This week in Madonna House saw the end of the directors’ meetings, with most of the local directors of our various missions leaving today to return to their houses. It was, as always, a graced time, reflective, encouraging about the work of God in our midst.
At the same time, it is a good thing the meetings end, because that work of God is ongoing, and not getting any slower-paced. The farm is kicking it up into high gear right now, with the major planting going on. We have about seven acres of vegetable garden, all of which is planted, weeded, and harvested for the most part by hand without use of chemicals or heavy machinery. It is a massive labor of love, out of which comes a large percentage of our food for the year.
Meanwhile, other summer work goes on. I think I mentioned we are building a new cabin at our summer family camp Cana Colony, to better accommodate the needs and numbers of families wanting to come to that program. As construction projects go, it is relatively simple; the Cana cabins do not have plumbing or electricity and are a single room shared by the whole family (and yes, we have a waiting list each year for Cana, which is why we’re building a new cabin!). Last I heard, the floor and walls are up, and only the roof is needing to go on yet. Meanwhile, all the other work going into getting that camp set up is happening around the construction.
By far, though, the biggest event of the week was our celebration of the 50th anniversary of our MH mission shop, and I would like to talk more about that aspect of our apostolate. It is such a simple concept, yet the fruits of it are so super-abundant.
It all started when we had an invitation to go open a house in what is now Bangladesh. We ended up being there for only a few years, but in the process of accepting that invitation and opening the house, Catherine Doherty came up with a novel idea for how to fund such missions, and other mission work in what was then called the ‘Third World’. It happened to be a time of economic prosperity in Canada in general and in the Ottawa Valley in particular, and so items were coming in donation that we had never had to deal with before: collectibles, antiques, jewelry.
At the same time a number of gifted artists had all joined MH in a short span of time and were producing beautiful works of art and handicraft. Catherine’s genius was to put the two together—have a gift shop in which all these beautiful (but ultimately luxury) items could be sold, and send all the proceeds to the poorest parts of the world, to fund schools, orphanages, clinics, and so forth.
And so it has been for the past fifty years. We early on established a policy of giving money only to individuals we could have personal contact with, people working directly with the poor who we could trust to use the money directly in their work. And over the past fifty years, hundreds of thousands of dollars have flowed through the shops (we later opened a smaller shop which now sells lower end items, and a used book shop which is a whole apostolate in its own right), like a sort of holy money laundering scheme, where the excess funds of the haves of the world spent on lovely things could go to buy food and clean water, books and bricks and mortar and medicine and so forth for the have nots.
And so we had a grand celebration of all this last weekend, with a special ceremony of blessing for the shop on Friday evening followed by a social time for the MH community, and a gala opening on the next day. Musician friends came from Ottawa to give a touch of class to the affair.
Accompanying the 50th anniversary celebration was the opening of an art exhibit, Radiant Light, in one room of the shop which is a small art gallery, of paintings by one of our MH artists, Patrick Stewart. His paintings can be found here, and are exquisitely beautiful renderings of our valley.
There is so much more that can be said about our shops—I think ultimately only God really knows the full scope of how much good they have done in the world. They have been an incredible incentive for MH members to develop artistic and handicraft skills, and the whole front room of the shop is dedicated to selling those crafts: pottery, rosemaling, knitting and crocheting and needlework of all kinds, felting, wood carving, jewelry, and I don’t know what else.
The middle room of the shop is all the precious items that come in donation, from crystal and china to jewelry and antiques. It is a place of beauty and light. And then there is the art gallery, already mentioned, where higher end works are sold.
We often hear from the staff who work there that a whole other aspect of the apostolate of the gift shop is towards the customers who come there. People who might never walk into MH itself, because they are not ‘religious’ or simply not interested, go to the shops and experience something more than just a nice gift shop. There is a quality of peace and silence in the shops, a friendly welcome and a certain spiritual atmosphere that is hard to describe. Catherine always said it is Our Lady’s shop, and she is the buyer of the goods sold there. Perhaps She likes to hang around there and make sure everything is as it should be, and it is Her our customers are meeting. Fanciful? Perhaps, but then again, who knows?
At any rate, the shops are launched on their busy summer season, as is the rest of MH, and we rejoice in the work of God going on amidst all our human working.