Wednesday, February 26, 2014


JEAN VANIER, born September 10, 1928, is a Canadian Catholic philosopher turned theologian, and humanitarian. Beginning with a community in France, he is the founder of  L'Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. Among the honors he has received are the French Legion of Honour in 2003 and the 2013 Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.  Like Mother Teresa  of Calcutta, he is considered a saint within his lifetime

Jean is the son of  Major-General Georges Vanier and his wife Pauline Vanier who were the subjects of a previous blog. As the saying goes, the apple does not fall far from the tree.  When one studies the life of his parents, one can see how he was formed.

He was born in Geneva, while his father was on diplomatic service in Switzerland. In his youth, Jean received a broad education in English and French, first in Canada, and then England and France. During World War II, he and his family fled Paris just before the Nazi occupation. He spent much of the War at an English naval academy, preparing for a career as a naval officer.

In early 1945, Jean, visiting Paris, where his father was Canadian Ambassador, went with his mother  to assist survivors of concentration camps. Seeing the emaciated victims, their faces twisted with fear and anguish, was a profoundly moving experience for him, which he never forgot.

 Shortly after, at age seventeen, with World War II still raging, he served with the Royal Navy and then with the Royal Canadian Navy. In 1947 as a midshipman, he accompanied the Royal Family on their tour of South Africa.

In 1950, feeling a strong inner spiritual calling to do “something else,” he resigned his naval commission. He then travelled to Paris to study as an undergraduate, eventually going on to complete a PhD in philosophy from the Institut Catholique de Paris, with a doctoral thesis on Aristotle. He subsequently taught philosophy at the University of Toronto but left academia in 1964 seeking more spiritual work.

With Mother Teresa

In 1964, through Jean's friendship with Father Thomas Philippe, he became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalized with developmental disabilities. Jean  invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the institutions where they resided and live with him in Trosly-Breuil, France.

With Catherine Doherty

He expanded his efforts and established L'Arche at Trosly-Breuil, a community for people with disabilities to live with those who cared for them. He helped develop such communities in other places around the world. Until the late 1990s, Jean  carried the responsibility for L'Arche in Trosly-Breuil in France, and for the International Federation of L'Arche. He stepped down to spend more time counseling, encouraging and accompanying the people who come to live in L'Arche as assistants to those with disabilities.

With Pope John Paul II
In 1968, Jean gave the first Faith and Sharing retreat, a worldwide movement of the retreats where people from many walks of life are welcome. In 1971, he co-founded Faith and Light with Marie Helene Mathieu. It is an international movement of forums for people with developmental disabilities, their family and friends. Today there are over 1,800 Faith and Light communities in 80 countries around the world.

Jean still makes his home in the original L'Arche community of Trosly-Breuil, France. He travels widely, visiting other L'Arche communities, encouraging projects for new communities, and giving lectures and retreats.

Some years ago I visited the small farm of L'Arche in Tacoma and was most impressed by the giveness of the staff as well as the joy that permeated the residents. The world could take  lessons from the Christ-like love that Jean Vanier has spread around the world.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Catherine with Our Lady of Combermere
We have been so engrossed in the Olympics in Sochi, that I have been a bit remiss about this blog, but here present another amazing woman, who hailed from the country of these Olympics.

Over the years we have had many women from the Madonna foundations come to stay at our Monastery on Shaw. I believe that I once heard the story of how Catherine visited our Abbey in Ct. and interestingly enough the Corpus of Christ, which hangs in our Chapel was done by the same artist who did Our Lady of Combermere. Frances Rich (the artist) of Santa Barbara was the daughter of the actress Irene Rich.

SERVANT of GOD  CATHERINE DOHERTY was a pioneer of social justice and a renowned national speaker. She was also a prolific writer of hundreds of articles, best-selling author of dozens of books, and a dedicated wife and mother. She was a pioneer among North American Catholic laity in implementing the Church’s social doctrine in the face of Communism, economic and racial injustice, secularism and apathy. At the same time she insisted that those engaged in social action be rooted in prayer and that they incarnate their faith into every aspect of ordinary life. Catherine was a bridge between the Christian East and West.

Catherine was born August 15, 1896 Ekaterina Fyodorovna Kolyschkine in Nizhny Novgorod, Russian Empire. Her parents, Fyodor and Emma Thomson Kolyschkine, belonged to the minor nobility and were devout members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Schooled abroad due to her father's job, she had an exposure to the Catholic Church in the form of her schooling in Alexandria (Egypt) where her father, an aristocrat, had been posted by the government. Her family returned to St. Petersburg in 1910, where she was enrolled in the prestigious Princess Obolensky Academy. In 1912, aged 15, she made what turned out to be a disastrous marriage with her first cousin, Baron Boris de Hueck.

