Before we take down the Christmas tree, I'd like to share this... one chapter from my as-yet unpublished book... Christmas with Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), author, founder of a lay apostolate for the poor Born in Russia in 1896 to parents of deep Christian faith, she was educated in Russian Orthodoxy but at the age of twenty became a Roman Catholic. She married a wealthy Russian aristocrat, Baron Boris de Hueck, who served in the Russian engineering corps during the First World War. Baroness de Hueck volunteered as a nurse to the Czar’s troops on the German front and was decorated for bravery under fire. After the war, the de Huecks escaped Communist Russia and fled to England, then Canada. Having to leave Russia penniless, with her husband in frail health and also by then a young son to care for, Catherine worked odd jobs as a laundress, maid, sales clerk, and waitress. After her husband became abusive and adulterous, she had her marriage annulled. With a self-imposed vow of poverty, Catherine then gave away her remaining possessions to the poor and took her son to Toronto where she then worked in the slums of the city and founded Friendship House. During the 1930s and 1940s, she established similar shelters for the poor in New York’s Harlem section, in Chicago, and other cities. Active in social justice work for the poor and minorities, while speaking in Harlem in 1940 Catherine was interviewed by Edward J. Doherty, a famous Chicago newspaper reporter. They were married three years later in Chicago by then-Bishop Bernard Sheil. The Dohertys moved to Combermere, Ontario, near Toronto, in 1947 and lived in a small house they named Madonna House, in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Catherine continued her work for the poor and wrote many books including Poustinia, which has become a classic of modern spiritual writing. The Doherty home has since become a rural mission called the Madonna House Apostolate, a community serving the poor. Lay men and women as well as priests who have embraced Catherine de Hueck Doherty’s principles of serving the poor have opened similar shelter and prayer houses in North and South America, Europe, Russia, Africa, and the West Indies. Since her death in 1985, she is being considered for canonization. In Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas, a collection of Mrs. Doherty’s writings of the seasons prepared by Mary Bazzett, we learn what Christmas meant to the founder of Friendship House and Madonna House. The following two excerpts are generously offered by Linda Lambeth and the staff of Madonna House Publications. The first, about the very special night at Madonna House, is titled “Christmas Eve”: The joyous celebration of the birth of Christ begins with the traditional Mass at midnight. The path to the Madonna House chapel is lined with luminaria, little candles placed in paper or glass containers. Their lights flicker in welcome, reminding us that Christ is the Light of the World, come to earth to light up the darkness. Just before the liturgy begins, the family observes a Mexican custom called the Posadas. In Mexico, people carry lanterns in procession at night and re-enact the journey to Bethlehem. A couple representing Joseph and Mary knock on the door three times, begging admittance, while those inside respond. After each of the first two knocks, those inside gruffly tell the Holy Family there is no room for them. But after the third knock, their hearts change and they welcome the Holy Family. Then all sing: “Enter into our home, holy pilgrims. Come to us with your peace and your love. Bear thy holy Child in our midst, Blessed Mother, for He comes down from heaven above!” The Mass follows, with many traditional Christmas carols. A Joyous three-fold strain, especially for Christmas, is sung at the completion of the Eucharistic Prayer: Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Christ has come from heaven! Receive Him! Christ is now on earth! Oh, be jubilant!... After Mass, a light meal is served. There is much singing and gaiety, conversation and games that continue into the wee hours. Carols from various countries are sung in different languages. A Shepherd’s Mass, the second Mass of Christmas, is celebrated in the early hours of the morning. A large, festive holiday dinner is served Christmas evening. The Twelve Days of Christmas stretch from Christmas Day to January 6th, which is traditionally the celebration of Epiphany. Throughout the dozen days, Christmas songs are sung and Christmas foods are eaten. It is also a time to visit friends and family, and to exchange gifts with them. The second excerpt from Catherine de Hueck Doherty’s writings, called Christmas in Harlem, is her account of one Christmas Eve while working in New York City’s Harlem section. “It will remain one of the mysteries and graces of my life,” she wrote, “and a deeply spiritual one at that.” It was a sort of upside-down affair that came floating through my memory when I began to write this story. The memory was of a Christmas night. It seemed upside-down because no one came through the Blue Door that night in Harlem. I had just closed it behind the last of our bunch. We had much to finish up before Midnight