Over the years, God gave our foundress Catherine Doherty, through a pope and two bishops, three powerful prophetic words: Here they are.
You Will Cover the Earth
In 1934, Archbishop Neil McNeil of Toronto, who was dying, called Catherine, who was then the founding leader of her first apostolate, Friendship House Toronto, to his bedside. He bade her kneel and then put his hand on her head. Pausing often and resting, he said the following words:
“Catherine, I called to tell you—to beg you—to persevere. If you do, your apostolate will cover the earth. But you must know, understand, that you are going to suffer very much. I beg you, as the father of your soul, to persevere.
“The Church will need the lay apostolate in the decades to come, and you are pioneering it. God has specially called you. Now I will bless you for that perseverance.”
This he did. He made a big sign of the cross and gently bade her go. His last words, spoken weakly as she walked out, were:
“Persevere, child, persevere, notwithstanding all the trials to come.”
In October 1951, Catherine went to Rome to attend the first World Congress of the Lay Apostolate. While there, she was called to a private audience with Pope Pius XII.
Stunned by this unforeseen summons, she spent some time in conversation with the pope, then received his blessing. This audience was a pivotal event in the history of Madonna House.
In writing of this encounter, Catherine described it thus:
He bade me to rest on a chair. He sat next to me and let me know that he’d been fully briefed about what I was doing and about the apostolate.
His dark, piercing eyes looked into my soul and he said, “Madam has suffered much.”
That brought a silence. And, like a baby, I began to cry—big heavy tears flowing down my cheeks. I managed to get out my handkerchief, a moment before he gave me his. (Stupid of me! I could have had a second-class relic.)
Anyhow, I wiped my tears away and heard him say the tremendous words that have since influenced my life, and the lives of all the members of Madonna House:
“Persevere, Madam, no matter what the cost. Persevere, for on groups like yours, lay apostolic groups, depends the fate of the Church and our own person.”
Shaken to the very bottom of my soul, I groped helplessly for words to answer him. What could I say to such an opening? After discussing a number of topics related to my past and present apostolic works, he changed the conversation to a more personal one.
He was aware that I was Russian, and he spoke beautiful and consoling words about Russia and the Russian people.
He rose. The interview was over. I knelt, and he opened his arms and blessed me.
He put his hands on my head and held them there—the hands of a saint. Just as he was leaving, he turned back and said,
“Madam, no matter where your apostolate takes you or what work you engage in, do not forget the most important unit of society and the Church— the family. Do all in your power to help them.”
Great Graces will Flow
The newest shrine in Christendom—and the humblest and least pretentious—was blessed on June 8, 1960, at Madonna House by His Excellency, the Most Reverend William J. Smith, bishop of Pembroke, Ontario.
Combermere is a tiny crossroads village lost in the vastness of this Canadian province. Perhaps Our Lady loves the humble places—like Fatima, and Lourdes, and a hundred other shrines.
But it was no miracle that produced this shrine in Combermere. There was no apparition. There was no spectacular occurrence of any kind.
It was only the coming of a beautiful statue—and perhaps the love of the people in and around Madonna House—that caused it to become a place of devotion and of pilgrimage.
The statue, sculpted by Frances Rich of Santa Barbara, California, arrived in Combermere April 26th and was erected on May 17th—the thirteenth anniversary of the opening of Madonna House.
June 8th was a beautiful day; there was a Sunday atmosphere about it. There was no formal procession, no pomp or ceremony. The bishop intoned the words of the blessing, then sprinkled the statue with holy water and sent the fragrant smoke of incense around it. He used a ritual fashioned for him many hundreds of years ago.
And when he had finished, he led us in the prayer to Our Lady of Combermere, a prayer that we of Madonna House have been saying daily for years.
The bishop then turned and faced the congregation, standing before the statue, between its wide-flung arms and beneath its tender loving face.
He spoke of his first visit to Madonna House, of his invitation to Catherine to start her apostolate here. He spoke of Fatima, and Lourdes, both of which he had visited the year before. As he spoke, the statue he had come to bless seemed to be blessing him with a fond and tender blessing.
“This afternoon,” he said, “in this very blessed part of the diocese, in this very beautiful part of the world, in this month of June, I know that, as the years go by, great graces will flow out all over this diocese, all over Canada and the U.S.A., and all over the rest of the world, through Our Lady of Combermere and the great work to which these people have dedicated their lives.
“A great deal of the work necessary to bring the world to the feet of Our Lady will depend on the loyalty and devotion of the friends of Combermere, friends of the great work that has been established here.
“There has been much progress here. The hand of God is in it. We hope that God will continue, through the hands of Our Blessed Mother, to bless this hallowed spot and make it memorable in the social apostolate of the Church.
“As the years go by and we seem to be living in a confused world, one that is becoming more confused all the time, the solution of things troubling us will be cared for by Our Lady.
“She promised to help us if we do our part. So, if we take heed of her words, in whatever work we do, and dedicate ourselves to her, we will have an opportunity to make recompense to God for many of the sins of the world.’’
These introductions to the prophetic words were excerpted and adapted from Restoration, May 1997, the 50th anniversary issue.