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The last time I wrote this column, we were still in the midst of the Christmas Season. The celebrations were gradually tapering down—well, not completely. We still had not celebrated New Year’s, Epiphany, and the Baptism of Christ.

For each of these days, we have customs and traditions, the last of which, on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, is the blessing of the waters.

At the end of the Eastern Rite Sunday liturgy, we process to the river and the celebrant walks out on the ice (which has been tested for safety) and throws the cross that was blessed into the water. This river, the Madawaska, eventually flows to the ocean, and the tradition is that all the waters of the earth are thus blessed.

Then it was back to Ordinary Time, and it wasn’t long before we were in a very different space from the Christmas Season. A flu epidemic hit us hard and fast—and I do mean fast. Amazingly—for generally in other years, the flu has hit in stages, one or two persons at a time—this time, many went down the same day!

Then as most of us hunkered down in our beds, those left standing filled in to do the most essential jobs. The kitchen, which was hard hit, especially needed reinforcements. The good thing was that, though it was a nasty bug, it was not a long-lasting one.

Flu or no flu, barring the unexpected, January is probably our quietest, most uneventful month.

This year, generally, with the exception of a couple of short cold snaps, it’s been a mild winter, and it’s only now at the end of January that snow has come in quantity.

To say the obvious, in winter snow is a big fact of life in this part of the world. It is estimated that in winter, about 1/3 of our men’s work hours are involved with snow removal in one form or another. The men snow-blow and shovel roads and pathways, and pull snow off the roofs (all of which are by necessity sharply slanted).

When the temperatures go above freezing and some of the snow melts, the men make channels to direct the flow of water.

Then when the temperature falls again—that’s “when” not “if”—that water freezes, and we are faced with patches or more of ice. That’s when the sanding of paths begins. God bless our men!

This weekend, heavy snow fell for hours, the kind of snow that’s perfect for making snowmen. And it stopped on Sunday when we have free time. Our young ones were not going to let an opportunity like that pass them by.

Some built a whole snow family at St. Mary’s (snowman, snow woman, and snow child) and others built one snowman with a carrot nose and orange peel eyes near the main entrance of the main house.

Then with their snowman-building energies not exhausted, they built one on the second floor of the new building! No, they didn’t have to carry the snow there. Enough had blown in through the openings.

The next day, Monday morning, the construction workers demolished him, throwing the snow outside. Of course, they had to, but sigh!

Speaking of the new building, here’s an update written by Peter Gravelle, the MH person in charge of the building of the addition, which is being done by contractors.


Since the last “Combermere Diary” was written, the building has taken shape. The trusses have gone up. This took a fair bit of work and skill as they were quite big and heavy and needed to go up in two pieces.

The zoom boom that had been on site turned out to be too small, and was replaced by a larger one that proved to be just big enough. The large dormer windows also added some complication to the putting up of trusses.

Once the first half of the trusses were up and stabilized, the plywood roof deck was put on, adding strength so that the top or peak half of the trusses could be added. Now with the plywood up to the peak, the shape and size of the building has been clarified.


Well, we do have some other news. What we call “basement university”—weekly movies meant to both educate us and give us a break from winter—has begun.

The first three were parts of a DVD called Ramallah Concert. The first two parts were a documentary about the creation of an orchestra of Middle Eastern young people—mainly Jews and Palestinians but also people from other Middle Eastern countries and Spain—brought together and led by a Jewish master musician from Israel, Daniel Barenboim.

Through the music, the young people got to know one another and were given a format to discuss their differences. This is one of a number of small, little-publicized efforts by individuals in Israel to bring peace between Palestinians and Jews.

The third part was the concert itself performed in Ramallah, a city in the heart of Palestine. It was a beautiful performance.

Those of you who are not Canadian may not know that euthanasia and assisted suicide became legal in Canada in June 2016. When the law was passed, some safeguards were put in place, but now the “slippery slope” is proving to be slippery indeed.

The government is now talking about eliminating some of the safeguards. Before doing so, it has allowed a period for people to send in their opinions to the government. We have been sending in ours and learning more about this horrendous situation.

Deacon Larry Worthen, the executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Association of Canada, came and spoke to us about this. (In 1982, he took part in our spiritual formation program for men discerning priesthood and is also a friend of MH Toronto.)

Fr. Blair Bernard and Morgen Grigg gave the diocesan men’s retreat. Sixty attended. Fr. Denis Lemieux is teaching a class on Scripture at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College.

Some of us attended the annual play put on by Our Lady Seat of Wisdom. This year it was The Song of Bernadette.

Blessed, grace-filled Lent to each of you.

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