Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 6, 2006
Jude Fischer: Mystics in the marketplace
Madonna House apostle finds joy
By LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WCR News Editor
Jude Fischer dips her brush into the paint sitting by the icon and a line of colour flows onto the saint's face.
"For me, painting is a deep form of prayer and a good way to get centred, especially when the rest of my life is so busy."
A Madonna House lay apostle, Jude is following the path laid out by the apostolate's founder Catherine Doherty - succinctly described on the community's website - who wanted "her followers in Madonna House to be mystics in the marketplace who wedded the two opposites: feet on the ground/head in the clouds."
While she satisfies office and sacristy demands - she even cares for the houseplants - Jude creates space to work on her icons.
And for 30 plus years as a Madonna House lay apostle, Jude has joyfully trod the path of consecrated life.
Yet her journey to her life's vocation zigzagged for years.
"I knew when I was a child that I was drawn to some sort of consecrated life," says Jude. "It came from growing up in the Church and having some sense of God's love and wanting to love God back. But I didn't want to be a teaching nun."
So the St. Marys, Pa., grade school kid went and signed out a book of all the religious orders in North America. Finally she found one that she liked.
"But I could not stand the habit."
Just about that time, Jude's parents George and Elsie "read in The Sunday Visitor about Madonna House and that they had a place where families could come and vacation."
So the family piled in the car and journeyed from Pennsylvania to Madonna House in Combermere, Ont.
While her brothers and sisters cavorted in the lake, 13-year-old Jude worked alongside the Madonna staff sorting clothes for the poor.
"And I thought 'This is what I want to do. And I won't have to wear a clumpy habit.' From that time on, that was all I wanted to do. I couldn't wait to finish school and go back and join up."
Jude yearned to leave school, but the need to help at home was great. So many children - seven brothers and three sisters - with so many critical illnesses, ranging from congenital heart disease to cystic fibrosis.
A happy home
Yet the home was a happy one. Abandoned as a child, Elsie, searching for motherly love, turned to the Mother of God for that love and became Catholic. She married George, a factory worker. Both came from German-Irish roots and come payday, "Dad would buy a jug of wine and sit down and tell us stories for hours."
While both supported their daughter's desire to be a Madonna House lay apostle, Elsie worried, "If you want to live that kind of life, surely you can do it in your own country. You don't have to go to another country."
Then George died when Jude was 18.
"And there were all these children to look after . . . ".
Scholarships took Jude through Erie College and gave her an education degree. She taught school and worked as a social worker.
Finally, at 24, Jude, with Elsie working, returned to Madonna House.
After several months, "the founder Catherine Doherty called me aside and suggested I leave and get some counselling (to help her communicate better with others). So I left with great hope and optimism that I could get this out of the way and go back.
"So this small town girl goes to New York. I went into counselling and weeks turned into months and months turned into years and frankly not very much seemed to be happening. It seemed less and less likely that I would ever go back."
Not willing to face the New York school system, Jude worked as executive secretary to the director of convention sales in the New York Convention Bureau and then enrolled in New York University and became an occupational therapist.
Her faith needs were met through the Catholic charismatic movement.
One summer found Jude going to a six-week advanced rehabilitation course, with a stop at a big charismatic conference at Notre Dame.
"So I went to Notre Dame and here were all these people having all these spiritual experiences and nothing was happening to me. I thought nothing was going to happen to me. But then on the last day I did have an experience with the Holy Spirit and the whole Scriptures came alive. I got the very strong word in prayer 'Go back to Madonna House.'
"My reaction was 'But Lord, you know I can't live that life.' I have other plans. I like my job. I want to do some travelling.' But the word was still there: 'Go back to Madonna House.'"
Jude was relieved she was committed to the six-week course. "I could just wait it out. Maybe it would go away. Maybe it was just a passing fancy."
But at the end of the six weeks, that word was still there, "Go back to Madonna House."
So Jude journeyed to Madonna House, talked to her spiritual director and then met with Catherine Doherty "to see if I could stay to try out the vocation."
Catherine's reaction was "Sweetheart, haven't we been through this all before?"
"I said 'Yes, Catherine we have. I thought I had written off Madonna House. But I was praying one evening and this was what happened.'"
Catherine listened, and replied, "Well you might have written off Madonna House, but Madonna House never wrote off you. One night your faith came to my mind and I said to my secretary, 'What ever happened to that girl? She should be back here.'"
"And 30 some years later, I am still here," says a smiling Jude, keeping her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
But there must be struggles.
"Sure. You have to live in a community of people and we sandpaper one another quite a bit," agrees Jude. "And we all come with our wounds and our various wounds hit against each other. And we hurt each other. Inner healing takes time. It does not happen overnight."
The author of Be Always Little, a book of Christian fables "for young and old," Jude's artistry now focuses on her icons. Exquisite in their faith-filled beauty, the icons still have Jude's own mystical touch with her animal figures radiating a flavour of Marc Chagall.
Many are for sale with the money going to Third World missions.
Asked what she would reply if someone asked her, "I am drawn to this life. What is in it for me?" Jude's response is immediate and strong.
"Go into that quiet place inside. That is the only place where we can determine what to do.
"The bottom line is the Lord's love."