Editor’s note: EWTN will air a 30-minute special on the sisters and a behind-the-scenes “making of” their debut recording on Aug. 18 at 2pm Eastern.
Sacred music sung by choirs of sisters has topped the classical music charts of late.
Now, another sacred music album has debuted: The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist of Ann Arbor, Mich., released their first recording, Mater Eucharistiae, on Aug. 13.
The CD, from De Montfort Music’s Decca label, gives the faithful a chance to hear the young, vibrant community. Founded in 1997, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist already has 110 sisters.
Twenty sisters sing on the album, which features songs in both English and Latin, some a cappella and some with organ and trumpet.
Three joyful sisters in the Ann Arbor monastery shared their thoughts about the album and experience with the Register recently: Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, vicaress general and one of the foundresses of the order; Sister Mary David Klocek, the novice mistress; and Sister Maria Suso Rispoli, who sang on the CD and recently appeared on The American Bible Challenge.
Sister Joseph Andrew, how did the sisters decide to record a CD?
Every Sunday, wherever our sisters are, vespers are open to the public. People pray the Office and the Rosary with us. Monica and Kevin Fitzgibbons (founders of De Montfort Music) went to vespers in Phoenix [another location of the community]. They loved the sound of the sisters singing. They asked us if we would be interested in doing a recording.
The singing is a part of our prayer life. It’s certainly important to a community whose roots are in the monasticism of the Middle Ages. Music is always a special part of our prayer life.
So we agreed to do it. If it comes to you, and it’s good, you haven’t any reason not to. It’s a gift from God. We would do this for holy Mother Church.
When they came out here (Ann Arbor) with the equipment, we did it in three days.
That was quite a short time for such a magnificent recording. Anything memorable happen?
The second day of recording, we were practicing the Te Deum at the time Pope Francis was being elected. [Among the times the Te Deum is sung in thanksgiving to God are at the election of a pope, a religious profession and a bishop’s consecration.]
Someone poked her head in and said, “White smoke!” So it was very appropriate we were singing that hymn while Pope Francis was being elected!
Pope Francis is very Marian, and so is your community. How did you choose the theme and songs?
We came up simultaneously with the name Mater Eucharistiae. It’s the name of our newsletter and our name. That set the tone, that we would want Marian and Eucharistic hymns, being as how we have in our community a daily hour of Eucharistic adoration. … We wrote down the music we would want given to the world, so the world would come to love and appreciate this music and have it in their homes.
We came up with 15. There are 15 Mysteries of the Rosary, now 20, but we said, “Let’s stop at 15 [hymns and songs].” It came together quickly.
The average age of the sisters is 29 to 30 years old. It’s a young community. So our zeal is on fire. We would like to get the whole world saved. Through this music, we can go into peoples’ homes and cars, bring Mary and Christ to their hearts, and help them pray and calm down from all the stress life is filled with today.
Your singing does that — and more — doesn’t it?
This is a community very much of the New Evangelization. Basically, our message in the Church is about the good, the true and the beautiful. People will disagree on the good and the true, but people don’t tend to disagree with the truly beautiful. That’s what the Church is doing more and more in the arts. And there’s the return to the importance of the central expression of our faith in regards to devotion — the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart.
The music is essential for opening up the other person, for opening up mankind to be receptive to God’s invitation in the soul to a deeper love and deeper union with the Divine.
Music makes us vulnerable before God because it is so beautiful and it moves us to a deeper openness and level. We need to do this more because people are searching for God. They may or may not want to listen to what you say, but they just might find common ground on the beauty of sacred music. It’s a form of prayer.
Where did the three original hymns on the album come from?
Sister Mary Gabriel wrote The Annunciation, and I wrote Holy Mary, Mother of God and I Am the Hands of Mary.
These three fit the particular feel for this CD. They are fruits of meditation on St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Mary that’s very special to us — we all make the consecration — and also to John Paul II, his Totus Tuus. That consecration is again reflected in the name and our community.
Very strongly we believe we need to be the spiritual mothers for the world today. The world doesn’t value motherhood, and that’s one of the biggest problems in the world. We very much place ourselves in Mary’s hands, so she can give us that spiritual motherhood so we can bring souls to Christ, her Son. Mary, being Mother of the incarnate Son of God, is reflected in our selection of these particular 15 hymns.
You certainly have a range of hymns, from traditional ones to new ones.
We’re eclectic in our approach, which fits our community perfectly, so that’s why the music dates to the fourth to fifth century and goes through to modern times.
When people read the brochure [that comes with the CD and includes lyrics and translations], they realize the Church is always there as our mother and trying to move our being, minds, souls, hearts to a deeper union with God. It’s a beautiful variety of music centered on Mary and the Eucharist.
Do you have particular favorites?
Different ones at different times pull my heart. The Holy Spirit points out which is my favorite at that particular moment. It’s how the Holy Spirit is directing my prayer at that particular time.
How do you envision this music will affect those who hear it?
I think it’s impossible to listen to any style or form [of music] without a reaction and emotional reaction of some sort. That’s why music is so popular and why we need to get the good Christian-Catholic music to elevate the spirit … because, so many times, what we read, hear or discuss is not so elevating.
Our musical taste can tell us a lot about ourselves. The world is inundated by music some would say is disruptive of the spirit or pulls us in a direction that is not of the good, true and beautiful.
Music — if it is the proper music — frees us to be able to think of our eternity and examine our present moment and [ask], “Is this the person God is calling me to become more and more and fashioned me to be in his heart?” That leads to a deeper honesty with God and, therefore, with the people around us.
A lot of prayer went into this music as we were recording it, so that all who will listen will be brought to a deeper union with Christ and his holy Mother — and ours.
Sister Mary David, do you see this related to your community’s teaching?
I think so, but in a way differently than teaching in the classroom. The community was founded in response to John Paul II’s call for the New Evangelization. And Benedict spoke about this: that beauty is going to be the way to peoples’ hearts and bringing them to Christ. This CD is a part of that “preaching the word,” but in a musical way, through the beauty of truth.
Might it even stir up vocations?
You never know. It could. God speaks to us in all different ways. I would not put it beyond the Holy Spirit!
Sister Maria Suso, as one of the singers, what were some highlights for you?
I recently made my first vows, and so I was very conscious that this was part of my gift of myself to Christ, and this was the way he was asking me to participate in the New Evangelization.
The Pange Lingua was the strongest experience I’ve had of being one voice with the sisters. And because it’s sung Holy Thursday and our community is so devoted to the Rosary and Holy Eucharist, to be able to sing the Pange Lingua so beautifully was an amazing experience.
The Ave Maris Stella was the last song we recorded. For me, it was the crowning moment. We were all tired, but we were all in high spirits. Mother Assumpta [Long] walked into the room, and the producer asked her if she’d like to hear the Ave Maris Stella. Technically, we were done. They recorded anyway, and we were able to sing the Ave Maris Stella for Mother, probably the most beautifully we had sung it. It was great to be able to offer that to Jesus and to Mother Assumpta, who had done so much for us.
Any similarity between this recording and being a contestant on The American Bible Challenge game show?
Everything we do in the Church is part of the New Evangelization, to bring souls to Christ in ways the culture can receive him now: in that case, through a game show, and in this case, through bringing music to the world not often heard outside the walls of a convent.
As Catholics, we believe that God is the author and source of all truth, goodness and beauty. Beauty draws us out of ourselves when we contemplate things that are beautiful, and it directs us to God.
Not everyone will be Catholic who listens. But everyone will be able to experience the peace and joy that comes from listening to something that’s beautiful and is of God.
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.
Order Mater Eucharistiae at SistersofMary.org.