“After tomorrow, we’ll have three men in the dorm,” one of our long-term guests observed yesterday. This week in Madonna House has been marked by the definite end of summer, not only in some cooler days and chilly evenings, but as the guests who have shared our life have departed one by one to return to school or jobs. A whole group came through just this past week, come and gone.
Such is life in MH, especially at this time of year. The dorms will fill up again, and if past years are any kind of indication, it will be mostly with long-term guests coming for the fall or winter season. People who come at this point in the year generally are planning to stay for awhile. In the meantime, it’s just us and a sprinkling of guests.
While this is all perfectly normal and sensible, it does put the pressure on, just a bit, as the work load does not correspondingly reduce. The farm is in full harvest mode, with the sweet corn finally coming in; the food processors are processing a large donation of tomatoes; the apples are being harvested, too, which at some point soon will mean apple sauce, apple juice, apple butter—a veritable apple-lachia (an apple-lanche?) of work.
With all that, though, the primary focus in MH this week has not been the farm, but has been the annual Heritage Fest, a two-day event we host every Labor Day weekend. It began yesterday and goes today from 1-4 (if anyone reading this is in the area, come on by!).
What is Heritage Fest? It is an exhibition of traditional crafts and artisan works done by the staff and MH, taking place over at our gift shop and handicraft center across the road from our main house. Yesterday the area was packed with people, including many families and kids.
For the latter, there is face painting and balloon animals. There is a bee keeping display, with samples of honeycomb. Today there will be demonstrations of ice cream making. There is pottery being spun on a wheel and fired in a barrel firing, rope-making, felting, wood carving, spinning, and wool crafts of various kinds. Weaving, card making, embroidery are all on display, all of the above staffed with seasoned crafts people eager to share their skills.
Today there will be live music, even, as a group of MH musicians will perform Celtic airs in the open air. And of course the gift shops and pioneer museum are open for business. It really is a great thing, and people were having a lot of fun yesterday. So again, if you’re around here and looking for a Labor Day excursion, come on out to MH.
Of course, while it is all great fun and that’s reason enough, we do (as always) have a deeper purpose in this. Catherine Doherty taught us, and we know this full well from our own lived experience, that there is a deep restoration of the human person that comes from learning how to make things that are not only functional but beautiful. Craftsmanship is a profound aspect of human dignity and achievement. It also builds community and creates friendships, as artists come together to share skills and learn from one another, often being able to transcend cultural, religious, or social differences to do so.
And it makes us love creation, to engage in the solid and intractable realities of wood, metal, and clay, cloth and paper, paint and dye, to learn to work with these materials and their unchanging properties to make them an expression of human meaning and life. All of this has been learned and passed on in our MH handicraft center, St. Raphael’s, and it is a great joy for us to open it up to the general public once a year to share what we have learned.
So that’s about it for what’s happening in MH this week—as always, there is a whole lot of other stuff going on that I don’t hear about until after the fact, usually! I hope you’re all having a great long weekend. You are in our prayers, always.