Catherine Doherty

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Catherine Doherty

Catherine Doherty 1970.jpg
Laywoman and Founder
BornEkaterina Fyodorovna Kolyschkine
(in Russian: Екатерина Фёдоровна Колышкина)
(1896-08-15)15 August 1896
Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Died14 December 1985(1985-12-14) (aged 89)
Combermere, Ontario, Canada
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
PatronageMadonna House Apostolate

Ekaterina Fyodorovna Kolyschkine de Hueck Doherty CM (August 15, 1896 – December 14, 1985) was a Russian-Canadian Catholic social worker and founder of the Madonna House Apostolate. A pioneer of social justice and a renowned national speaker, Doherty was also a prolific writer of hundreds of articles, best-selling author of dozens of books, and a dedicated wife and mother. Her cause for canonization as a saint is under consideration by the Catholic Church.[1]

Early life[edit]

Doherty was born Ekaterina Fyodorovna Kolyschkine (Екатерина Фёдоровна Колышкина) in Nizhny Novgorod, Russian Empire. Her parents, Fyodor and Emma Thomson Kolyschkine, belonged to the minor nobility and were devout members of the Russian Orthodox Church who had their child baptized in St. Petersburg on September 15, 1896. She was not baptized on the same day that she was born because her mother was worried she might get a disease as she had been born on a train. Schooled abroad due to her father's job, she had an exposure to the Catholic Church in the form of her schooling in Alexandria (Egypt) where her father, an aristocrat, had been posted by the government.[2] Her family returned to St. Petersburg in 1910, where she was enrolled in the prestigious Princess Obolensky Academy. In 1912, aged 15, she married her first cousin, Boris de Hueck (1889–1947).[3]

At the outbreak of World War I, Catherine de Hueck became a Red Cross nurse at the front, experiencing the horrors of battle firsthand. On her return to St. Petersburg, she and Boris barely escaped the turmoil of the Russian Revolution with their lives, nearly starving to death as refugees in Finland. Together they made their way to England, where de Hueck was received into the Catholic Church on November 27, 1919.[2]

Emigrating to Canada with Boris, de Hueck gave birth to their only child, George, in Toronto in 1921. To make ends meet, she took various jobs, eventually traveling across the United States, giving talks on the Chautauqua lecture circuit.[4]

Friendship House[edit]

Prosperous now, but deeply dissatisfied with a life of material comfort, her marriage in ruins, de Hueck began to feel the promptings of a deeper call through a passage that leaped to her eyes every time she opened the Bible: "Arise — go... sell all you possess... take up your cross and follow Me." Consulting with various priests and the bishop of the diocese, she began her lay apostolate among the poor.

In 1932, she gave up all her possessions, lived among the multitude of poor people in downtown Toronto and established Friendship House with its soup kitchen. She gave food to them when she had none for herself – and offered Catholic education and fellowship, too. She was tagged as a communist sympathizer and, beleaguered by her own organization,[5] Friendship House was forced to close in 1936. Catherine then went to Europe and spent a year investigating Catholic Action. On her return, she established the Friendship House at 34 West 135th Street in Harlem in 1937. The interracial charity center, in addition to distributing goods to the poor, conducted lectures and discussions to promote racial understanding.[6]

In 1943, having received an annulment of her first marriage, as she had married her cousin, which is forbidden in the Roman Catholic Church, she married Eddie Doherty, an American journalist, whom she had met when he was writing a story about her.[7]

Madonna House[edit]

Serious disagreements arose between the staff of Friendship House and its foundress, particularly surrounding her marriage. When these could not be resolved, Doherty and Eddie moved to Combermere, Ontario, on May 17, 1947 to retire.[1] As she recovered, she started to serve the needs of the community. What eventually blossomed was a new rural apostolate called Madonna House that now numbers approximately 200 staff workers with 17 missionary field-houses throughout the world.[8]


Catherine de Hueck Doherty died in Combermere, on December 14, 1985, at the age of 89.[9] Since then, the cause for her canonization as a saint has been officially opened in the Catholic Church.[10]

Her spirituality[edit]

"I considered Nazareth to be the center of my vocation. Only by being hidden would I be a light to my neighbor’s feet in the slums," Doherty wrote. She believed that activism should be rooted in prayer and that faith should be brought to every aspect of daily life.[11]

"The Little Mandate"[edit]

The core of Doherty's spirituality is summarized in a "distillation" of the Gospel which she called "The Little Mandate" — words which she believed she received from Jesus Christ and which guided her life.[12] It reads:

Arise — go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally to the poor. Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me.

