Catholic Canada: Madonna House, Combermere, Ontario

Editor’s note: Today, we welcome another guest post from my good friend and fellow “saint fan” Colleen Swaim. Thanks to Colleen, Madonna House is now on my travel wish list! Lisa

img_0880On one morning in July when a little bit of work was being done to the cottage, we decided to head on a day trip to Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario. In an idyllic location not far from Barrie’s Bay and Algonquin Provincial Park, Madonna House, founded by Catherine Doherty, is a Public Association of the Christian Faithful. Home to a diverse group of lay people living Doherty’s vision for Christian living, as explicated by the Gospels, the members of Madonna House are faithful to the Church and engaged in the spirit of ora et labor in rural Ontario.

During previous years, we’ve visited in Barrie’s Bay, including Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy and the local Catholic church, as well as having the opportunity to tour the grounds of Madonna House with a staff member and visit the Our Lady of Combermere statue. I had also picked up a copy of a biography on Catherine Doherty at the Pilgrim Reader Bookstore.

This visit, we only had the late morning to mid-afternoon to work with, but that was enough time to take a drive through the hills and re-explore the Madonna House shops (the gift shops) and Pioneer Museum. It’s worth mentioning that this area of Madonna House is home to the Cleanest. Outhouse. Ever. Perfect for the squeamish or the outhouse novice. Though I suspect that all the outhouses on the Madonna House premises are this nice. That’s part of what I find so attractive about this Christian community – the anarchy that is such a fixure in so many others, such as various Catholic Worker outposts, isn’t so apparent. If you read the letters of Dorothy Day and Catherine Doherty to each other, this sort of variance is central to their mutual admiration and occasional differences of opinion. At Madonna House, there are also brooms everywhere! Living in an old house myself, I know how difficult it is to keep it truly clean, so the community there really is a marvel to me, and many of their practical Old World European precepts can be incorporated in a family out in the world’s own Rule of Life.


Afterwards, we ate locally at the Bent Anchor Bar & Restaurant and stopped by the  awesome Pilgrim Reader Books village bookstore. Unfortunately, we’ve never visited on the days when the Madonna House bookstore and thrift shop have been open, but during the summer it seems to be Thursday and Saturday. This time, among other things from the Madonna House giftshop, I was able to pick up a light-filled print of Catherine Doherty by Madonna House artist Patrick Stewart – it’s the one entitledWelcome, Father.

Visit Colleen’s blog for amazing photos from this amazing excursion.

colleen swaim

Colleen Swaim and her precious travel companion

Colleen resides in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is married to Matt Swaim, who hosts the Son Rise Morning Show, a production of Sacred Heart Radio which is syndicated on the EWTN Radio network, and they have a scarily verbal toddler son. Colleen teaches high school English at Covington Latin School in the Diocese of Covington and enjoys writing in her spare moments. Her books include Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints (Liguori 2011), Radiate: More Stories of Daring Teen Saints (Liguori 2012), andYour College Faith (Liguori 2013). She blogs over at

About Lisa M. Hendey

As a Catholic who loves her faith and a frequent adventurer who’s always up for a new journey, Lisa is a wife and mom, a writer, a speaker and an impassioned traveler. Visit her at to keep up with her comings and goings.