Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian writer living abroad and the author of two books, Ceremony of Innocence and Seraphic Singles.

Dorothy has an MA in English literature from the University of Toronto, an M.Div./STB from Regis College and spent two years in doctoral studies in theology at Boston College.

On a frozen afternoon in February, I visited Mary Wagner in the Vanier Centre for Women. The prison is a long, low building in Milton, Ont., and its waiting room for visitors is surprisingly pleasant. It has a clean, cream-tiled floor, cream-painted walls with blue-grey doors and trim and blue-green metal chairs locked together. A Coke machine and a snack machine glow from a corner. Large signs proclaim the centre “scent-free” and small signs ask visitors if they suffer from coughs or chest pains. A framed document extols the virtues of the warden.

Twenty-one Christians had their throats cut on a Libyan beach facing Europe — or so their murderers want us to think. Some shots may be faked — ocean and sand added with video tricks. Even so, the massacre was a message to Europe, meaning “You’re next.” The Islamic so-called State hopes to invade Rome and fly its black flag over St. Peter’s Basilica.

Sad news from Scotland this week. The Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh will begin closing churches this Easter.  In 25 years only 30 of 113 parishes will remain. The reasons the archbishop offers for the loss of so many churches are threefold: fewer funds, fewer Mass-attending Catholics, and above all, fewer priests. He believes that we can count on having 30 diocesan priests until 2035.

On Dec. 27, 1989, I was arrested outside a Toronto abortion business, thrown into a police van and locked in a cell for hours. So were about 74 other people, including at least one priest. The CBC reported 80.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, a student tabloid printed on its cover a photo of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary with a banana on its head. I was so furious, I remember my rage 20 years later.

This past Sunday my husband and I took my visiting mother and brother to our little wooden church. Mark slipped away into the choir pews at the back while we stocked up on missals and pieces of paper with the day’s prayers and hymns (Latin and English) printed on them. My brother slid into the wrong row of connected wooden prie-dieux, and I marched into my own. He followed me, looking quizzical.

I have just returned from Edinburgh’s largest department store with a mattress pad and a pair of “nude” nylon tights. The mattress pad is for a guest bed, and the nylons are for me. One of the small annoyances of British life is that hosiery manufacturers seem to think the average nude Brit is walnut-coloured. In Canada I would at least have the choice of “alabaster,” the colour I actually am.

Recently my Polish class was asked to translate a poem by Jerzy Harasymowicz, “Orchard, January” and it made me feel homesick for Canada.

In January 1886, a recently bereaved Edinburgh widow named Catherine Cockburn bought a three-square-yard plot in the Dalry Necropolis, a cemetery half a mile from the family home. Her late husband Andrew had been only 39, the couple had been married only four years, and they had had two children. 

“Argh,” I said to my husband. “Just thinking about the Synod on the family is making my stomach hurt again.”