Saturday, June 20, 2015

This Week in Madonna House - June 13-19

When I wrote this column last Saturday, Josephine Halfman had just died. So, of course, this week in Madonna House was first taken up with the corporal work of mercy of 'burying the dead'. Josephine's family coincidentally had come up to see her just as she took a turn for the worse, and so were already here when she died. We were thus able to have the funeral fairly quickly, receiving the body and waking her on Sunday, then having the funeral Monday morning.

It was a small funeral, by MH standards. Josephine had spent the last 24 years of her life in our house in Toronto, and so the members of that house along with some of its close friends came up for the day. I had the wake service and Fr. David May had the funeral; both of us spoke in different ways of the mysterious and hidden quality of Josephine's life, and her steady fidelity to what God asked of her through it all. Trudi Cortens, the director of our Toronto house, gave a beautiful eulogy at the wake testifying to Josephine's many gifts and her apostolic generosity.

It is our custom on the evening of the funeral, after a festive supper, to have a 'memory night' where people can share their stories about the person who died. And so we did that, and it was a great thing especially for the considerable number of MH staff who did not know Josephine too well, her having been away so much in our houses.

Josephine was a true servant of the apostolate. Joining in 1958, she spent most of her first decade in MH in Combermere working in the office and as Catherine's assistant. She was a woman of high intelligence, trained as a chemist, and steady good humour.

In 1968 she was sent to open a house in Lima, Peru, which operated for four years. We lived in a barriada, or shanty town on the outskirts of the city, living among the poorest of the poor and living pretty poorly ourselves. It is our custom opening a house to not rush in with a thousand apostolic ideas and agendae, but to simply live with the people and get to know them first and see what they actually need from us.

Circumstances beyond our control led to the house closing after only a short time, really. Meanwhile, it was an experience that marked those who were part of that house, a true immersion into living among the very poor and indeed feeling quite helpless and poor in that living situation. Josephine returned to Combermere and had various short assignments, eventually going to our house in Cleveland.

This house was also located among the very poor in the inner city, and closed in 1986 when a man broke in and brutally assaulted the two women who were assigned there at the time--Josephine and Mamie Legris, who just died two months ago. Both of them were undaunted by this and promptly went on to their next apostolic assignments; Josephine in short order was ensconced in MH Toronto where she would remain until old age and ill health required her return to Combermere a year ago.

In Toronto she was part of the (in MH) famed group who lived without a house for over a year, splitting up and staying with friends all over the city while searching for a permanent location and somehow keeping an apostolate and a community life going all the while. The house they eventually found was only affordable because it was about to be condemned and torn down, and so the whole place had to be rebuilt from the inside out. And Josephine was in the middle of all of that, a tireless worker who met every situation with a sharp intellect and good humor expressed with a ready wit.

The Toronto years were the best years of her life, as she was able to just pour herself out in a thriving bustling apostolate. She hated--absolutely hated--leaving Toronto even though by the end of her time there she was blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, could hardly walk and (unbeknownst to us) had a brain tumour that would eventually kill her. She was an apostolic servant all the way and would have liked to die with her boots on. 

So honouring this wonderful woman was 'the main event' of the week, of course. But come Tuesday life resumed with its increasing summer intensity. The farm is going great guns, and the food processors--the women who preserve the harvest for the winter--are already at work, putting up the rhubarb. Meanwhile, of course, the gardens are in full swing with most crops planted and a nice combination of warm days and rain making everything grow beautifully. The shops are picking up speed, as are the summer tourists. Besides growing and preserving the food we need, hospitality is the principal work of our summer season.

We have had a little influx of guests, with more on the way in weeks ahead, and that always brings a lovely energy of its own, of course. And... that's about it for us this week. Be assured of our prayers for all of you and for the world. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.