Former music student visits Sister Mary Durr 65 years later

Elizabeth Quinlan Grady has loved music all her life. The joy she gets from music naturally leads her to think of her favorite music teacher from her childhood, Ursuline Sister Mary Durr.

“When I think of Sister Mary, I think of music,” Grady said on Aug. 18. “Everybody just adored her.”

Elizabeth Quinlan Grady, left, visits her former music teacher, Sister Mary Durr.

Grady grew up in Louisville and was taught by Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph at nearby St. James School. She lived across the street from the Saint Angela home on Edenside Drive, where the Ursuline Sisters lived. In her eighth grade year, 1950, she and her sister, Nancy, would walk across the street to take piano lessons from Sister Mary. The large home had three practice rooms, so after a lesson with Sister Mary, the students could practice in one of the rooms.

“Then we would ask her to play the baby grand piano,” Grady said. “She was so much fun. She was always happy, always smiling. She had a mischievous spirit.”

Grady moved from Louisville in 1957 when she got married. “I sent Sister Mary a picture from my wedding to New Mexico where she was teaching and she wrote back and said she had used it for some class,” Grady said. (Sister Mary was teaching music at Sacred Heart Academy in Waterflow, N.M., at that time.) “We kept in touch over the years,” Grady said. “Then probably 10 years ago I stopped hearing from her.”

Sister Mary returned to her native Nebraska from 1973-2001, serving as a liturgy consultant for the Diocese of Lincoln for most of that time. She retired and came home to the Mount in 2001.

These days Grady lives in Indianapolis, Ind., and noticed in early July an ad in her diocesan newspaper for the Spiritual Direction Training Program at Maple Mount. She knew the Ursuline Sisters who taught her were from Maple Mount, and she became curious about what happened with Sister Mary.

“I’m sure she is in heaven now,” Grady wrote in an email to the Communications office at the Mount. “What a beautiful influence upon my life she was! What a loss for the children of today, that there are no longer enough nuns to teach in the Catholic schools. They provided us with a strong and lasting formation in our Catholic faith. I shall always be grateful for their guidance and beautiful examples.”

Grady was thrilled to learn that Sister Mary is still alive, now the oldest member of the community at 97. Sister Mary’s memory has faded, but Grady still wanted to visit her teacher. Grady made her first visit to the Mount on Aug. 18, and was greeted with a smile by Sister Mary.

“You were my favorite teacher,” Grady said as she took Sister Mary’s hand. “You taught me piano. You played piano, violin, flute and harp. You told me your favorite instrument to play was the flute.”

After graduating from St. James, Grady attended Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, graduating in 1954. She is still in touch with some of her classmates, several of whom attended St. James, and they all remember Sister Mary.

“We all sang in the choir at St. James,” she said. “Sister Mary was in charge of all the music programs at St. James.”

Grady’s sister, Nancy, would have loved to visit too, but she lives in California, Grady said. Although Sister Mary couldn’t remember Grady, she told her, “I’m so happy to see you” and “God bless you” as she left. The visit was clearly a special one for Grady.

“I like being around happy people,” she said. “The Mount Saint Joseph Ursulines were my favorite sisters.”


  1. Sister Ruth Gehres

    What a wonderful story! Someone has said: “A good teacher never dies.” This is certainly true of Sister Mary Durr, as this story shows. Thank you, Mary, for being such an inspiration to so many.

    With love to you, Sister Ruth

  2. William O (Billy) Nichols

    Sister Mary taught me music also at Sacred Heart Academy in Waterflow. I graduated there in 1958. Sister Mary was/is beautiful. I began study with Sister Mary Cecilia, followed by Sister Mary. Gosh how wonderful it was to run across this. Wish we could be there. Sister Virginia Mary was my Aunt. I have visited the Mount several times, and look forward to another trip soon. Just could not make it to the BBG this year. One of my favorite places on earth. I miss Sister Charles Marie too.
    God Bless you all.
    Bill Nichols

  3. Paulette Archuleta

    Who knew, Sr Mary was 28 when she taught me Music first panio, then Sax, at Sacred Heart ! New Mexico. I remember her fondly, great music teacher, and a kind soul. Bless you

  4. Chris Sims

    what a great story about Sister Mary. She was also my piano teacher at Sacred Heart Academy in Waterflow, when the likes of Paulette, Viola Florez,and Pauline Platter were still in bobby socks and saddle shoes! I still play the piano and am the only organist for the churches at Acoma Pueblo where I still live.God bless you Sr. Mary for your years of service and dedication!

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