Mary in the Ordinary: Our Lady of Combermere

Some days, the excitement in my world comes from a fistful of dandelions or an hour spent digging in the garden.  Other days, I’m juggling phone calls while I try to convince my toddler that his breakfast is better eaten than worn.  There are days when I look around and wonder how I would ever explain to myself 20 years ago that this is where I would end up, covered in crumbs and slightly disheveled.

From the outside, my life is as boring and monotonous as it gets.  By the standards of our culture, I should be disappointed by what I have.  Though I do have a job and other paying work, I largely do it from home.  There’s a blessing and a reminder in that:  I can’t to pretend that my vocations as wife and mother don’t come first.

In fostering devotion to Mary, I had to stop picturing her on a pedestal, surrounded by flowers and pristine in her perfectly ironed clothes.  Although she’s beautiful, and she deserves every pedestal and every honor, it makes her an unaccessible ideal, not someone I can turn to while I’m doing the dishes.

It happened casually with me, perhaps as a result of praying Hail Marys here and there throughout my day.  I started chatting with Mary, reminiscent of the way my five-year-old chats with her invisible friend.  “OK, Mary, help me get this basket of laundry folded and keep me motivated to put them away too.”  “Oh Mother Mary, I’m going to bed too late, but help me to get the rest I need for tomorrow’s work.”  “Mary, did Jesus get fussy like this at 3 a.m.?  Help me!”

My conversations with her are a far cry from brilliant.  Often, outside the structured prayers I try to maintain in my schedule, my dialogue with Mary is humdrum at best.

But I don’t think she minds.  I think, like most mothers or aunts or grandmas, she’s happy to hear from me.  I think she cherishes our bond and smiles that I’m comfortable enough to share even the most common concerns in my life.

Meet Our Lady of Combermere.  It’s a title Mary earned in the most unremarkable way.  It’s a title that teaches each of us to find the holy in the day-to-day.

Her arms are wide open, and you can tell she’s running.  She looks delighted that you’ve come and there’s no denying the joy that radiates from her.  She’s surrounded by Canadian woodland, and she’s poised on a tree stump.

In the early days of the founding of the Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, a small, forgotten town in Canada, there were five acres, a small living house, and woodland all around.  It was the late 1940s, and in the little homestead where Madonna House started, life was full of physical chores.  The wood for the fire stood stacked outside, and in the winter, there might have been a foot or two of snow frozen on top.  The bread had to be started the day before it was needed; the snow had to be cleared—every single day—from the paths leading to the main road.

shutterstock_140458882Madonna House was founded by Catherine and Eddie Doherty to be a group of Christian lay men and women, and priests who would serve Christ through poverty, chastity, and obedience.  They started with a passion, a love of Christ, and not much more.

It became easy, then, to call out to Mary intimately, asking for her help in the little things.    Their focus was so firmly on God’s work, on His mission for their lives, that turning to His mother became second nature.  Out in the wilderness, where the light from town didn’t provide any relief, Mary became a beacon of hope.

Maybe it was the wet wood that wouldn’t burn; maybe it was the ice layered on the woodpile, maybe it was the iffy loaves of bread that didn’t seem likely to rise — these and many other seemingly inconsequential obstacles were given to Mary.  “Our Lady of Combermere” became an affectionate associate, someone who prayed for the little, necessary miracles that made pioneer life bearable.  She was referenced casually, and there was never an apparition of Mary under this title.

On June 8, 1960, when Bishop William J. Smith officially installed and blessed the statue at Madonna House, remarking as part of his installation, “As the years go by, we seem to be living in a confused world which is becoming more confused all the time.  It seems to me that the solution of the things troubling us today will be cared for by Our Lady.  Our Lady promised to do so, 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 opportunity to make recompense to God for the many sins of the world.”

Our Lady of Combermere has her arms open.  She’s running toward us, her children, and she’s wasting no time in praying for every little concern we have, including the heaps of laundry, the fussy children, the tense relationship?  What about the deadline, the stubbed toe, the messy desk?  None of these are too small for her.  She runs to us with a smile, thrilled to be involved in the routine of our lives.

 

Image credit: shutterstock.com

Sarah Reinhard

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When Sarah Reinhard set off in her life as a grown-up, she had no idea it would involve horses, writing, and sparkly dress shoes. In her work as a Catholic wife, mom, writer, parish employee, and catechist, she’s learned a lot of lessons and had a lot of laughs. She’s online at snoringscholar.com and is the author of a number of books.

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  • Lee

    Thank you for helping us see Our Mother Mary approachable at a level we might not have taken time to appreciate.

  • Lucy

    Sarah, this is my favorite column of yours. Ever. It is just what my mother’s/daughter’s heart needed to read.

  • Dee Fox

    How excited I was to read your words about Our Lady of Combermere! We know her well. We have had a long love & spiritual relationship with Madonna House. We have visited the headquarters in Combermere, stayed and worked with the people there. One of their field houses is just 90 miles north of us here in Arizona and we have been friends and supporters of this house for many years, starting when we still lived in Colorado. Anyone who listens regularly to our Catholic Vitamins podcast will recognize that many of my Vita-Minute segments at the end of our show, are the wise words from (the late) Catherine Doherty. Just an added note, we discovered after moving to Arizona that Frances Rich, the artist who sculpted Our Lady of Combermere for Madonna House, lived right here in our town!

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