From the Winter 2014 Ursulines Alive. Click here to see the full issue.
“Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.” – Pablo Casals
That quote from the famed Spanish cellist illustrates to Sister Marie Julie Fecher why music holds a special place in the hearts of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.
“Music may be compared to a sweet elixir poured into the soul like a magical concoction, bringing with it a delight in and appreciation of sheer beauty,” Sister Marie Julie said. “It may assume the role of shaping and forming inner depths of beauty in mind and heart.”
Sister Marie Julie was a music instructor from 1944-94, and the organist for her Ursuline community until retiring in 2013. Regardless whether a sister has made music her main ministry, or simply grows closer to God through its melodies, music has been intertwined in the Ursuline Sisters throughout their history.
“Music is soothing to the mind, body and spirit,” said Sister Alicia Coomes, who incorporates music as part of her role as a pastoral associate in three western Kentucky parishes. “I don’t know of any other form of prayer that does this better for me than music. Perhaps it’s because I personally don’t have to ‘do’ anything to prepare … just listen and let the music move me.”
“Music bounces in my mind more readily than words,” said Sister Marilyn Mueth, who while teaching for 21 years in Millstadt, Ill., also led the children’s choir, the parish adult choir and a liturgical band for students. “The songs’ messages are constantly with me.”
“Beautiful music can create an intensity of body and spirit that is like ecstasy … being beyond oneself,” said Sister Ruth Gehres, who has incorporated music wherever she has served. “When beautiful words become part of the music, it can be even more powerful.”
“When I hear music or sing I am more quickly moved to meditation,” said Sister Joan Riedley, now serving as a music minister at Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Louisville, Ky. “I’ve always heard music is nine times praying and I believe this.”
The Ursuline Sisters have had quite an impact on music in the Owensboro area. Countless people still equate the campus at Maple Mount with the Greater Owensboro Summer Music Camp, held from 1975-2006.
On Jan. 24, 2009, the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra Foundation endowed the principal chair of the second violin section in honor of Ursuline Sister Mary Cecilia Payne, whose efforts in music instruction at Brescia College beginning in 1952 led to the creation of the present Owensboro Symphony.
Even beyond the individual instruction given to students by Ursuline Sisters across the nation, music has and always will be instrumental to the sisters’ spiritual life.
“There are times when music can evoke emotions and lead me to a more personal experience with God than praying with words alone,” Sister Cheryl Clemons said.
“Music is the inner voice of the soul,” said Sister Rose Marita O’Bryan, who still cantors during Mass at Maple Mount.
“Together with poetry, music causes the divine in me to come alive. As John O’Donohue says in ‘Beauty, the Invisible Embrace:’ ‘A beautiful voice raises our hearts and stirs something ancient in us, perhaps reminding us of our capacity for the eternal.’”