ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A community of Dominican nuns plans to release soon an album of 15 songs centered on Marian devotion that seeks to help listeners encounter God through beautiful sacred music and get a taste of Dominican life at prayer.
“This music is just a little way for us to get into peoples’ homes,” said Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, vicaress general of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.
“No matter how much we wish we could go everywhere, obviously you can’t, so this is another outreach to bring God to those who just want him,” Sister Joseph Andrew said. “Sacred music always speaks to the soul and helps us become more reflective and prayerful, and I think that’s very necessary for all of us.”
The community’s album, Mater Eucharistiae, will be released on the De Montfort Music label on Aug.13, and it is available through the sisters’ website.
“When this was first proposed to us … we took it to prayer to consider whether or not we’d be able to do this,” Sister Joseph Andrew explained. “We decided that this would be like us going into so many speakers in homes and cars, wherever people will play this, bringing this beautiful, uplifting music, which really is a part of our community.”
Dominicans at Prayer
The selections are wide-ranging, including chants dating back to the fourth century, as well as polyphony and modern music — two of the songs were written by Sister Joseph Andrew.
The music is “nothing new,” Sister Joseph Andrew said, adding that “these are things that we sing.”
“It’s a snapshot of perhaps coming into Mass in the morning or to the Divine Office, praying with the sisters; these are some of the things that would be heard … all these are things that are a part of us.”
She explained that the songs she composed that are on the album, Holy Mary, Mother of God and I Am in Thy Hands, O Mary, were both written “some time ago” for her community.
Both are “fruits of meditation” on St. Louis de Montfort’s total consecration to Christ through Mary and the name of the community.
Sister Joseph Andrew, who is among the four founders of the Ann Arbor Dominicans, said that their name “in very large measure” goes back to St. Louis de Montfort, and it “reflects also John Paul’s ‘to Jesus through Mary’ [motto] which, of course, is a Marian consecration.”
“So, in our community, not only do we make that consecration, but we really want to live the Dominican charism of Marian spiritual motherhood and then our love of the Eucharist.”
Singing the Divine Office is such a central feature of the community’s prayer life — “music is so much a part of our lives and a part of our prayer life,” Sister Joseph Andrew explained — that it took the sisters only three days to record the entire CD.
“That’s because our sisters sing a great deal, and we also chose selections that are very much a part of who we are, so it wasn’t that we were learning new music for this,” she said. “This is what we sing: If you come to our Evening Vespers on Sunday … people hear this music.”
She explained that at each of the sisters’ missions, which are located in nine U.S. states, Sunday Vespers are sung at 5pm and are open to the public, so that “people can come in and participate in our prayer life.”
“It’s a very exciting thing going on here in Ann Arbor. It’s something that the four of us who founded the community would have never thought we would have done when we entered religious life, but knowing God wanted this community, immediately he began blessing it with many vocations.”
Since its 1997 founding, the community has grown to more than 120 sisters, including its new postulants. The order’s mother house is already overfilled, and they are preparing to build a priory in Austin, Texas, to help cope with the many new vocations coming in.
“The average age of the community is 29 or 30,” Sister Joseph Andrew said, “so it’s a very young community, with a strong energy and a great love of the Dominican charism in the world today.”
She added that the community is sending a few sisters to Rome for the first time this year. Some will work as librarians at the North American College, and some will study at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas — informally known as the Angelicum — which is the Dominican-run pontifical university in Rome.
The Beautiful Evangelizes
Some of the songs on Mater Eucharistiae are a cappella, and some are accompanied by organ. Sister Joseph Andrew, who plays organ on the recording, said that beauty and sacred music are “very near and dear to our community.”
She reflected on Blessed John Paul II’s comments that the New Evangelization must start with the true, the good and the beautiful, as well as on Pope Francis’ statement that “you begin with the beautiful,” because even though many people are confused about truth and goodness, “most people can come to a very common element on beauty.”
“So that’s kind of a beautiful way to begin an evangelization: of touching their hearts, opening their hearts for God,” Sister Joseph Andrew said.
Sister Joseph Andrew said that beautiful sacred music, such as that found on Mater Eucharistiae, is a way to “open the doors for evangelization,” because “good music speaks of God and of God’s personal love for each of us.”
She said, “Good, rich beauty in the form of the Church’s expression of art, and music in particular, is a common denominator to touch souls and to move them to be more open, to get outside their own worries and their own frustrations and move towards an openness, towards the God who dwells inside us.”