Little — be always little! Be simple, poor, childlike.

Preach the Gospel with your life — without compromise! Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you..

Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me.

Love... love... love, never counting the cost

Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. Pray, fast. Pray always, fast.

Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbour's feet. Go without fear into the depth of men's hearts. I shall be with you. Pray always.

I will be your rest.

The spirituality expressed in The Little Mandate is also known as "the Madonna House way of life".

Duty of the moment[edit]

A central theme in Doherty's spirituality is "the duty of the moment". As she herself put it:

The duty of the moment is what you should be doing at any given time, in whatever place God has put you. You may not have Christ in a homeless person at your door, but you may have a little child. If you have a child, your duty of the moment may be to change a dirty diaper. So you do it. But you don't just change that diaper, you change it to the best of your ability, with great love for both God and that child.... There are all kinds of good Catholic things you can do, but whatever they are, you have to realize that there is always the duty of the moment to be done. And it must be done, because the duty of the moment is the duty of God.[13]


Doherty is perhaps best known for having introduced the concept of poustinia to Roman Catholicism through her best-selling book Poustinia, first published in 1975. A poustinia is a small sparsely furnished cabin or room where a person goes to pray and fast alone in the presence of God for 24 hours.[14]

Notable awards[edit]

Cause for canonization[edit]

Doherty's cause for canonization as a saint was opened by Pope John Paul II in 2000, and she has been given the official title Servant of God — the first step on the way to being declared Venerable, then Blessed, and finally Saint. At the current stage in the process, a diocesan tribunal, as well as a historical commission, are examining Doherty's life and writings under the supervision of the bishop of the Diocese of Pembroke.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Catherine Doherty: Her Life,
  2. ^ a b Murray PP, John, "Servant of God: Catherine de Hueck Doherty", The Messenger, July 2007
  3. ^ ""Catherine de Heuck Doherty", Madonna House". Archived from the original on July 27, 2019. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  4. ^ Fay, Terence J., History of Canadian Catholics, McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, 2002 ISBN 9780773523135
  5. ^ Jacobs, Donna,"The Unlikely Story of Catherine de Hueck", The Ottawa Citizen; July 9, 2007 Archived June 17, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ New York Times obituary, December 16, 1985
  7. ^ Murray, John. "Servant of God: Catherine de Hueck Doherty", Catholic Ireland, November 30, 1999
  8. ^ "About us", Madonna House
  9. ^ Duquin, Lorene Hanley. They Called Her the Baroness: The Life of Catherine de Hueck Doherty (New York: Alba House, 1995), p. 293. ISBN 0-8189-0827-0. Archived September 25, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Pelton, Fr. Robert. "About the Author" in Catherine Doherty, Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer (3rd ed. Combermere: Madonna House Publications, 2000). ISBN 0-921440-54-5. Archived September 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ LaPointe, Fr. Larry, "Catherine de Hueck Doherty", Connecticut College Archived September 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Doherty, Catherine. "The Little Mandate", Chap. 13 in Sobornost: Experiencing Unity of Mind, Heart and Soul (2nd ed. Combermere: Madonna House Publications, 2000). ISBN 0-921440-25-1. Archived June 19, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Doherty, Catherine. "The Duty of the Moment." Chap. 12 in Dear Parents: A Gift of Love for Families Archived February 19, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Combermere: Madonna House Publications, 1997; ISBN 0-921440-44-8
  14. ^ Doherty, Catherine. Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer (3rd ed. Combermere: Madonna House Publications, 2000). ISBN 0-921440-54-5. Archived September 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Order of Canada medal returned by Madonna House". Restoration web site. July 8, 2008. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved July 8, 2008.

External links[edit]