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Our Lady of Combermere, in cahoots with God

Mary Rose Bacani Valenti

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Join us on December 11 at 8:30 pm ET on Salt + Light TV for the premiere of Madonna House: A Song of Love
In mid-November, my husband Richard and I and our four girls went to visit Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario. Any chance we get to visit Madonna House as a family, we take it! Madonna House is special to us. 
This was not our usual pilgrimage, however. We had camera equipment in the trunk and I had a notepad of interview questions in my purse. Our primary purpose for this visit was to film three interviews and capture some footage. Madonna House was celebrating their 75th anniversary from May of 2022 to May of 2023, and we were planning to produce a 5-minute story on it for Salt + Light Media’s behold series. 
“This should be easy enough,” I thought. “The girls can play outdoors or spend time with some of the Madonna House members while we do our interviews. We can even enjoy some time with the community afterwards. I’ll watch and pick my interview clips on the ride home, and the project will be done.”  
At around 9:30 am on November 14th, I found myself sitting for the interviews in Our Lady of the Woods Chapel, with my whole family present. Richard was doing the filming (and later, the editing), while I was doing the interviewing. It was quite comical, actually, because Richard has had pain in his foot for a while and was limping, but had to carry the camera. My three-year-old was asking for me (and thank God she got distracted by post-its in one corner of the chapel), while my six-year-old was tired and crying. And so I was partly distracted by the crying six-year-old on my lap while doing the interviews.
But we were all having FUN!  I prodded and prodded Fr. David Linder, whom I met this summer, to tell me more about the parts of Madonna House that I loved and admired: poustinia, which I saw as the desert within; about what it means to be completely united as a community despite everyone’s differences; and what it means to sanctify the ordinary. I was very happy to see Augustine Tardiff again; he was part of our week-long Cana Colony Family camp this year, which is run by Madonna House, and we promised we’d visit their nearby farm where he is stationed. I was joking around with Veronica Ferri, who happens to be a college friend; we comfortably talked about her story and her life as part of the Madonna House community.
We arrived home that day feeling rather FULL from our experience at Madonna House. And then a week later, this is the kind of conversation that Richard and I had:
Richard: “You know, I think we can make a documentary out of this.”
Mary Rose: “What do you mean?  We only filmed for a few hours, you could hardly walk around with your foot issue, I had crying children in my arms, and you think we have a documentary?”
Richard: “I’m telling you, we have enough.”
Mary Rose: “You can’t suddenly have a documentary without even trying to have a documentary. And how will this be any good? PLUS, that means extra work, Richard, and I don’t have the time. When I left Salt + Light Media to raise our family and homeschool, I knew I wouldn’t have time or energy for making documentaries.”
Richard: “It’ll be easy. It’s all there. Just sit down and cut it with me.”
At this point, I have to confess that I felt like I was duped into doing a documentary. 
But then, it became my first practically painless producing experience:
  1. I only had three interviews to cut, and they were good ones. The interviewees were comfortable with us because we had some history with them, and maybe because we had cute little children hanging onto us.
  2. Cathy Mitchell from Madonna House Publications was so warm and welcoming. She gave us access to historical photos and footage, and helped us organize our filming day.
  3. Yes, we only filmed for a few hours, but we also had footage from the 75th anniversary celebrations earlier in the fall that Richard took with his phone, and we had pictures from our past Cana experiences. I had also been soaking in some of Catherine Doherty’s books for the past few years, so her thoughts weren’t new to me.
Mary Rose interviews Fr. David Linder with her daughter helping out.
In a way, we’ve spent a few years on pre-production for this documentary, without realizing it!
After much reflection, I had to laugh. Our Lady of Combermere is the real producer of this documentary. She just brought me along because she needed someone to work it out for her. She didn’t tell me what she had planned because I might not have gone for it.
But the way it all happened is a reflection of the way God works. We give Him our littleness and brokenness, and He makes something beautiful. He wanted our little family to do the work of sharing the heart of His Madonna House family through Salt + Light Media.
Madonna House is so beautiful because you see how God transforms everyone’s brokenness for His greater glory. And although our world looks down on the ordinary, it is through the ordinary acts of love that we co-redeem the world with Christ. Madonna House members pray, live in community, sacrifice, fast, and lead ordinary lives with great love. There may be only 200 members worldwide, but who can possibly count how many people have been transformed because they’ve been touched by Madonna House? We heard their unique song, and we were called to share it with you in this half-hour documentary entitled Madonna House: A Song of Love.
So there you go, the humorous story of how I worked on a documentary without knowing it!
I was so tempted to put in the credits:
Producer and Writer
Our Lady of Combermere
Madonna House: A Song of Love airs on Salt + Light TV at 8:30 pm ET on Sunday, December 11. It will be available online worldwide on our streaming service, Salt + Light Plus, beginning Monday, December 12.
You can watch the trailer here:

Mary Rose Bacani Valenti is a homeschooling mother of four girls. She worked full-time as a producer and host for Salt + Light Media from its foundation year in 2003 up to 2011, after giving birth to her first child. She had agonized over and spent a long time on documentaries like Journey of Light (2005), Beloved: The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia (2009), and God’s Doorkeeper: St. André of Montreal (2010). Under the direction of Our Lady of Combermere, she was very happy (although at first reluctant) to have had a carefree production experience on the half-hour documentary Madonna House: A Song of Love (2022). Currently, Mary Rose freelances as a host for Salt + Light Media’s Historia Vitae.

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