Catherine Doherty lived on an island jutting out into the Madawaska River at Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario. There, close to the nature she loved so well, she lived, prayed, and directed the spiritual family she had founded. Sitting at her desk, Catherine became a pilgrim herself: “I roam the world through letters and prayers.” On her island, she had eyes to see far, sharing her vision of the spiritual life by observing and pondering the seasons as she watched them change through her window. From this spiritual vantage point, Catherine reached out to embrace all peoples and all times. Enjoy her wisdom and insights as she welcomes you, her reader, a pilgrim as we all are.
Until her death in 1985, Catherine Doherty lived in a one-room cabin on a wooded island that juts out into the quiet Madawaska River, which flows by Madonna House in Combermere. Although poustinia cabins and a bi-ritual chapel for the community now stand on the island, when Catherine wrote this book she lived on the island alone. Often people came to her there, greeted by the sign “Welcome Pilgrim” as they crossed the bridge.
Following the tradition of her Russian people, she received anyone who knocked on her door as if they were Christ himself. They came to her in person, in dreams, and in the seasons of the year; they came in world events, and in letters. Each entered her heart as an honored guest. While sitting in her cabin, Catherine became a pilgrim herself, as she reached out to distant parts of the world by her love, concern, and prayer. As she put it:
“I have a very wise island. It teaches me, very simply, the tremendous truths of our faith. Practical people might deem these thoughts of mine the product of an overwrought imagination. Maybe so. But who will deny that, to a loving and listening heart, to a soul in love with God, everything speaks of the divine.
“I invite you to come to my island in your imagination and sit quietly here by my fireside. The curtains have been drawn back from my large window. Listen with your heart, as I do. We shall be silent, both of us. But I pray that each one of you will return whence you came, refreshed and more at peace, ready to meet the noises and confusion of daily life with a quiet heart.”
In the remote hamlet of Combermere in rural Ontario, Catherine de Hueck Doherty lived on an island in the MadawaskaRiver. From her private cabin there, she directed the spiritual family entrusted to her care, wrote and prayed, while spending most of her days on the adjacent land, where the TrainingCenter for Madonna House Apostolate was located.
The Lord often sent ‘pilgrims’ to encounter her; crossing the wooden footbridge onto her island, they were greeted by a rough-hewn sign: Welcome, Pilgrim. Following the traditions of her Russian people, she gladly received each wayfarer who knocked on her door. Some came to her in person, some in dreams, some in correspondence, some in news reports. Each entered her heart as an honored guest.
Sitting at her desk, Catherine became a pilgrim herself. She reached out to distant parts of the world by her loving concern and prayer. “I roam the world through letters and prayers,” she said.
Her island gave needed distance from the turmoil of daily life and world events. She was given eyes to see far, and shared her vision of the Church. In her observation of the seasons, she meditated on the subtle lessons of nature: “Where will the springtime of the Church come from?” “How will Christians melt the frozen hearts of disbelief?” “How will the Church withstand the summer heat of weariness and unending labor?”
The insights in this book offer readers another facet of this remarkable woman whose life and writings nourished countless fellow travellers.
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