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".

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