Mass. That’s when I met the strange trio that I most assuredly did meet that night. They did not go through the Blue Door but, somehow -- and don’t ask me how -- the Blue Door was certainly involved. It was a perfectly natural meeting too, nothing miraculous about it or about anything that followed. And it was a nice meeting, one that made Christmas Mass a little more joyous and the meditations that followed a little more profound. Just as I was leaving, and had turned from locking the Blue Door (which had given me some trouble that night, I confess -- the key stuck, or something) I was confronted by a very handsome Negro man of middle age and a small, younger woman. Evidently she was his wife, and she was holding a baby in her arms. I could not see the baby’s face. It was all bundled up against the raw New York wind that was blowing into a gale. Very politely, the man lifted his hat and, in the soft accents of the deep South, he told me that he and his wife were lost in this big city. They had just gotten off the train. He was a carpenter, hoping to get a better job than the one he had in the little village they came from. But, with one thing and another, they had been delayed en route. They didn’t have any money -- that is, not quite enough for a night’s lodging. Perhaps I could tell them where to go, what to do, and to whom they might apply for help. Having said his piece, he stood relaxed, waiting politely and silently for my answer. His wife, who had never said a word, just smiled once or twice at me. She stood as confident and as still as he, sure that I was just the person to help them. Before my mind’s eye came a vision of the telephone. I almost turned back and opened the Blue Door to try and contact some social agency that would attend to their wants. Then I looked at my wristwatch. It was almost eleven o’clock, and on Christmas Eve! Whom could I find at this time? And where? And if I did, this poor family would have to brave subways. I could, of course, send them by taxi. I did have a few extra dollars in my purse -- wonder of wonders. But the “family shelters” of New York would separate families sometimes, because of lack of room. Lack of room! Christmas Eve! Man, woman, child! It all suddenly hit me right between the eyes. Of course, I knew it was just a “coincidence.” Nice, in a way. But so many people came to Friendship House just for this kind of help and information. No, this was not the time to send such a family anywhere. This was the time to offer them personal hospitality, if for no other reason than to atone for the hospitality that was not given almost two thousand years ago. Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? There was what the staff workers of Friendship House called the “Hermitage,” that is, my room. It was so many things in one. It had a desk, a bed, a gas stove complete with oven, and a refrigerator, of sorts, given by the management; it even worked sometimes. The room also contained a sink and laundry -- a full-grown laundry tub. Yet, all in all, it was a cozy place, especially at night. I had been given a tinseled Christmas tree about six inches high. It was a far cry from my lofty, native Russian firs, so stately in their majestic beauty. The little tree, nevertheless, was nice, very nice. I had placed under it a miniature crib. When I came back from Mass, I had intended to place the Infant there. Yes, the room was spick and span, and very, very cozy. Why not invite the couple to spend the night there? Tomorrow I could contact the needed agencies. No sooner thought than done. My strange couple was still silent, courteously waiting for an answer that surely must have seemed to them a long time in coming. But they showed no sign of impatience. Slowly, and for some inexplicable reason rather diffidently, I invited them into the hermitage, apologizing for its humbleness and its being many things in one. Their smiles broadened. The woman straightened herself and somehow looked taller as she pressed the child closer to her. The man voiced his thanks and proceeded to follow me. Thus we walked the three rather long blocks that separated the Blue Door from my quarters. No one said a word. Yet, the silence was companionable. Once in the room, I made them as comfortable as I could. The baby, finally out of its wrappings, was lovely. I had not heard it cry. The man said it was a boy, their firstborn. I made them coffee, fried some eggs, set the table, and told them I would peek in after Mass. It was one of the most beautiful Masses I ever participated in. The thought of my three pilgrims snug in their cozy room probably made it so. Personal hospitality to strangers, to Christ, warms whoever who gives it so much that it is a blessing in itself. The Mass over, I rushed back to my room. To my astonishment I found the front door ajar! This is never done in Harlem, where one uses several locks just in case. (It is the same wherever there are tension, segregation, and poverty.) I pushed the door open. The room was empty. The dishes had been washed and stacked away, each where it belonged. No signs of occupancy were left whatsoever. The Infant that I had meant to put into its tiny crib under my tinseled tree was already there, and a candle was lit in my window!