Our Hearts are Restless...
In 1985 a woman named Catherine de Hueck Doherty died. She was born in Russia to very deeply religious Russian Christian parents, who taught her a strong sense of responsibility toward the poor and less fortunate people of the world.
In 1922 Pope Pius XI issued a call to “Catholic Action,” in which he called all Catholic lay people to participate in a renewed effort to carry and apply the Gospel message to all aspects of human life. Filled with a burning love of God, Catherine was questioning in the 1920s how best she could serve Him. The Pope’s request touched her and she became one of the pioneers in responding to his call.
In 1934 Catherine was living in Canada and she established in Toronto a place called Friendship House, where she and a number of lay people worked to provide clothing, food and shelter to the homeless and unemployed people of the area. They provided a library, reading room and social activities for people who had no access to these things, and they worked to help immigrants and those looking for jobs.
In 1938 Catherine extended her apostolate to New York City in the Harlem district, with a special emphasis on working for racial justice. Later she established Friendship Houses in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and other U.S. cities.
Catherine also influenced a whole generation of priests, religious Sisters and lay people through numerous talks and lectures she gave throughout North America, and she wrote many articles, letters and books which reached the hearts of countless people on the continent.
In 1947 Catherine and her husband, Eddie Doherty, moved to Combermere, Ontario, Canada, and with other lay people they they started a new ministry called Madonna House. But in the 1950s priests began to come to Madonna House and they became members of the Madonna House community. Today there are around 200 members—lay men and women, and priests—who are lifetime members of Madonna House.
Within a few years many guests and visitors began coming to Madonna House from all over the world to work with the members of the apostolate and with Catherine, usually for a short time and then to return to their homes and bring their Madonna House experiences back to their own neighborhoods and areas.
The original purpose of Madonna House was an apostolate to the people of the rural area around Combermere. This original ministry is now a separate part of the expanded Madonna House ministry, and Madonna House itself has become a training center for lay apostles and priests who share the Madonna House vision.
Over the years many thousands of “working guests”—lay people and clergy, Catholic and non-Catholic—have come to Madonna House, been inspired and renewed in spirit, and taken their experiences home to the marketplaces and environments in which they live.
Today the Church has taken the first step that could lead to the canonization of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, bestowing on her the title, Servant of God. Her work is a great example of the kind of world God intended and will bring about when Jesus comes again and there will be a “new heaven and a new earth.” Her life is an example of what God can accomplish in those who love Him. But it is not always establishing something as remarkable as places like Friendship House or Madonna House that God desires from us. He asks that each one of us, in our homes and all the areas where we work and live, offer a spirit of hospitality and service to those who enter our lives.
Advent is a very appropriate time to reflect on how well we’re doing in helping God build that kind of society.