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As another year winds down, we look back on the many activities of these past weeks.

One of our major gatherings in the fall is our Associates’ meetings. This year 30 participants – deacons with their wives – and priests, attended the meetings here in Combermere, while a number of other Associates who were unable to make the trip were able to participate by zoom on their computers. The theme of the meetings was “Nourishing and Protecting our Life with God.” Three of our priests gave conferences: Fr. Kieran on Prayer; Fr. Paul Burchat on Spiritual Combat: The World, the Flesh and the Devil; and Fr. David Linder on The Role of Mary. At one Mass, three deacons made promises: Deacon Tim Morris made first promises and received the Madonna House cross, while Deacons Christopher Barrett and Bob Farmer renewed their promises. The atmosphere was relaxed and homey at meals and during the social parts of the meetings; some of our Associates have been attending these meetings for many years and they are grateful for the opportunity to meet again and catch up on news. Fr. David May’s homily on the final day was a good word for all of us and a wonderful send-off for the Associates. He spoke about worship saying: “If worship isn’t at the center of all we do, then something goes wrong. Adoration of God is the only thing that will bring us peace.”

Our 2023-24 Spiritual Formation Program is underway; it began with a retreat at Vianney House. Four men are enrolled this year: Nick White from Peterborough, Matthew Watters from the Vancouver area, Stephen Foster from Nova Scotia and Andre Fillion from Manitoba. Classes on the Fundamentals of the Spiritual Life have begun for these men and for our other guests. Ongoing formation also continues for guests and members of the community, in the form of talks and presentations on various topics. One particularly interesting presentation was about developing personal strategies to lessen the growing polarization in our world.

We attended the annual Life Chain in Barry’s Bay for which there was a good turnout, and we were grateful for sunny weather this year. Baking is always a part of our celebrations and we had kitchen bees to prepare apple pies for Thanksgiving. Now we are preparing for Christmas cookie and dessert baking, an evening activity which is very popular with all our staff and guests.

Speaking of food, Beth Scott and her food processing crew prepared several barrels (there are a lot of people here!) of sauerkraut, to provide us with vitamin C during our long winter. Our storage areas at the farm and main house are lined with hundreds of beautiful squashes of different colours and shapes. Beth also highlighted the superb apple crop we had this year, and the many ways they have processed this fruit: apple juice, apple sauce, apple butter, cider vinegar, dried apples and various different desserts. We also gave many apples away to friends and neighbors.

For World Mission Sunday with its theme Hearts on fire – feet on the move, we took time to read and reflect on the document Ad Gentes, from the decree from Vatican II on the Church’s missionary activity. We also spent an extra day of fasting, abstinence and prayer for peace in the Holy Land, as requested by the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. A group of art students and teachers from a high school in Oshawa, Ontario came for a visit. After a tour of the main house, they visited Daniel Rabideau, who gave them a talk on Art and Spirituality.

Renovations on the main house continue. Concrete footings were poured, walls are up and floors laid for our new coat room which will be on the ground floor level instead of the basement where it has been for many years. Posts and beams are awaiting assembly for the new porch entrance to the main house. Renovations of the original house are complete, but much work lies ahead for next year as we bring our dining room up to safety codes.

Our farm manager, Scott Eagan, has just put out a little booklet named The Farmer’s Tales. It is a collection of stories about apostolic farming, which includes many photos of Saint Benedict’s acres over the years. Raandi King, Diana Breeze and Darrin Prowse fired our wood fire outdoor kiln three times this past year and our potters produced some beautiful pottery for the gift shop. They said they learn something new each time they fire up the kiln. All of us have certainly enjoyed gathering around to watch them open the kiln and display the finished products.

Interspersed with all these activities was our third funeral in as many months. Our beloved sister Elizabeth (Beth) Holmes died in Washington D.C. After a memorial Mass there, Andorra Howard accompanied Beth’s body to Combermere where we held a wake, Mass and burial service and enjoyed a wonderful memory night, honoring our sister, Beth. We will write more about Beth in an upcoming issue of Restoration. 

As the year 2023 comes to a close, we are so grateful for the lives of our three beloved members who died recently, the many wonderful guests who came to be with us throughout this year, our abundant harvest, and the other innumerable ways in which the Lord has looked after this little flock.