At the outbreak of World War I, Baroness de Hueck became a Red Cross nurse at the front, experiencing the horrors of battle firsthand. On her return to St. Petersburg, she and Boris barely escaped the turmoil of the Russian Revolution with their lives, nearly starving to death as refugees in Finland. Together they made their way to England, where Catherine was received into the Roman Catholic Church on November 27, 1919.

Emigrating to Canada with Boris, Catherine gave birth to their only child, George, in Toronto in 1921. To make ends meet, she took various jobs, eventually becoming a lecturer, traveling across North America.

Prosperous now, but deeply dissatisfied with a life of material comfort, her marriage in ruins, Catherine began to feel the promptings of a deeper call through a passage that leaped to her eyes every time she opened the Bible: "Arise - go... sell all you possess... take up your cross and follow Me." Consulting with various priests and the bishop of the diocese, she began her lay apostolate among the poor.

Catherine & Dorothy Day

In 1932, she gave up all her possessions, lived among the multitude of poor people in downtown Toronto and established Friendship House with its soup kitchen. She gave food to them when she had none for herself, and offered Catholic education and fellowship, too. Ironically, she was tagged as a communist sympathizer and, beleaguered by her own organization, Friendship House was forced to close in 1936.

Catherine then went to Europe and spent a year investigating Catholic Action. On her return, she established the Friendship House at 34 West 135th Street in Harlem in 1937. The interracial charity center, in addition to distributing goods to the poor, conducted lectures and discussions to promote racial understanding. In time, more than a dozen Friendship Houses would be founded in North America.

In 1943, having received an annulment of her first marriage, as she had married her cousin, which is forbidden in the Roman Catholic Church, she married Eddie Doherty, one of America's foremost reporters, who had fallen in love with her while writing a story about her apostolate.

Catherine & Eddie

Serious disagreements arose between the staff of Friendship House and its foundress, particularly surrounding her marriage. When these could not be resolved, Catherine and Eddie moved to Combermere, Ontario, on May 17, 1947, naming their new rural apostolate Madonna House. This was to be the seedbed of an apostolate that, in the year 2000, numbered more than 200 staff workers and over 125 associate priests, deacons, and bishops, with 22 missionary field-houses throughout the world.

Catherine died on December 14, 1985, in Combermere at the age of 89.

"I considered Nazareth to be the center of my vocation. Only by being hidden would I be a light to my neighbor’s feet in the slums,” Catherine wrote. She believed that activism should be rooted in prayer and that faith should be brought to every aspect of daily life".

Thursday, February 13, 2014


On Sept. 15, 1959, GEORGES VANIER took office as Governor General of Canada with words few leaders would speak in public today.

“My first words are a prayer. May almighty God in His infinite wisdom and mercy bless the sacred mission which has been entrusted to me by Her Majesty the Queen and help me to fulfill it in all humility. In exchange for His strength, I offer Him my weakness. May He give peace to this beloved land of ours and, to those who live in it, the grace of mutual understanding, respect and love.”

“The more that I know of them, the more I see them as exemplars of the Christian life in brokenness, in imperfection.” (Mary Frances Coady in her biography, Portrait of A Couple) “Each of them learned from the other. In one sense, each of them made up for what was lacking in the other.”

Precisely because they lived the Sacrament of Marriage so completely, there is a cause for their sainthood.

Ten years younger than Georges, PAULINE VANIER was poorly educated but could rely on her stunning looks. She brought with her into marriage a sentimental, emotional piety and all the scruples that could go with it. She was haughty, jealous and loved to be the center of attention. She suffered from her own personal problems, tending to be highly strung and suffering from depression.

But throughout her marriage, raising six children, Pauline Vanier worked at her spiritual life in annual retreats with the Carmelites and spiritual direction from various Jesuits.

Georges had his faults. He was a rigid moralist whose notion of Christianity didn’t extend much beyond a long list of rules. He saw religion as a duty to be accomplished. In his years as a military officer and a diplomat, Georges was easily angered over breaches in protocol, or anything out of order.

“Georges Vanier, without his wife, could have remained a kind of strict moralist,” said Coady. “A nice man, but not with the kind of spiritual depth that developed over the years of his marriage.”

Ideals drove the Vaniers. Before they had met, Georges lost his leg in the First World War fighting to preserve France and its patrimony - something he regarded as a sacred cause. As a young woman, Pauline agonized over whether or not she had a calling to live life as a cloistered nun.

In their marriage, the Vaniers’ ideals complemented one another. During the Second World War Georges found he was a lonely voice in the diplomatic corps speaking up for the Free French and General Charles de Gaulle. As the war progressed the Vaniers found themselves in Algiers keeping up contacts with French Resistance fighters, waiting for the fall of the Vichy collaborators with Nazi Germany.

