“I was already searching,” Viva, our guide of the Madonna House, tells us when asked what made her choose to join the Apostolate community in Combermere. It was 1985. Guessing her to be in her late 60’s, I wonder what drew a 40-something woman to the monastic life. The same thing that calls people today, she later tells me. God.
It is what she finds most appealing, satisfying, nourishing about living such a communal lifestyle — knowing she is living God’s purpose for her amidst 100+ others walking the same path.
It is no small decision to live this way. It takes a period of discernment, For Viva, 9 years. You begin as a trainee and then, after two years, commit to the promise of — Poverty. Chastity. Obedience. — at which time you become a novitiate. Throughout the following years, there are many chances to commit to the promises, and to have your faith challenged, until you know, throughout your entire being, that this is the life God has called you to live.
Poverty. Chastity. Obedience.
These are the three commitments at the foundation of the Madonna House Apostolate. Founded in 1947 by Catherine de Hueck Doherty, who came to the Combermere area with her husband to retire, the Madonna House Apostolate are a community of
‘lay men, lay women, and priests, united in Christ to form a community of Gospel love and expressing this love in the works of the Apostolate.
Living the Gospel. Evangelizing through our everyday lives. Serving in hospitality and availability.
We are pilgrims…traveling in poverty to find security only in Christ… journeying in chastity to love and serve Christ in every person… living in obedience to be concerned only with God’s will… belonging too the Catholic Church and faithful to its teachings.” (from the Madonna House Apostolate brochure.)
For an hour Viva leads Ursula, Tamara, Renata and I through the beautiful grounds and orchards of the community, sharing its history and its present day, her gentle sweet voice as melodic as the birdsong that emanates from on high in the mighty pines that stand sentinel in the forest. We cross a wooden slat bridge, ‘that Catherine walked every day’ Viva tells us, through a swampy bog where a bullfrog croaks and dragonflies flit with abandon. The sweet, succulent smell of honeysuckle and pine embraces us, the warm moist air tickles our skin.
It is peaceful. Calm. Meditative.
We walk through the forest at the edge of the water into a clearing where two tiny cabins sit, surrounded by towering pines, one at each side of the clearing. The smaller cabin was where Catherine lived when illness began to steal her away from the daily happenings of the community. Eventually, it became her spiritual advisor’s abode when she moved into the larger, one room cabin on the other side of the clearing. It is here that she spent her final years. It is here she wrote and read and prayed. It is here she died on December 14, 1985 after a long illness. It is here her spirit was reunited with her God, the God to whom she had devoted her life, and her life’s work, to celebrate and honour with every breath she took.
Like the faith that held her up, the room is sparse, simple, modest. It is not a faith of gold and gilt and ornamentation. It is a faith from deep within her soul. A faith that continues to inspire her community of Apostolates to give up their worldly goods and walk amongst us serving however they can to ensure the poor of the world receive the care they need.
I took a walk in the woods yesterday. I wandered the orchards and gardens of a place where God speaks softly and sweetly through the hearts of those who have made the commitment to follow His path through their commitment to Poverty. Chastity. Obedience.
I was moved. Touched. Inspired.
I felt my heart widen. I felt my breath deepen. I felt Love embrace me with every step I took deeper into the mystery and beauty of this place that transcended the every day happenings of my world and transported me to a time and place where God lives in the hearts of all.