Sister Maureen Griner: Making music led her to serve the poor

The odyssey began in the mid-1980s, when she met Father Bruce Cinquegrani while she was working on her master’s degree in liturgical studies at Notre Dame. He later became the director of the Office of Worship and Spiritual Life in Memphis. In 1991, when she was offering workshops in Owensboro, Ky., he asked her to come to Memphis to teach a course on the Liturgy of the Hours.

“I taught on a weekend four or five times,” she said. “The fourth time, he said, ‘I’d like to talk about you coming here full time.’” Sister Maureen turned him down. Her mother was ill in Louisville, Ky., and she had an offer from Bishop John McRaith to be director of music for the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky.

“Everything practical said ‘stay in Owensboro.’ Everything spiritual said ‘go to Memphis,’” Sister Maureen said. “I didn’t want to come, but I knew I was supposed to. I knew I was walking into uncertainty because the combined position of director of music for the Cathedral and the diocese had never existed. My mother was living alone, I was doing long-distance care giving.” When her mother moved into a retirement home, she saw it as all the pieces falling into place, and moved to Memphis.

The Diocese of Memphis was created in 1971, and runs between the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. There are about 800 families at the cathedral, many of them young professionals, which she equates with the Cathedral’s proximity to the University of Memphis, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the University of Tennessee Medical School.

Her diocesan ministry consisted of planning and coordinating music for all confirmations, ordinations, rites of election, the anniversary couples Mass, and all major diocesan celebrations. She founded the Liturgical Ministry Institute in 2000, designed to educate and form people about liturgy and spirituality. Now called the Institute for Liturgy and Spirituality, it brings in 1,000 people a year for the study of liturgy and spirituality. She turned over the leadership of that group to Ziegler in 2006.

Sister Maureen hands some detergent to Victoria, a resident of the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, as they unload her car of groceries and supplies.

She helped to start the Catholic Ministry with Gay & Lesbian Persons group for the diocese. “It began by accident,” Sister Maureen said. “I had a friend in the choir who was gay, he talked about his difficulties with the Church,” Sister Maureen said. “I went with him to Louisville for a New Ways Ministry conference, where a photographer took my picture. I went to the bishop and told him why I was there,” she said. “We started a group meeting at our house. Finally the bishop asked Judy Gray and me to turn that into a public ministry.”

The public ministry began in May 2005, with Sister Maureen and Gray as co-chairwomen. Now, about 50 people come for a potluck supper each month. The two resigned from that ministry in May 2010.

At the Cathedral, she’s involved with everything that has to do with liturgical music, including weddings, funerals, and school liturgies. “It’s supposed to be a part-time job,” she said. She’s also a regular organist and conducts the Cathedral choir every weekend and for all major parish liturgies.

“I’ve had a close to lifelong sense that the Holy Spirit really is in charge,” Sister Maureen said. “For a long time, I only recognized that after things happened. Then I realized I had a responsibility to look ahead. Coming to Memphis was a piece of that.”

She resigned from the diocesan ministry in 2006. The Holy Spirit and a feisty woman who had been deceased for 26 years were calling her name.

Dorothy Day

“We had a workshop in July 2003 as part of the Liturgical Ministry Institute about Dorothy Day,” Sister Maureen said. Day came of age at the turn of the 20th century, evolving from a bohemian lifestyle into a conversion to Catholicism and a lifelong desire to serve the poor through the Catholic Worker Movement. A deacon who had been Day’s friend led the workshop in Memphis.

“We had 15 people who wanted to do something in the spirit of Dorothy Day,” Sister Maureen said. “We met for 1 ½ years to talk about what it would be – a clothes closet, soup kitchen, education, health care, etc. When we talked to people in the city, we learned there was no shelter for couples, or families with boys over age 6, and no one would take them if they were over 11. By opening a house, we could do education, a clothes closet, food, and shelter.”