Koinonia Farm’s vision statement is “love through service to others, joy through generous hospitality, peace through reconciliation.” All of our guest rooms are named after people who have come before us and embodied these ideas. These peacemakers are from all over the world and from all different periods of history. This “great cloud of witnesses” and their stories encourage us to keep pursuing love, joy, and peace in our life and work.
Catherine Kolyschkine was born on August 15, 1896 in Nizhny Novgorold, Russia. Her family was wealthy and she traveled a lot as a child. She was raised in the Orthodox faith tradition, but was also familiar with Catholicism. Her spiritual life would combine both of these traditions and she would be known as a bridge between Eastern and Western Christian thought. She and her cousin Boris de Hueck married in 1911 when Catherine was 15 years old. When World War I broke out, they both went to the front where Catherine worked as a nurse. The Russia Revolution chased them out of their homeland and killed many of their family members. Catherine was deeply impacted by the war and saw it as a failure of a Christian society to live up to their beliefs.
“We need to be poor! Let us live an ordinary life, but, beloved, let us live it with a passionate love for God. Become a mystery. Stretch one hand out to God, the other to your neighbour. Be cruciform. … Christ’s cross will be our revolution and it will be a revolution of love.”
Catherine and Boris became refugees and fled to England and then Canada. She became Catholic in 1919. Their son George was born in Canada in 1921. While in Canada, she became a well-known lecturer and was able to make good money touring and speaking. During this time, she and Boris separated. In later years, her marriage was annulled by the Church because they were cousins. In 1930, Catherine rededicated her life and gave away all of her possessions to live among the poor in Toronto. She became a lay apostolate and founded Friendship House in 1932. During the height of the Great Depression, Friendship House tried to provide for people who needed food and shelter. Internal divisions arose and Friendship House closed in 1936.
Two years later, she was invited to Harlem to open another similar house with a focus on Civil Rights. She married Eddie Doherty, an American journalist, in 1943. In 1947, they moved to Ontario. Catherine worked as a nurse and they worked together on a newspaper and a training center for other lay apostolates. In 1954, Madonna House was established. Those involved took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. From this house, other field houses were opened all over the world.
“Do little things well for the love of God. Every task, routine or not, is of redeeming, supernatural value because we are united to Christ. We must be recollected and stay aware of this truth.”
In 1960, the Church gave Madonna House its formal blessing. Catherine is also know for writing extensively about two spiritual concepts: “poustinia” and “sobornost.” Poustinia was the idea of meeting God in a desert place through solitude, prayer, and fasting. Sobornost was the deep unity in heart and mind of the Trinity. Catherine died on December 14, 1985. She will be remembered as someone who loved the poor, worked for social justice, and helped begin the lay apostolate movement in the 20th century.