Catherine Kolyschkine (1896-1985) was born in Russia and served as a nurse during World War I. After the Bolshevik Revolution, she and her husband eventually settled in Canada. In the wake of a separation from her husband (and later annulment) and conversion to Catholicism, she sold all her possessions and, in the words of the website
of her cause for canonization, "went to live a hidden life in the slums of Toronto, desiring to console her beloved Lord as a lay apostle by being one with his poor." She and some friends attempted to live a radical life of Christian poverty in the spirit of St. Francis. But their project, which they called Friendship House, was widely misunderstood.
Catholic civil rights proponent Fr. John LaFarge invited the group to New York's Harlem section. "Catherine saw the beauty of the Black people and was horrified by the injustices being done to them," the website says. "She traveled the country decrying racial discrimination against Blacks."
After an internal dispute at Friendship House, she moved to Combermere, Ontario, with her second husband, Eddie Doherty. She began to serve those in need, and the couple eventually began a training center for the Catholic lay apostolate. The community that grew up around this became known as Madonna House. Similar foundations have been opened around the world.
"In response to the deepening dilemmas of the Western world, Catherine offered the spirituality of her Russian past," the website explains. "She introduced the concept of poustinia
, ... the Russian word for 'desert,' which in its spiritual context is a place where a person meets God through solitude, prayer and fasting. Catherine’s vision and practical way of living the Gospel in ordinary life became recognized as a remedy to the depersonalizing effects of modern technology."