Her St. Philomena Foundation is the largest distributor of free Catholic music in the United States.
About 16,000 copies of her compact disc, “Keep Your Eyes on the Beloved,” have been disseminated in all 50 states and many foreign countries since its release in January 1999.
On Catholic radio and TV, she is a known for telling her re-conversion to the faith. She spoke with Register correspondent Susan C. Fox from her home in Chicago.
You grew up in a large Lithuanian Catholic family in the Chicago area. What was your family life like?
My mother was an opera singer, and my father was a piano player and organist, so music was very much a part of growing up. I was four when I would go to daily Mass with my father. I can vividly see myself in the choir loft singing the Kyrie. And something about that — the Latin Mass — was the first capture within me.
Then I lost it along the years. The Latin Mass went out. The number of nuns decreased. Catholicism was taught differently. My parents, I think, assumed that the education I received in the Catholic school was the same as what they had. But that wasn't the case.
You have said that the Eucharist was important to your return to the faith.
It was the key. I was coming back in and starting to go to Mass, but it wasn't connecting with my heart.
I expressed to a friend that I was still struggling with the Catholic Church, and she said to me, “Simonetta, How could you give up the Eucharist, the most precious gift we have in the Catholic Church?”
What she said changed my most precious gift we have in the Catholic Church?”
What she said changed my awareness.
Then I went on a retreat in 1996, and a priest gave me an hour of Eucharistic Adoration for my penance. It was that night before the Blessed Sacrament that I was so awestruck by the presence of God.
That retreat was the complete turning point for my faith. At that moment I realized, “She's right, how did I forget that this is God — truly Jesus here before me?” From that moment, I was just a sponge, wanting to absorb all I could.
Most of my songs were written before the Blessed Sacrament, including “You Captured Me.” I was sitting before the Eucharist and I was really sad. In a moment, there came this consolation and this song. His Ineffable love captured me. There was nothing not to trust. Through this unexplainable love, I had an understanding that God had fastened His gaze on me and given me the understanding to write these songs.
In the introduction to the song your father wrote, “Blessed St. Theresa,” you speak passionately about your relationship with the Little Flower. What role did this saint play in the beginning of your music apostolate?
St. Theresa came into my life when I started writing the songs, and it was brought to my attention that this would be something good to record because many people were asking for copies of the music.
In my family, I was not the greater musical one.
I had three older sisters who were the singers. I went into dance. So to come back to music, and have God ask me to do this, I thought, “Wait a minute. I'm not the singer.” So I decided to pray a novena to St. Theresa, asking, “Is this truly what God wants me to do?”
During the last two days of the novena, we stayed at a monastery, and there was a six-foot statue of St. Theresa. On the final night of my novena, as we were praying in the chapel, it started to storm outside and the room was filled with the scent of roses. When I came home from this weekend, I went to visit my father and mother. I walked in the house and they were playing and singing, “Blessed St. Theresa.” I asked my mother, “What are you guys singing?” And she said “We're singing Dad's song that he wrote 50 years ago.” I never even knew he wrote the song! So it was like St. Theresa said, “It's OK, do you hear me?”
Was it scary starting a music apostolate, the St. Philomena Foundation, in which you would give away the first tape or CD free?
Once we decided this was something we were called to do, we had already put aside some money. But as time went on, and we hadn't seen how much it was going to cost, my husband asked me, “Well, what are we going to name the apostolate?” One day, a friend was explaining to me the meaning of the St. Philomena cord (for chastity).
It was another one of those moments that I was awakened to a beautiful treasure (of the Catholic Church). I wanted to show my devotion to her, so I began a 54-day novena. And in the midst of that, a woman doctor going into the cloister became our first benefactor. It was that donation that completed everything: the final music arrangements and the engineering of the CDs. There was no fear after that. You could see the hand of God.
Now that you have the music apostolate, are you still glad you made the decision to teach your children at home?
It's one of the greatest joys of my life, greater than — forgive me, God — music. We just did a play (on the Little Flower) for the girl's club. And the night before she was taking her final vows, St. Theresa was fearful, not knowing her vocation. And all of a sudden she realized what it was. It was love. That's kind of how I felt when I began home schooling. I realized my vocation was to be a wife, a mother and to teach my children the faith.
When the music apostolate began, I was fearful this would take away from my mothering. People on radio interviews ask me, “How do you do it?” I say, “It's by God's grace.” He worked out ways. The money has come in. I give it to him at all times.
What are you working on now?
This new CD evolves with the writer and her spiritual growth, so I've done more songs from Scripture.
I have a song, called “Why?” Why do I do the things that I do? Why do I say the things I don't want to say? It took me forever to get the answer. While we were there making the recording, it came to me. I realized it was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It's not about why, but how.
The new album is a journey through the longing for God. I also have a rosary CD with [Franciscan Friar of the Renewal] Father Benedict Groeschel that will come out later this year.
We met to record it in this little chapel in Peoria, [Ill.,] and prayed together before the Eucharist. So when people listen to it, they can know that it wasn't something done in a studio. I left it up to Father Groeschel which direction he wanted [the rosary meditations] to go. It was interesting because he took it very Marian. The meditations were done with his eyes closed. It just flowed from him. It was very apparent that God was with him.