I used to think it must be so boooooorrrrrriiiinnnnng to be a religious sister. I mean, what would you do for fun? Pray?
I’ve come a long way since those days. Now, I struggle not to see religious life as so much better and holier than the messy chaos my life sometimes seems to embody hourly. And I try not to pine for the schedule and perfection that I’m sure exists only in my mind and not in any community of real people.
I’ve had a fascination with sisters and nuns (because yes, there is a difference) since my childhood days of belting out the songs to The Sound of Music with my aunt. I’ve never done much with that fascination, aside from keeping a running prayer list and trying to balance treating these wonderful women as normal people without going all gaga-weird on them.
Recently, I found myself uncharacteristically glued to a game show because of a group of religious sisters. The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, captured my imagination as they walloped through the American Bible Challenge this spring. I found myself voting every day and reminding my husband that I had a show I wanted to watch.
Imagine my delight, especially after I’ve loved and raved about others sisters’ singing successes, to see that they’ve released an album, Mater Eucharistiae. Here’s a bit from the press release:
And now, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, will be known as recording artists, as they release their first album with Decca Record Label and De Montfort Music. This debut release of sacred music recorded live from their chapel in Ann Arbor, Michigan, reflects their Dominican spirituality that they share so freely with the popular culture.
“We are thrilled that The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist recorded this enchanting collection of music,” said Kevin Fitzgibbons, co-founder of De Montfort Music. “To be able to release music reflective of their community is a true privilege. This recording will transport the listener to the gorgeous acoustics in their chapel, and will inspire the pervasive joy of their community through their music.”
The album will feature songs in both English and Latin, and will include ancient chants, polyphony, and original compositions. Some pieces are accompanied by the organ, trumpet, and chimes, while others are sung a capella.
Produced by the 2013 Grammy Award-winning Classical Producer of the Year, Blanton Alspaugh, Mater Eucharistiae will feature 15 tracks.
“The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist are a fervent group who sing beautifully. It was richly rewarding to work with a choir that works so well together and who share an obvious love for music. We were honored to be invited to help the Sisters with this recording, and are thrilled to share it now with everyone who hears it,” said Alspaugh.
And NOW imagine my delight that Sister Maria Suso took some time to answer a few questions about the album and this new adventure.
Sarah: What inspired you Sisters to make this incredible album?
This album, Mater Eucharistiae (“Mother of the Eucharist”), began as the idea of Kevin and Monica Fitzgibbons, a husband and wife team who head De Montfort Music, a recording label dedicated to releasing the music of religious communities. The Fitzgibbons knew our community and heard us singing one day when they came to Vespers, and they were taken with the idea of sharing our music beyond the walls of our chapel.
When the Fitzgibbons came to us with the idea of sharing our music and spirituality through the release of a CD, there was, of course, prayer and discernment. In the end, the community embraced this as a new opportunity to evangelize the culture.
Sarah: My family followed your progress on the American Bible Challenge quite closely, and we were cheering and voting and excited. How did that experience tie in with making this album?
I would say that there are two main differences and one highly important similarity between the two experiences.
First, on a practical level, the Bible Challenge required us to fly to Los Angeles and tape on-set, whereas we recorded the CD in our own chapel. Since we live a monastic lifestyle punctuated by times set aside for prayer each day, the CD seemed a bit more in tune (if you will allow the pun) with our normal life.
Along the same lines, the hymns and chants we recorded are a sampling of some of the special songs for our community, songs that express our unique charism. They focus on Jesus in the Eucharist and Mary, His mother, who always leads us to her Son. These pieces are a clear fruit of our prayer, and they are prayer! In contrast, though the Bible Challenge drew from our knowledge of Scripture, which is nourished by daily reading and meditation, it was more indirectly tied to our way of life.
The important thing these experiences share, however, is that they are both ways our Sisters are living out our charism as Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, dedicated to the New Evangelization. The New Evangelization is about bringing Jesus in a fresh way to a culture that has forgotten Him, using whatever means the Holy Spirit provides. Game shows, releasing albums… there is no way we could or would wish to limit the ways God wants us to witness to the joy and life that come from Jesus Christ.
What’s the biggest difference that being known as a “recording artist” will make for your sisters?
I think that this would probably strike most of the Sisters as a funny question, because it probably won’t make much of a difference at all! Our life is simple, and we belong entirely to God through our vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. When we go to sleep at night, we know that all we have accomplished belongs to Jesus – it’s really God who has done it in and through us. Like Mary, we just say “yes” to whatever God asks of us. The CD is about the salvation of souls, not us.
As I have said, our community is dedicated to the New Evangelization, to bringing people to Jesus. We do this primarily through education in Catholic schools. We own and operate two K-8 schools in the Ann Arbor area, near our Motherhouse, but we also teach in many schools across the U.S. In addition to traditional education, our Sisters have appeared on EWTN, hosted popular vocational discernment retreats, given parish missions, led Vacation Bible Schools, spoken at various events, and in many other ways fulfilled our Dominican mission of spreading the Truth of Jesus Christ.
How Mater Eucharistiae will impact that work remains to be seen. However, I think we can say that the album relates to our teaching apostolate in two ways. On the level of the music, those who listen are educated through beauty. The beauty of the music and the chants draws the listener out of himself toward God, the Source of all beauty. In that way, the listener is educated in the appropriate attitude we should have toward God, one of wonder, desire, and joy. On the level of the text, these songs and chants are chock-full of Scripture and the truths of the Faith. One can learn a great deal by simply listening.
And I just have to know: what kind of celebration did y’all have back at the Motherhouse when the American Bible Challenge turned out so well?
There were cookies!
Really, the celebration was cookies and a chance to show pictures, share stories, and enjoy being with the Sisters. We had a similar celebration when we finished recording the CD. It might seem too simple, but our life is simple, and we save the big parties for Easter, Christmas, Vows, and other big feast days.
Besides, as I said before, it’s all about God’s will and His plans. Those who played on the game show and recorded the CD did so with the same joyful obedience as the Sisters with less glamorous but more important tasks.
In the end, it’s all for Jesus, and that’s reward enough.
Anything else you would like to share?
I would encourage any young, unmarried women who, while reading the above, thought, “Wow, what a beautiful life…” to make a discernment retreat with us. We host them three times a year, and thousands of young women from the U.S., Canada, and other countries have found them a great help in their relationship with Christ. It is an opportunity to meet the Sisters and other faithful young women and, most importantly, to spend time before Jesus in the Eucharist. Information can be found on our website (www.sistersofmary.org).
We also have a yearly retreat for married and older women: you too need that special time with Jesus!
Many thanks to Sister Maria for taking the time to share these answers! And as for you, go forth and order!
Sarah Reinhard is a Catholic wife, mom and author whose nose is probably in a book if she’s not scraping something off of her shoes. Her latest book is A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism. Check out all of her books at http://sarahreinhard.com/writing/my-books/.
Visit Sarah’s website: http://sarahreinhard.com/
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