In Remembrance of Sister Mary Durr
April 24, 2017
Sister Amelia Stenger, OSU
Sister Mary Durr was a remarkable woman. Her ministry of music brought happiness and joy to so many as she taught Gregorian chant, Lucian Deiss and so many new writers as the Liturgy changed after Vatican II. She gave so much as she fulfilled her mission. She loved teaching and received much praise for her gifts in Music and Liturgy.
Margaret Mary Durr was born on April 25, 1918 in the midst of the first World War. She was the sixth child born to Albert Durr and Louise Tordoff Durr. The history of her family was very interesting. The Durr, Schmitz, Tordoff and Schneider families came together when Nebraska was beginning to be settled. Their Catholic faith was very important to them. The Grandfather, Joseph Durr, gave the land for St. Joseph Church in Paul, NE. She was baptized in St. Joseph Church on May 2, 1918 by Rev. Clement F. Broermann at St. Joseph Church in Paul, Nebraska. She was confirmed by Bishop John Beckman on October 11, 1925.
Margaret Mary was the first girl in the family after five boys. There were twelve children in the family—seven boys and four girls. Joseph, Roger, Hilary, Guy, Rev. Valery, Laura, Albert, Mary, John, Sister Catherine, and Aurelia. Sister Catherine and Aurelia/Bunkie, we give you our sympathy and prayers as we remember the life of your sister. She loved you and your family very much and always welcomed your visits.
She attended elementary school in Paul, Nebraska. From reading letters and articles in her files, Paul was not a very large town but it was filled with lots of good spirit and the Church was active. There was also a great deal of music. Both of her parents were very gifted musicians and surely taught her much about music as she grew.
In September of 1932, she began attending Sr. Bernard’s Academy in Nebraska City. This is how she became connected to our Ursuline community. The Sisters she listed as her teachers were Sister Josephine, Sr. Robert Irene, Sr. Mary John, Sr. Joseph Therese, Sr. Ursula, Sr. Louis Bertrand, Sr. Immaculata, Sr. Mary Ivo, Sr. Dolorosa and Sr. Patricia. These were all power houses of our community. Our mission houses in Nebraska were large and brought several vocations to the community.
As her years of high school ended, she decided to enter the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph in Kentucky. When asked what her motive for entering the community was, she answered, “To give my life out of love to God.” She entered the community on September 7, 1936. She made temporary profession on August 15, 1939 and became Sister Mary. She made her perpetual profession on August 15, 1952. Those in the class with her were Sisters Mary Regina Boone, Marie Claire Davis, Ruth Helen Flaherty, Agnes Mary Hutchins, Anna Francis Johnson, Mary Henry Russell and Mary Eva Thompson. We recognize another group of strong leaders and committed members of the community. Her only living classmate, Sister Mildred Katzer lives in Kansas where she still visits sick members of the parish. She is 98 years old.
Sister Mary’s first mission was at St. Michael in Fairfield, KY. She taught music there and was the housekeeper. The next fifteen years were spent in Louisville at St. Angela teaching music and in Sacred Heart Academy in Waterflow, NM teaching music. She came to St. Alphonsus for one year as principal and the next year returned to Waterflow, NM where she continued to teach music. She spent the rest of her teaching time in Nebraska with the exception of five years here at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. It was during those years that she taught most of us who entered in the 60’s. She was our Liturgy teacher and helped us learn all the things about the changes in the Liturgy. It was an exciting time because we were learning all the new English hymns and Fr. Lucian Deiss was the song writer of the day.
It was during this time that she completed her Master’s Degree at Webster College in St. Louis, MO. She had received a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from the College of St. Joseph in Albuquerque, NM in 1959. She was teaching music at Waterflow and going to school at the same time.
From 1973 to 2001, she lived and worked in Nebraska. Most of those years were spent as a Liturgy Consultant and AV Librarian at the Lincoln Diocesan Chancery Office in Lincoln, NE. She loved her work there and shared much with the people of the Diocese. She worked under some interesting Bishops who truly did appreciate her work. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz wrote her a letter in 2012 when she was celebrating her 75th jubilee and said, “We know you as an excellent religious Sister, who gave many years of service in various capacities to Christ and His Church especially through your teaching of music. Here in the Diocese of Lincoln, your years are remembered with gratitude and always a smile.”
Sister Mary was involved in the work of a diocese during the years after Vatican II. Her archives reports tell of work with schools, religious education, Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, Liturgy workshops, choirs, musicals, Adult education, the diocesan development program, special Liturgies for the Diocese, workshops on Liturgy in the parishes, workshops for Lectors and Acolytes and many more. She was a busy lady and in many cases, was the only woman on the program with a number of priests.
In 2001, Sister Mary came home to the Mount to retire. She loved sitting by the Nurse’s desk to have coffee and talk to people who came through. She always had a smile and never missed a chance to talk about the humidity in Kentucky. She did not think that the weather here was nearly as good as that in Nebraska. She did not like the humidity. When someone commented on the snow we were having, she just laughed and said that nobody had snow like the snow in Nebraska.
Sr. Mary spent sixteen years in the Villa. We are grateful to our nurses and assistants in the Villa for the care and love they have given Sr. Mary over the years. Your dedication to all our Sisters is a blessing.
Sister touched many people’s lives. In 2015, Elizabeth Quinlan Grady came to see Sr. Mary. She drove from her home in Indianapolis, IN, to visit with Sister here at the Mount. Sr. Mary had taught Elizabeth piano 65 years ago while she was teaching at St. Angela’s in Louisville. It was Elizabeth’s first visit with Sr. Mary since she was in high school in the 1950’s. Elizabeth told Sr. Mary, “You were my favorite teacher. You taught me piano. You played piano, violin, flute and harp. You told me your favorite instrument was the flute.” She continued by saying,” When I think of Sister Mary, I think of music. Everybody adored her.”
Elizabeth said that the influence of Sr. Mary and the other Ursuline Sisters who taught her had a profound effect on her as she was growing up. “They provided us with a strong and lasting formation in our Catholic faith. I shall always be grateful for her/their guidance and beautiful examples.”
Like many of our other Sisters, Sister Mary was an avid sports fan but her team was the Nebraska Cornhuskers. When it was football season, she always knew when they were playing and cheered them on. You could hear her yelling, “Go Huskers, Go.”
On the evening of April 21, Sister Mary answered the call of Jesus to come home. She was going to celebrate her 99th birthday on April 25. On her archives report of 2011, she wrote, “I am almost 94 years old. I don’t know that I want to live to be 100. I’m already an antique.” Instead of celebrating her birthday tomorrow, we will be celebrating her new life with God, her family who have gone before her and all our Ursuline saints.
It is said that one of her greatest musical accomplishments was putting on the musical, Oliver with Sr. Victoria. One of the lines in the play is spoken by Oliver as he holds up his bowl for food. All he said was, “More.” Sister Mary, you now can raise your hands to the Lord and receive more than you could ever dream or imagine. Thank you for your life of service to God, the Church and our Community.