That most of the French bishops had acquiesced to Vichy rule and even condemned the resistance from the pulpit shocked and pained the Vaniers. But it didn’t shake their faith. They were so rooted in the mystical tradition that that is where their ideals came from.

They passed those ideals on to their children. Therese became a doctor, Bernard  became an artist, Byngsie  became Fr. Benedict at the Benedictine monastery in Oka, Que., and Jean  founded L’Arche ( a blog on this at later date). The Vaniers lived a life of entertaining prime ministers and dining with royalty and when, in the 30s, they lost much of their wealth, they had to continue to keep up appearances within all of these duties. Pauline Vanier stated that the hardship of these years had in fact been the best thing that happened to the children.

By the time Georges and Pauline took up residence in Rideau Hall they had become anxious about the state of Canadian families. They saw teenagers dropping out of high school, families torn apart by drug abuse and alcoholism and an economy that demanded men go where the jobs are without regard to their family commitments.

In 1964 they called sociologists, economists, writers and doctors to Rideau Hall for a conference on the family. By 1965 they had founded the Vanier Institute as a kind of permanent Royal Commission on the family. They  wanted to emphasize  less structure and more commitment people make to each other.

In France 1988

Georges died in 1967 and Pauline lived on another 24 years, 19 of them in the L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France. “I see her as a very heroic person in those last 19 years, moving into old age with all the aches and pains, plus the psychological stuff going on with her,” said Coady. “But still she’s determined to tie her shoes and so on.”

Sainthood, with its canonical requirements for miracles and documentation, is a long and uncertain process. But for all married couples,  this couple is an inspiration to the married life.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


The Vatican also announced on July 13, 2008, the 150th wedding anniversary of LOUIS and MARIE ZELIE MARTIN, that they would be declared Blessed on Mission Sunday, October 19, 2008. Louis Martin (1823-1894) and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin (1831-1877) are the parents of  ST. THERESE of LISEIUX.

Louis Martin was a watchmaker who wanted to become a monk, but was refused because he knew no Latin. Marie Zelie, a lacemaker, tried to be a nun, but was rejected as not having a vocation. Marie prayed that she might marry and have children who would be consecrated to God. Louis and Marie met in 1858 and were married three months later. Of their nine children, only five daughters, Marie, Pauline, Leonie, Celine, and Therese survived.

Louis' business as a watchmaker thrived. He was generous to the poor and never hesitated to give practical help when he saw the need. He was devoted to Marie and their children, teaching them the faith and always ending the evening with family prayer.

With St. Therese

Marie was very successful in her business, so much so that Louis sold his watchmaking business to spend full time representing her. As a mother, Marie saw her task as teaching her children to see heaven as their true home. In 1876 Marie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Realizing that she would die soon, and in constant pain, she continued to do her best for her family. To the last she lived trusting in God, dying in 1877.

 Alongside this strong, tender, but undeniably domineering woman Louis Martin seems to have been made of much softer stuff. He was a dreamer and brooder, an idealist and romantic. He loved nature with a deep sentimental enthusiasm. From him Thérèse inherited her passion for flowers and meadows, for her native landscape, for clouds, thunderstorms, the sea, and the stars.

There was also a love of travel. Bl. Louis made pilgrimages to Chartres and Lourdes, went to Germany and Austria, traveled twice to Rome and even to Constantinople.  Along with this desire for adventure was an impulse towards withdrawal. In Lisieux he arranged a little den for himself high up in the attic, a true monastic cell for praying, reading and meditation. Even his daughters were allowed to enter it only if they wished spiritual converse and self-examination. As in a monastery, he divided the day into worship, garden work and relaxation.

In 1889 Louis suffered two paralyzing strokes followed by cerebral arteriosclerosis, and was hospitalized for three years at the Bon Sauveur asylum in Caen. In 1892 he returned to Lisieux, where his daughters Céline and Léonie looked after him devotedly until his death on July 29, 1894 at the chateau La Musse near Évreux.

The Quattrocchis (previous blog) and the Martins are examples of married couples who in their life and faith are models of the domestic church. Those who knew them personally experienced in their love the great mystery of the relationship of Christ and the Church.

The Martin Family

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


 In this new year I will again try to work in some themes for our saints. For the monastery's saints for the New Year, I threw in some Jesuits of the 20th century (in honor of our new Jesuit Pope). I will present some of these amazing men later, but would like to start the year with some married couples being presented to the Church for their sanctity and as models for our modern age exemplifying holiness in the family..

Christianity has a long tradition of calling the family the domestic church. It is in the family where children first learn to worship God, to love and forgive, and to work together. Cooperating with the Holy Spirit, the family forms a community of grace and prayer.

