Come to 1940s Harlem, the tenements of Chicago, the immigrant neighborhoods of Toronto, where Catherine Doherty and her stalwart followers strove to clothe the Gospel with love and service to the poor. Share their lives, meet their friends, witness the miracles that kept them going when it seemed impossible to continue. And although the stories come from the past, the Gospel principles behind them are still alive today, inspiring a new generation of followers of Christ to lay down their life for him and his people.
The foundation for Madonna House
The Madonna House of today stands on the foundation of Friendship House, Catherine Doherty’s pioneering work among the poor and dispossessed begun in the 1930s in Toronto. Friendship House expanded to the US, into Harlem in New York City, and Chicago, pioneering a Catholic interracial apostolate carried out by the laity who lived among those they served. As an early reviewer of this book wrote, “Friendship House is the graphic and stimulating account of what one laywoman filled with a deep love of God and man, not only thought about doing but actually did.”
In these many stories, Catherine recounts what she and her Friendship House staff encountered every day in those who came to them for material and physical help. Formed by her experience of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, she worked against communist inroads among the poor in North America. But even more deeply, she and her staff welcomed all who came to them as fellow members of Christ’s Mystical Body—as Christ himself to be served—and this above all motivated them.
Many episodes come from the days in Harlem, but Catherine also tells stories from her own past in Russia, and as an immigrant facing poverty in the New World. Although this book is a product of its time in Catherine’s life and in the life of the Church, it yields treasure for those who read it with an open mind and heart. Or as another reviewer wrote, “For a literary treat and a tonic against tepidity read Friendship House.”
Catherine de Hueck Doherty
In 1925 Pope Pius XI issued the first call to Catholic Action, calling on the laity to participate in the apostolate. Some five years later in 1930, in Toronto, Ontario, Catherine de Hueck was one of the pioneers to respond to that call. Her personal desire was for a lone apostolate, but circumstances prevailed that turned her endeavors into a group of lay people who worked for the Church in the movement known as Friendship House.
She became an icon for an intelligent and mature Catholic laity at a time when need for their active participation in the life of the Church had not yet been recognized. The movement evolved and grew, and in 1938 crossed the border to the United States and entered the field of the interracial apostolate in Harlem and elsewhere. Catherine became a forerunner of the Civil Rights movement through her extensive efforts and lectures for justice to Blacks. In 1947, subsequent to her marriage with Eddie Doherty, a well-known journalist, Catherine returned to Canada and established Madonna House Apostolate in Combermere, Ontario.
During all these years her voice and her pen spoke out. In lectures and talks up and down the North American continent, and in a ceaselessly flowing river of articles, letters and books, she penetrated the lives of Christians with the unwavering message of the necessity of living the gospel. A generation of priests, sisters and lay people in the 40s and 50s was nourished and sustained by her ideas in books and articles.
Her Russian origin and training, the trauma of the Russian revolution, the sudden change from riches to destitution, the living experience of being a menial worker—all brought home to Catherine, in a deep and profound fashion, the value and the truth of the gospel message. She viewed the gospel—Christ and his words—as Good News, and insisted and reaffirmed that the core of the Good News is God’s love for us. Catherine has been called a spiritual mother for the 20th century.
About the author Catherine Doherty
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