Catherine Doherty

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Catherine Doherty
Catherine Doherty 1970.jpg
Catherine Doherty, 1974
Born Ekaterina Fyodorovna Kolyschkine
Екатерина Фёдоровна Колышкина

August 15, 1896
Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Died December 14, 1985 (aged 89)
Combermere, Ontario, Canada
Nationality Russian Canadian
Occupation Social activist, writer, foundress of Madonna House Apostolate
Title Baroness
Spouse(s) Boris de Hueck (m. 1912–43)
Eddie Doherty (m. 1943–75)
Children George de Hueck
Parent(s) Theodore and Emma Kolyschkine

Ekaterina Fyodorovna Kolyschkine de Hueck Doherty CM, better known as Catherine Doherty (August 15, 1896 – December 14, 1985), was a Roman Catholic social worker and foundress 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, Baron Boris de Hueck (1889–1947).[3]

At the outbreak of World War I, Baroness 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 Roman 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 travelling 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. Ironically, 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, one of America's foremost reporters, who had fallen in love with her while writing a story about her apostolate.[citation needed]

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, naming their new rural apostolate Madonna House. This was to be the seedbed of an apostolate that, in the year 2000, numbered more than 200 staff workers and over 125 associate priests, deacons, and bishops, with 22 missionary field-houses throughout the world.[citation needed]


Baroness Catherine de Hueck Doherty died on December 14, 1985, in Combermere at the age of 89. Since then, the cause for her canonization as a saint has been officially opened in the Catholic Church.[7][8]

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.[9]

"The Little Mandate"[edit]

The core of Catherine 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.[10] 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 Catherine 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.[11]


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.[12]

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. Her file in the Vatican is titled (in English) "Pembroke: Cause of the Beatification and Canonization of Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty, lay faithful and foundress of the Apostolate called 'Madonna House'".[citation needed]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]