The blog is back, although I am out the door again tomorrow on one more mission trip, this time to Bruno Saskatchewan and this place, where I will be teaching this course. Meanwhile it has been a packed time in Madonna House, so much so that I think I may need to do this wrap up of our past couple of weeks in two posts, today and tomorrow.
Today I want to talk about the great events that we just wrapped up yesterday, namely the death and burial of Mamie Legris, pioneer member of our apostolate. Mamie died on March 27, four days shy of her 99th birthday, after a long period of illness and infirmity.
|Mamie Legris, 1916-2015|
She was a giant of a woman, a truly great soul. Mamie was one of the first group who came to MH to stay in the early 1950s. She and three others (one of whom, Marite Langlois, is the now the last one left) were the first to make promises in 1952—not of poverty, chastity, and obedience as we do now, but of stablility. She was a local girl, from nearby Dacre, a school teacher looking for her vocation who found her way to this tiny house on the shores of the Madawaska.
The MH she joined was, basically, Catherine and Eddie living in a six room house with one or two outbuildings. There were people coming and going, and a number of them would indeed become the core members of this virtually embryonic community that was forming. But there was practically nothing here, nothing except the vision of apostolic Gospel life presented by this wild Russian woman and her passionate love of God.
So, Mamie came, and Mamie stayed. Years later her primary advice to struggling young members of the community would be, “Stay put! Stay on the block! Let God act!” In 1954 (just two years after her first promises) Catherine sent her and two others to open our first MH mission house in Whitehorse, Yukon, driving there across Canada in a pick-up truck that was increasingly loaded down with donations as they begged their way across the continent. In the Yukon, they braved the cold and the primitive living conditions, and all the difficulties of starting an apostolate from the ground up. Maryhouse still thrives in that city, 60 years later and counting.
As the years went by, Mamie would become Catherine’s right-hand woman, working closely with her in the training of new members. Catherine trusted Mamie, and would send her to scope out possible new foundations, particularly in far distant countries. And so the country school teacher from Dacre ON ended up travelling the world extensively, from Peru and Brazil to Pakistan and Israel, from the West Indies to the Arctic Ocean and extensively throughout North America. For a time in the 1970s, she was the director general of women, Catherine retiring from the position temporarily.
All the while, Mamie was a simple, plain spoken, down to earth and very loving woman, capable of forming deep friendships anywhere, with anyone, even without speaking the language (as was the case in our houses in Peru and Brazil, which she helped found). All the while as well, and this was highlighted quite a bit in her funeral services, she lived (and was quite open about it) in a profound spiritual darkness, a true dark night where she had little or no sense of God’s love, presence, care for her. She walked by faith and not by sight, to a degree that few of us are asked to do. And in that dark night, she loved and served, served and loved, prayed and listened and loved some more.
So on March 27, after many years of serious illness and much suffering, Mamie finally died. She had had so many near brushes with death and then recovered that it seemed hard to take in that she was actually gone. The decision was made to wait until after Easter for the funeral, as it would be too much to fit it in with everything else that was going on (see tomorrow’s post…).
It was a big funeral. Mamie had all her wits about her to the end, and had kept up close relationships with her whole extended family. Being one of eleven children, this meant lots of nieces and nephews, unto the third generation. And many of them came to celebrate their beloved Aunt Mame, as they called her. Many of our local friends and neighbours also came, as she was a well known and highly respected figure in the area.
Fr. Pat McNulty had the wake service, and Fr. David May the funeral. Bishop Mulhall, our local ordinary, came for the latter. We buried her in the parish cemetery as she had requested, rather than our own MH cemetery. The day concluded yesterday with a memory night—an informal time when people could share their stories about this great woman who was such a pivotal figure in our apostolate.