Madonna House

The Madonna House foundress, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on August 15, 1896. Her parents belonged to the minor nobility and were devout members of the Orthodox Church.

Schooled abroad because of her father’s work, she and her family returned to st. Petersburg in 1910, where she was enrolled in the prestigious Princess Obolensky Academy. In 1912, aged 15, she married Boris de Hueck.

At the outbreak of World War I, Catherine 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 with their lives from the turmoil of the Russian Revolution, having been nearly starved to death as refugees in Finland. Together they made their way to England where Catherine was received into the Catholic Church in 1919.

Emigrating to Canada with Boris, Catherine gave birth to their only child, George, in Toronto in 1921. To make ends meet, Catherine took various menial jobs and eventually became a lecturer, traveling a circuit that took her across North America.

Prosperous now, but profoundly dissatisfied with a life of material comfort, she began to feel the prompting of a deeper call through a passage that leaped to her eyes every time she opened the Scriptures; “Arise, go….sell all you possess…take up your cross and follow me.” Eventually, she did exactly that, giving away her possessions to the poor, keeping only enough to provide for her son.

Consulting with various priests and the bishop of the diocese, she began a mission among the poor in Toronto in the early 1930’s, calling it ”Friendship House.” Houses opened in Chicago, Harlem, Wisconsin, Toronto, Ottawa and other cities.

In 1943, she married Eddie Doherty, one of America’s foremost journalists, who had fallen in love with her while writing a story about her work.

On May 17, 1947, Catherine and Eddie moved to Combermere, beginning a new rural apostolate they called “Madonna House.”

Although life there was rigorous and hardly comfortable, people came to the rustic setting to join in it, much to Catherine’s surprise. She welcomed them warmly and together they prayed, ate meals, sang and worked. They peeled potatoes, chopped wood, cleaned and sorted donated items, all the while learning from Catherine how God can permeate even the smallest task when it is done out of love for Him.

Slowly, the tiny apostolate grew and, at he request of various bishops, Catherine opened field houses in their dioceses. Thus the humble, hidden life, based on the Holy Family of Nazareth spread. Today Catherine’s vision of living the Gospel flows out to those who visit Madonna House or its field houses, and to those who read her many books.

Constituted as a “Public Association of the Faithful” under the authority of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Pembroke, Ontario, Madonna House now numbers more than 200 staff workers and over 130 associate priests, deacons and bishops, with more than 20 field houses throughout the world.

Centre and Marion House Centre, which is engaged in the work of feeding transients –

Stella Maris House in Portland, Oregon, works with interracial groups. Casa de Nuestra, Senora, in Winslow, Arizona and Maria Reina in Balmorea, Texas do Catechetical work.

Catherine Doherty died in Combermere on December 14, 1985 at the age of 89. Since then, the cause for her canonization has been opened, and she many now officially be called “Servant of God”

Gift Shop & Book Store

In 1961, Catherine had a dream; a gift shop – the proceeds of which would go directly to the poor. As a special apostolate, it would be staffed by Madonna House members chosen for this work, and it would be stocked entirely by donations. “Our lady will be the buyer”, Catherine insisted.

The dream became reality: antiques, gifts, clothing articles, handicrafts (some of which are made at Madonna House) and used books have become ways of touching hearts and souls.

Thousands of people, patronage, and prayers – have helped support projects in the Third World and made this apostolate possible!. The gift shop is generally open Tuesday to Saturday in the summertime. Winter hours vary (Closed Sunday and Monday).

Pioneer Museum & Wool Shop

Just a few steps away the gift shop is a small Pioneer Museum. Opened in 1967, it houses an extensive Canadian Collection, representative of life in this country’s early days. The displays of hand-made tools, cobbler and farm implements, kitchenware and the hundreds of authentic artifacts from pioneer homes speak with pride of or generous benefactor interesting in preserving the history of the valley. It is open the same hours as the gift shop.

Program for Guests

Men and women in good health, usually 20-35 in age, come to stay at Madonn House for varying lengths of time. They come to share in the life of a Christian family that practices the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience, and they learn to incarnate the Gospel in simple everyday activities and to listen, under spiritual direction, to the voice of the Lord in their own life.

Each person is asked to participate fully in the daily schedule of work, prayer and recreation, and to serve the poor in one another in accordance with the duty of each moment. For some, poverty is the outhouses, for others, it is dormitory living, or no privacy, or little free time.

Lectures & Study

Madonna House offers year-round training in the basics of Catholic faith. Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic church, the fundamentals of the spiritual life, topics related to the Gospel of Life and the development of Christian culture. Guest lecturers are a frequent feature throughout the year. Seminars are offered. The practical skills of living in a faith-filled way in to-day’s world are passed on daily by staff in various departments of Madonna House.