Alumnae Collaborate as Reporter and Subject for TV Documentary
February 13, 2023
Mary Rose (Bacani ’03) Valenti and Veronica Ferri (’06) were friends during their overlapping year at Thomas Aquinas College, but in the years since they have bonded over another common love: Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, an apostolate dedicated to living the Gospel without compromise. Now, in a recent documentary, the two friends invite many more to share this life they love.
Madonna House is an intentional community founded in 1947 by Catherine Doherty, a Russian immigrant to Canada and a convert to the Catholic faith. Under the patronage of Mary, Our Lady of Combermere, Madonna House’s full-time members are, says Miss Ferri, “lay men, lay women, and priests who take promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and share a common life” in imitation of Catherine Doherty’s example. After 75 years, and with nearly 20 daughter-houses worldwide, it is clear that her example continues to enchant those who discover it — regardless of how they discover it.
Hailing from the Philippines by way of Toronto, Mrs. Valenti graduated from Thomas Aquinas College with the single-minded goal of using television to evangelize young people. This zeal led her to join Salt + Light Media, where she worked as producer and reporter and met her future husband, Richard Valenti. Though she stepped back from Salt + Light in 2011 to care for her children, Mrs. Valenti still periodically lends her shoulder to the organization’s proverbial plow.
It was during her early years at Salt + Light that Mrs. Valenti first encountered Madonna House, when a colleague suggested that she produce a brief documentary about the apostolate. “I was not drawn to Madonna House then, because I thought the members had too rustic and ‘poor’ a lifestyle,” she admits. But in more recent years, that rustic lifestyle has acquired a new savor.
“In 2018, my husband and I felt that we needed to nourish our marital life,” Mrs. Valenti continues. “I came across Cana Colony, a weeklong summer family retreat camp run by Madonna House.” Retreatants make the apostolate’s spiritual life and commitment to voluntary poverty their own for a week — and the Valentis were grateful for the change of pace. “The ‘rustic’ living allowed us to strip ourselves of all that was unnecessary and carve out a space to find God in the simple duties and joys of the present moment,” she says.
Thoroughly repentant of her former dismissiveness, Mrs. Valenti was overjoyed when, last year, Salt + Light proposed developing a documentary to commemorate Madonna House’s 75th anniversary. It was an opportunity to return to a cherished spiritual oasis as well as to visit an old TAC friend: Miss Ferri, with whom Mrs. Valenti reconnected on her 2018 retreat, and who had found her own way into the arms of Our Lady of Combermere.
“Ever since my First Communion, I have had a knowledge that the Lord wanted me for Himself,” she says. Firm in this knowledge through her time at the College, Miss Ferri began discerning religious life after graduation. “I began a three-year pilgrimage to discover my vocation,” she recalls. Her travels took her across the United States, visiting both active orders, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Dominicans, and contemplative ones. But though she encountered many beautiful communities, none seemed quite like journey’s end. “At a standstill, I returned to Canada and began a master’s program in Canon Law,” she says, “but my heart was not happy.”
A lifelong Ontarian, Miss Ferri had always known about Madonna House. After her long and seemingly fruitless search, she thought the rural retreat would make a good place for quiet prayer to discern where her circuitous pilgrimage was leading. “I decided to come for one month,” she recalls. What followed was quite a surprise.
“Coming to stay was like discovering the prophet in one’s own town. What good could come out of Nazareth?” As it happens, nothing but good! Her visit stretched far beyond a month, as it became clear her journey was at an end. “I found what I was looking for all along,” she says. “This simple Nazareth life has profoundly shaped my whole being and given me the space to contemplate the truth from the heart of the Gospel.”
Miss Ferri has since become a full-time member of the community, living Gospel simplicity in the company of friends. “We begin our day in common prayer with Lauds, and then work throughout the day in our assigned jobs in the farm, laundry, kitchen, sugarbush, woodpile, publications, handicrafts, etc.,” she says. “One of our main services is hospitality, receiving guests from all over the world who live our life with us.”
When shooting the documentary last November, Mrs. Valenti’s interview agenda included a long sit-down with Miss Ferri. The resulting documentary, available through Salt + Light Media’s website, is a testament to the spiritual vision of Catherine Doherty as embodied in Madonna House — as well as to the dynamic versatility of the education the College provides.
“Anyone can be taught the skills behind television production,” reflects Mrs. Bacani. “But I was given a strong intellectual foundation by Thomas Aquinas College; I was taught how to read well, how to approach a topic, and how to think clearly on an issue.” While one alumna sits behind the camera running the production, another sits in front of it, detailing how she brought a mind and heart formed at the College to a life lived entirely for Christ.