Madonna House Apostolate
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The Madonna House Apostolate is a Catholic Christian community of lay men, women, and priests dedicated to loving and serving Jesus Christ in all aspects of everyday life. It was founded in 1947 by Catherine Doherty in Combermere, Ontario and has established missionary field houses world-wide.
Madonna House was founded by Catherine and Eddie Doherty in Combermere, Ontario in 1947. The apostolate has since grown to establish twenty-three “field houses” in six countries.
Staff workers of the Madonna House Apostolate live in voluntary poverty. Donations of clothing, food, goods and money come from a variety of sources enabling them to live out their promise of poverty, and better identify with the poor whom they serve. As a celibate community, the men, women and priests live in separate dormitories and generally work in separate departments, but gather together for all daily meals and religious services.
Members of the Madonna House community live a simple daily routine beginning with a brief prayer service, followed by a day of work, and ending with Mass and dinner. Work at the main house generally consists of the day-to-day maintenance of the community, care of a farm, and the sorting and distribution of donations to the poor.
The spirituality of the Madonna House Apostolate is summarized in The Little Mandate, a "distillation" of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ brought forth by the apostolate's foundress. Some members of the apostolate live in "poustinia", meaning a small, sparsely furnished cabin or room (the term poustinia has its roots in the Russian word for "desert"). For these few staff workers, their voluntary life as poustiniks is somewhat like that of a hermit, though less strict.
Madonna House welcomes guests into their community, allowing anyone to come and join their daily routine of work and prayer for varying lengths of time at their training centre in Combermere.
The main work of the Madonna House Apostolate is serving the poor — both the physically and spiritually poor. Donations sent to the community are redistributed locally and internationally. Through their missionary field houses, Madonna House staff workers serve the needs of the poor in many ways, from "prayer and listening houses" to soup kitchens.
The apostolate maintains a non-profit publications department, Madonna House Publications. It publishes the works of Catherine Doherty and other members of the community as part of its mission to spread the Gospel. The Madonna House monthly newspaper, Restoration, has been in continuous publication since 1947. Madonna House also works to promote the cause for canonization of their foundress, Catherine Doherty, through a newsletter and web site.
The community is overseen by three "Directors General" — the Director General of Men, the Director General of Women, and the Director General of Priests — each of whom is elected by the respective segment of the community for 4-year terms. The apostolate also has several international missionary "field houses", each under the authority of the bishop of the area (and set up at his invitation). Each field house has a "Local Director," appointed by the Director Generals. Local Directors gather yearly at the main house for several weeks of meetings and retreats.
Members of Madonna House are known as "staff workers." After a 2-year period of applicancy, staff workers make year-long promises (not vows) of poverty, chastity and obedience. These promises are renewed yearly, and after seven years staff workers generally make lifelong final promises to the community. Staff workers can be distinguished by the large silver rounded cross they wear on a cord around their necks, bearing the Latin words pax caritas (for "peace" and "love").
In addition, the apostolate also accepts priests, bishops and deacons from outside the community as "Associate Priests" — although these priests do not participate in the day-to-day workings of the apostolate, they do wear the pax caritas cross, strive to live "the Madonna House way of life," and meet yearly at the main house for retreats. (There is no corresponding "associate" status for lay people.)
The apostolate's headquarters in Combermere, Ontario includes the Pioneer Museum, a log barn housing historic pioneer artifacts. Items include household items, kitchenware, tools, cobbler and farm implements.
Besides the main training centre in Combermere, Ontario, the Madonna House Apostolate also maintains missionary "field houses" in the following places:
- Edmonton, Alberta
- Vancouver, British Columbia
- Combermere, Ontario
- Ottawa, Ontario
- Toronto, Ontario
- Windsor, Ontario
- Regina, Saskatchewan
- Whitehorse, Yukon
- Rimouski, Quebec
The Madonna House in Winslow, Arizona was founded in 1957. Other houses are located in Washington, D.C.; Alpena, Michigan; Raleigh, North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia.
The Madonna House in Robin Hood's Bay, England was established in 1985. Other houses are in Carriacou]], Grenada, Krasnoyarsk, Russia and Resteigne, Belgium
Our Lady of Combermere
Prayer to the Virgin Mary under the title of "Our Lady of Combermere" began in the late 1940s at the Madonna House Apostolate founded by Catherine Doherty in the small village of Combermere, in Ontario, Canada. As the title began to gain popularity among the apostolate's friends and neighbours, a woman (who claimed to have received an answer to prayer through the use of this title) offered to donate the money required to have a life-sized bronze statue erected for a Marian shrine to Our Lady of Combermere.
Catherine Doherty and her apostolate sought permission for the formal use of this title, as well as the erection of a shrine, from the Bishop of Pembroke, the Most Rev. William J. Smith, who directed them to contact the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome. The Congregation of Rites responded, giving the local Bishop the authority to approve the title and shrine. He granted them permission to erect a statue of Mary under the title of "Our Lady of Combermere" and to have it blessed.
The statue itself was sculpted by Frances Rich of Santa Barbara, California. Modelled on an earlier work by Rich entitled "The Questing Madonna," the statue of Our Lady of Combermere depicts the Virgin Mary hastening with arms open wide as if to welcome and embrace the viewer. The statue was officially installed and blessed by the Most Rev. William J. Smith, Bishop of Pembroke, on June 8, 1960.
Other Madonna House Organizations
A number of other organizations have also adopted the name "Madonna House", providing services varying from maternal services to retirement homes, and homeless shelters.
- Catherine Doherty, foundress of Madonna House
- Eddie Doherty, co-founder of Madonna House
- Restoration, the Madonna House Catholic newspaper
- Friendship House
- Joseph Raya
- Our Lady of Combermere. Doherty, Catherine, et al. Combermere: Madonna House Publications, 1999.