The Journey: Letters Home, 1961 – 1963 Part 11

 A good part of these next letters recount the novice’s experiences at the Shrine in Midland, Ontario and of his observances of nature.



May 3, 1963

Dear Mum and Dad,

…..Happy Mother’s day mum! I will offer up my Mass, communion and rosaries on that day for you….

Next Thursday we will be leaving for the “shrine”. We will be there for three weeks so I will tell you all about it in my next letter….

Did I tell you about ‘trials’ last week? I mentioned my “trial” in the kitchen but I did not explain what they are. During novitiate we are tested on our reaction to different work. In this way our superiors can see what we are made of. These trial really are not that difficult but combining the tedium of an ordo with it sometimes for some people they prove quite nerve wracking. In any case I expect to be off trial at least next week….

I thoroughly enjoyed working in the kitchen and picked up many tips. For example to tell a hard boiled egg from a raw egg all one must do is spin the egg. The raw one will not spin, the cooked one will. Also the easiest way to clean the porridge pot is to soak it in cold water….

I went on a hike today with some of my brothers. The object was to reach a swimming hole further up the creek. On the way I was able to admire the lovely Ontario scenery. There were many blue violet, yellow violets and marsh marigolds. The loveliest of all were the dog tooth violets which are huge yellow violets only the petals are long and curled back.

All during May we have benediction in honour of Mary every night, because of course this month is specially dedicated to her.

We (the choir) are practising a few new hymns to sing at shrine. One particular lovely one was written, by two novices not so long ago, to the Canadian Martyrs. The others are like “O Sanctissima” in two part harmony. One problem we have is that all of our first tenors will not be going [to shrine] so the second tenors will have to fill in….

Please remember me in your prayers,




May 24, 1962

Dear mum and dad,

Thanks for sending the pictures mum. Little [niece] Susan looks like a doll. [The twins of Aunt Josephine and uncle Wendel] Keith and Kathy are pretty big already. When one just sees pictures from time to time these children really spring up. I still do not have a picture of Ed [brother-in-law]. It was nice to see your kitchen again. I noticed you changed it around abit. I like yourEaster centerpiece. One thing particularly I like about that picture was the white crucifix with the light around it. It is an excellent Easter picture for it reveals the glory of the cross.

Before I forget I will tell you about all the plants you asked about. The orchards began to look white about the thirteenth of May. I missed them at full bloom because we left on the seventeenth. The tulips are still blooming as are the daffodils. One of the peonies I transplanted was developing buds before I left for the shrine. The lily of the valley are blooming here now. I never did notice the nut trees blooming, but I did find an acorn (the nut from the Oak tree) from last fall and it was just like they picture them…. Today we watched the launching of Carpenter into space. It was the first time I watched TV in about nine months. Wasn’t the recovery ever something!Mum and dad's Easter picture.

….We had fresh rhubarb pie on May ninth. I pressed a Trillium, Ontario’s flower, and will send it to you in a future letter. This flower is strange because everything but the stamens (six of them) grow in threes, including the calyx, petals and leaves. It cannot be transplanted but can only grow in the wild. I hope you have good luck with all the plants you will plant this year. I heard you were getting much rain out there and hope it is true. At Guelph we were beginning to need rain and I don’t know if they got any. Here near Midland we have had a couple of thunder storms (and I mean thunderstorms; the wind took over three trees last night, one of them was right beside my window. I hit the floor before it hit the ground. This was about eleven thirty. Today it has been raining partly all day….

This spring and summer will fly for me. We return to Guelph on the seventh of June then two weeks later we go to villa for two weeks holidays (June 23 to July 9). Then there is a house retreat July 12 to 212. On August fifteenth the new novices will be coming and a year will be gone for me….

Birch postcard from the Shrine.I should tell you about Martyrs Shrine. As you have notice the Shrine is near Midland which is near Georgian Bay (We swam in the bay a couple of times during the recent hot spell.)…

The shrine is at Saint Marie (I should say at its ruins). This was the mission center of the Huron Indian mission in St. Brebeuf’s time. Near here (at Ignace, about six miles away) he and St. Lalemont were martyred by the Iroquois. (They have found the exact spot where they were burned at the stake). The Shrine is lovely, with the church build on top of a huge hill. This is an inn (at which I am staying) for pilgrims and workers. The grounds are beautiful and there is an almost sacred atmosphere. We brothers came here to help get the place into shape for the year….

