Large Media Presence as Catholic Community Returns Foundress’ Order of Canada

 By Tim Waggoner

OTTAWA, ON, July 8, 2008 ( - The leaders of Madonna House, a Catholic community in Combermere, ON, traveled to Rideau Hall this morning to return foundress Catherine Doherty’s Order of Canada.  A senior official of the Chancellery of Honour, Yves Bastien, who had no comment for the press, came out to take back the medal from the solemn community members amid a "swarm" of over 30 television, radio and print media personnel.

Just after the directors returned the medal, they told LifeSiteNews that they felt "very happy" with the way the event panned out, saying that they gave back Catherine’s award not as a demonstration, but because it was the right thing to do.

They also said it was not an easy task to return the medal that Catherine was so proud of, and described the emotions their decision evoked.

"Catherine received the Order of Canada for a lifetime of devoted services to the underprivileged of many nationalities, both in Canada and abroad," explained Director of Women, Suzanne Stubbs. 

Stubbs related that Catherine was a refugee from Russia, who worked tirelessly in North America to help the poor.  She was twice asked to leave Canadian cities after people failed to understand the work she was doing. This, said Stubbs, is why she was so proud to receive an award that recognized her commitment to the people of Canada.

"For her it was her greatest decoration.  It meant ‘Canada accepted me,’" said Stubbs.

"On a human level there is sadness, it is a detachment to let the actual medal and citation go.  It meant a lot to Catherine and all of us.  However, that is quickly overcome by the fact that in the light of the kingdom of God, we don’t want the medal because it has been dishonoured by being given to someone who has not built up Canada.  Dr. Morgentaler’s actions are insupportable in our view," she continued.

Director of Men, Mark Schlingerman, elaborated on why they felt it was part of God’s will to return the honour, addressing the motto of the Order of Canada, which is taken from the Book of Hebrews in the Bible and reads: "They desire a better homeland." Schlingerman says this verse finds its full meaning in the words that complete the phrase: "…their heavenly homeland.  That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, since he founded the city for them."

"If that motto is supposed to mean something, you must question whether the present recipient, Dr. Morgentaler, fits in with what it stands for.  We don’t think he does," said the director.

The resolution to return the decoration was complicated due to the fact that Catherine passed away in 1985.  But the directors said they felt reassured because they all had separately deliberated the decision before they addressed it as a group.  Furthermore, they described how on April 12, 1976, five days after Catherine received the award, she told the staff of Madonna House, "As far as the medal is concerned, you are all in it, for there would be no Madonna House without you."

"This is why it meant so much to all of us," said Stubbs. "Yet we have consulted all our members throughout the world and have asked anyone who objects to the decision to let us know. Not one has. In fact we have received a tremendous amount of affirmations, support and gratitude."

Director of Priests, Father David May, also confirmed that they felt they were acting on Catherine’s behalf: "We are under the conviction that Catherine would do this if she were alive.  We are doing this with the idea of being true to her spirit which we are trying to implement through our vocation to Madonna House."

The directors also mentioned that Archbishop Terrance Prendergast of Ottawa and Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton had thanked the directors for their courage to return the award and said Catherine would have done the same. Pembroke Bishop Michael Muhall also advocated his support for the action.

Father May concluded by issuing words of encouragement to all Canadians fighting for the culture of life: "We have to trust that the Gospel is stronger.  The Word of truth is stronger despite all appearances. And for our own integrity as followers of Christ, we must listen to the Spirit."

"I think it is a time when we need to consider what it means to be a committed Catholic and a Canadian.  We need to stand up in some sort of way," finished the priest.

The directors have mailed a letter to the Governor General regarding their decision to return Catherine’s medal.  Schlingermen read the letter to the media before they returned the award.

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