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"
"expect a miracle"
From The Mary Theotokos Center in VT.