Please keep my in your prayers,

Love Frank




June 13, 1962

Dear mum and dad,

We got home last Thursday about four o’clock in the afternoon. We left Shrine around ten in the morning. No it did not take that long to drive back, in fact we got to Toronto in time to get a swim in the Theologate water storage tank before dinner. (I should explain. They had to build this tank for safety reasons so while they were at it they converted it into a swimming pool. It even has a diving board!) Needless to say we had great fun in it. We had a lovely dinner with many of our old school teachers (I should say ‘past’) and were able to get in a short swim before we left.

It was great to get back to the novitiate and yet one felt sorry that shrine was over. We were greeted by the six brothers who had to stay home and keep the home-fires burning. It was fun exchanging all the news and incidents that happened….

There are still a few things I should tell you about the shrine. Just as the last week of shrine was running by we started planting flowers. All in all they will end up planting about twenty-one thousand plants. They planted mostly petunias, coleus, and some type of moss roses. They put in that many annuals every year.

Much of recreation time was spent in excavating an old Indian site. Of course this type of recreation did not appeal to a great number so there were only about six of us that really went out. We found many many pieces of pottery. One brother found a bone pin, I helped him find an amulet made out of bone. We found many pieces of clay pipes (I myself found three). I also found a stone skinning knife.

I should tell you about our trip to St. Ignace. This place is where the Iroquois martyred Saints John de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemont. In fact the people who excavated the Indian village found the exact spots where the two saints were killed. How? You see the Huron Indians moved their camp site every ten years or so because after that many years it was such a mess that it was easier to move than to clean up…. This was the new village that had just been built and had only the Indians working on it living there, this was proved when they found that only one of the long houses had fire ashes in it. Inside the chapel that had just been built the excavators found the half circle fires that the martyrs had been made to stand on. They also found the post molds of the stakes the martyrs were tied to. (These post molds are remarkable for even though the poles are all rotted away there is left in the clay light colored soil) the black remains of the pole which shows the size and depth of the pole…. Well that is how they found the place.

In any case the day before we came home we all got on the bus with our dinner and a few other necessities and arrived at the spot at about ten o’clock in the morn. We built a couple of fires and roasted hamburgers for dinner then we tidied up the grounds that marked the outlinings of the buildings that were on those grounds so many years ago. One of the Fathers drove out in the afternoon and told us all about the spot and the martyrs and blessed us with the martyrs relics. We had swim and a small lunch and the bus picked us up again and we got back to the Shrine at about five in the afternoon….Brebeuf's grave site and plaque.

Mum you wanted to know when all the bushes and trees bloomed. I am afraid I have told you all I kept record of; there are so many kinds of bushes here that even the people who planted them can’t remember the names of them….

At the moment I am getting back to the routine of the novitiate, and preparing for our two weeks holidays which will begin very shortly. I have a bunch of odds and ends to do. e.g. wash my socks and press some clothes, especially my cassock for I haven’t been able to press it since I came home and it is quite wrinkled.

I said I would tell you about the novices rules for visitors. The first one is that the visitor should drop a note to the novice telling about what day he will come, that is so that the novice will stick close to the novitiate at that time. The next one says that novices may only eat candy and nuts (that the visitor may bring along) with the visitor. Visiting hours are from ten to twelves in the morning and one to five in the afternoon on the days I mentioned….

I took a small trip through brother’s [McClaren] vegetable garden today. His tomatoes are a foot high and are blooming already. The cucumber, potato, pea, corn, lettuce and other plants are very large already. He has about twenty rows of peas and the rows are even longer than the length of your garden. The strawberry plants are blooming at present and look like they will give a fine crop. The grain in the field is about eight inches high. I know this because a couple days ago another brother and I helped to spray a small field. It seemed so primitive to pull the sprayer with horses….

Well I have run out of time and out of words (the former is more common than the latter) and so I must go.

Hello to all the family and you are all always remembered in my prayers.




Source for photos: Frank Obrigewitsch, SJ


Frank Obrigewitsch, SJ, is pastor of St. Ignatius parish in Winnipeg.

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