size of the situation. After a few pictures  the kids weren't smiling so much as they were sweating, trying to hold these up.

There are two other things getting big. 

In a few more weeks these oinkers will be taking another journey, to the great big mud pit in the sky. 

Perhaps you would like to stop by and have some bacon?

But Fall is not all about departures, there is also an arrival. The Fall colors; and this year has been one of the best I can remember for dazzling foliage.

So as Fall moves through we start thinking about preparing for winter. 

We hope you will stop by, to do some "leaf peeping" or maybe to have your own "poustinia" or  a retreat, or a simply a cup of coffee and a story, and maybe even a pork chop or two.

Blessings of the season on your and yours

Deus Tecum

from the

Mary Theotkos Retreat Center 


Newark, Vermont.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Our own retreat!

After a year and half of hosting other retreats we decided, rather abruptly, to have 
our own pilgrimage.

Last week, just before Labor Day weekend, I was coming back from the barns and talking to God about what his plans were for this facility. I wondered if there would be some sort of  community here or rural mission house, would the barns ever be full of animals to feed the poor or the garden produce enough to send to more food shelves and would we have daily Mass in the Chapel.

When I came inside I mentioned these thoughts to my wife and she said, “We should go to the Madonna House in Combermere Ontario someday.” The Madonna House is where the priest, Father Von Faur (who constructed and dreamed up the Mary Theotokos Retreat Center) spent some time as an associate priest and the place greatly influenced him. There was a short silence as we looked at each other...and before I knew it, we were packing. 
First we had to make sure the tent would even stand!

After scraping change together, some packing and phone calls we had a house sitter, animal feeders and a campsight somewhere near Combermere to sleep in, if we got there. So once the kids got home from school, we told them the plan, went to bed and got up early to begin our 371 mile drive to Ontario!

The drive was as all long drives are with kids, but we were blessed by the having virtually no traffic the entire way. We arrived late, set up the tent and went to bed, the next morning we went to the Madonna House. 

The Madonna House Apostolate was founded by Catherine and Eddie Doherty.

In their own words;
“It is a family of Christian lay men, women, and priests, striving to incarnate the teachings of Jesus Christ by forming a community of love. We are a “Public Association of the Christian Faithful” within the Roman Catholic Church, under the bishop of the Diocese of Pembroke. Staff members of Madonna House come from all walks of life, from various countries and cultures, and have a wide variety of personalities and talents. They have in common a desire to serve God in a very humble way of life, as summarized in our Little Mandate. Our spirit is that of a family — modeled on the holy family of Nazareth, which was a community of perfect charity and love. Founded in 1947 by Catherine Doherty and her husband, Eddie Doherty, today the community has more than 200 lay men, women, and priests, dedicated to loving and serving Christ through promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience. (And, in addition to our staff priests, there are more than 125associate priests, bishops and permanent deacons who strive to live the spirit of Madonna House in their home dioceses or wherever they are serving.)” Much more can be read about Catherine Doherty and the Madonna house at their website:  http://www.madonnahouse.org/about/index.html

As we walked around the grounds we were stunned by the similarities of our retreat center and the construction elements of the Madonna House. We could certainly feel a link between the two places and understand how much the Madonna House had inspired Father Von Faur. Within a very little time we met several members of the community who were very interested in our tale of renovating the Mary Theotokos Retreat Center in Newark VT., as well as anything we could tell them about Father Von Faur.

Our hosts were more than generous with their time and unlike us, who babbled about all we had experienced and gone through since moving into the retreat center, they listened and presented an amazing air of calm and peace. This gentle way was found readily amongst all Madonna House members whether young adults or the elderly, all busy at work. Before long we began to see the similarities between our retreat center and the Madonna House were not only in the architecture and wooded landscape, but there was a spiritual similarity as well.

Our main guide Beverly took us on a whirlwind tour and history lesson. We started at the above sight by the main house, at the orchard that Catherine and Eddie Doherty planted in 1947 on their arrival at the Combermere sight.

They had planned to retire here after many exhausting years working to feed and help the poor of New York City, but God had another plan for them.

Behind the main house one can see the serene beauty of the area.

It is easy to see how the style of quiet Russian tradition of “Poustinia”  would be easy to accomplish here.

Aside from the gift shop, and farm buildings and other self sustaining mission structures there were many little cabins which were the roots of this Apostolate community.

Not too far away was a summer camp area called The Cana Colony where families could come and have a faith filled week long retreat during the summer months, here too were comfy cozy cabins and a church as well as an overall sense of peace.

As our tour headed off through the woods for the main chapel we passed many different shrines along the way, as well as places of work that sustain the community and aid the poor of the area.

After a short walk through the woods past other cabins we came to the chapel.

In many ways it reminded us of our own chapel at Mary Theotokos, we paused for reflection a prayer and a family snapshot!

But the real high point, or I should say, the real inspirational point of the tour was about to happen as Beverly lead us to a small bridge that took us onto a tiny island where we were to visit Catherine Doherty’s cabin, where she spent most of her days 
as well as many of her last days.

Here is the view of the outside of this soon to be Saint’s little cabin.

It is hard to describe the feeling upon entering it. But it was a strong spiritual sense that overwhelmed us as we look around at Catherine Doherty’s bed, little kitchen, corner shrine, photos, and desk.

As we got ready to leave the cabin I was struck by the way the sun was cutting through the afternoon clouds. It was almost blinding at the angle I was standing at, so much so I had to squint as I was walking out. It’s glare was almost obliterating the small sign above Catherine’s desk. As I shielded my eyes and crept closer to the desk, this small sign was easy to read.

It sort of became a theme for this totally unplanned, unprepared trip.

As we walked around the little island a bit more we visited another shrine as well as the Stations of the Cross walk.

After our tour we were invited to lunch before we had to set off on our return trip.
We ate with the community in the dining hall.

Then it was time to go home. Another 9 hour drive,..with no traffic,..on Labor day weekend? Now that IS a miracle.

Once home we collapsed and thought about unpacking the car.

But our minds hummed with ideas for our center. A little gift shop perhaps? A Stations of the Cross walk certainly. We also realized that whatever God’s plan was for our center, what  ever inspiration we were to gather from our trip would be explained to us,…
with God’s plan, in God's time.

Here is hoping you take time for your own pilgrimage.

"expect a miracle"

Deus Tecum

From The Mary Theotokos Center in VT.