Our first couple  is Blessed Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and his wife Blessed Maria Corsini.

Luigi was born in 1880 in Catania and grew up in Urbino. Luigi's uncle, Luigi Quattrocchi, who was childless, asked Luigi Beltrame's parents if he and his wife could raise the young Luigi in their home. Though Luigi kept his ties with his parents and siblings, he lived with his aunt and uncle, from whom he acquired his second surname. After his basic preparatory education, he obtained a degree in Law which enabled him to enter the legal service of the Inland Revenue Department. He went on to hold a number of posts on the boards of a variety of banks and national reconstruction authorities like IRI and the Bank of Italy, retiring as an honorary deputy attorney general of the Italian State. He was a friend of many political figures, such as Fr Luigi Sturzo, Alcide de Gasperi and Luigi Gedda, who worked for Italy's rebirth after the Fascist period and World War II.

His meeting with Maria Corsini in her family home in Florence was to shape his future. They were married on 25 November 1905 in the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome.

Before marriage, Luigi, though he was exceptionally virtuous, honest and unselfish, did not have a strong faith. Maria, who took her maternal and household duties seriously,  found time to pray and write, besides keeping up her demanding apostolic activities. She was a volunteer nurse for the Red Cross during the war in Ethiopia and the Second World War, catechist, and together with Luigi and her children, started a scout group for youth from the poor parts of Rome. They were also involved in several forms of marriage and family apostolate.

The couple had four children. One year after their wedding, Luigi and Maria had their first son, Filippo. Then, Stefania and Cesare were born. Filippo (today Don. Tarcisio) is a diocesan priest. Cesare (Fr Paolino) left home in 1924 to become a Trappist monk. Stephania, in 1927, entered the Benedictine cloister in Milan and took the name Cecilia.

At the end of 1913, Maria was again expecting a child, her last, Enrichetta. Because of her difficult pregnancy, the best gynecologists advised her to have an abortion in order to "try to save at least the mother". The possibility of survival then with that diagnosis, was barely five per cent. Luigi and Maria refused to do it, putting their trust in the Lord's Providence. Maria's pregnancy was one of suffering and anguish. God responded beyond all human hope and thus Enrichetta was born with both she and her mother safe. This experience of faith clearly shows how the relationship between husband and wife grew, certainly helped by attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion. Enrichetta, dedicated herself first to caring for her parents, then for her brother, a diocesan priest of Rome; she is now in her 80s

Family life was never dull. There was always time for sports, holidays by the sea and in the mountains. Their house was always open to their many friends and those who knocked at their door asking for food. During the Second World War their apartment in Via Depretis, near St Mary Major, was a shelter for refugees. Every evening they prayed the Rosary together and the family was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They also kept the family holy hour on the eve of the first Friday of the month, and participated in the night vigil prayer, weekend retreats organized by the Benedictine Monastery of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls, as well as graduate religious courses at the Pontifical Gregorian University, etc.

The Beltrame children recall that their parents led a simple life, like that of many married couples, but always characterized by a sense of the Divine. Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said that they "made a true domestic church of their family, which was open to life, to prayer, to the social apostolate, to solidarity with the poor, and to friendship".

In the midst of all of her busy daily activities, the flourishing of the first three children's vocations took place, whose developments were followed with love and firmness for a greater generosity and faithfulness to the call of God. In addition, Maria was willing to offer her fourth child, Enrichetta, to the Lord, if this were asked of her. Then Maria together with her husband, Luigi, undertook a program for their total response to any call from God, which in the end was the "difficult vow of the most perfect", offered to the Lord in humble obedience to their spiritual father. As is well-known, this vow means the renouncing of marital relations, which the two decided together after 20 years of marriage, when Luigi was 46 years old and Maria 41.

Luigi died in 1951 at the age of 71. Maria, who dedicated herself to her family and to several charitable and social Catholic movements, died in 1965 at the age of 81. They were a couple who knew how to love and respect each other in the ups and downs of married and family life. They found in the love of God the strength to begin again. They never lost heart despite the trials of family life, the tragedies of the war with two sons as chaplains in the army, the German occupation of Rome, and they lived to see the reconstruction of Italy after the war as they moved forward with the grace of God on the way of heroic sanctity in ordinary life.

The cause for Beatification for Maria and Luigi was opened on 25 November 1994 and, on 21 October 2001, the Holy Father John Paul II raised the married couple to the honor of the altars. On 28 October 2001, the relics of Luigi and Maria were transferred to their crypt in the Shrine of Divino Amore (Divine Love) at Rome. In our age when almost half of the marriages end in divorce, this couple could give young people hope and encouragement and the necessity of faith in God.