Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, have a way of skyrocketing to the top of the musical charts when they release an album of heavenly hymns and songs. They did it again because one month after releasing their latest album — Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary — they were comfortably at No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Music charts for three weeks.
Their previous Billboard chart-topping recordings are Mater Eucharistiae and The Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations & Music.
This new Christmas album, which is surely going to be a holiday classic, arrives during another celebration — the 20th anniversary of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Since founded in 1997 they’ve grown to over 130 Sisters whose average age is 30. They teach from pre-school through college around the United States.
They’ve been featured on EWTN, on national commercial television venues, in major newspapers, and even appeared as finalists on The American Bible Challenge. EWTN will run a 30-minute special on the Sisters’ Christmas music (see schedule below).
With Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, the Sisters wanted to share with us some of their Christmas favorites. The carols and songs range for the traditional old to the new, from awe-inspiring to festive fun. The selections come from 10 countries. The 16 selections include two original compositions never before heard outside the Sisters’ chapel during Christmas.
Once again the Sisters recorded this album in the Ann Arbor Motherhouse chapel. The eclectic selections range from celestial a capella to small chamber orchestra accompaniments.
The Sisters are the musicians, too, as they play all the instruments. Again, De Montfort Music released this recording internationally through Sony Classical.
Just look at a small sample of festive selections which are going to elevate a true Christmas spirit in everyone: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, Adeste Fideles, Joy to the World, Of the Father's Love Begotten, Carol of the Bells, and Angels We Have Heard on High.
Of course, the Sisters sound like angels themselves, right down to We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
One of the four foundresses of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz said that the Sisters have wanted to share their Christmas music and traditions. The 20th anniversary proved perfect timing. She is also the Music Director for the album.
Sister Joseph Andrew answered some questions about this new Christmas album and the Sisters for Register readers.
The Sisters are quite talented, not only singing a capella but playing various instruments too. What are some of them?
The Sisters sing beautifully acapella and the chapel is a virtuoso itself as it is the key intersection between our earthly choir of Sisters and the choir of angels who surely sing with us and heighten our human efforts! Beyond that we have the organ, flute, violin and even guitar playing on one of my favorite tracks — Sleep, Little Jesus.
How many Sisters sing on this CD?
We selected 10 Sisters to sing on this recording. The same group plays the musical instruments as well.
Why did you decide to record this album?
We had many requests from family and friends of our community to share our Christmas music for those who can’t be with us at Christmas. The music is a way to be with so many who we wish we could be with and also to ‘meet’ many new friends around the world. We would be honored to be part of bringing Christmas closer to the hearts and contemplations of as many souls as God wills!
How did you and the Sisters go about choosing the selections which are a fine variety that span centuries, from beautiful tradition to 20th century carols and selections, and from many countries too?
We wanted to share the music that is very ‘us’ — which does tend to span many centuries from the ancient to the new. We have music from 10 different countries as well. We have very diverse taste and we love to mix in familiar with some lesser known songs that will hopefully add to everyone’s Christmas music ‘shuffle’ — God willing!
In your first chart-topping recording, Mater Eucharistiae, you had some beautiful original compositions too. Please tell us about the original compositions on this CD which until now have been heard only in your chapel at Christmas.
We are always writing music and the Sisters love learning new songs. Being very musical, it was natural for us to record some original compositions. The Sisters also arranged many of the tracks, too, for our typical settings as we would sing them. The original compositions are: Snowflakes and Madonna’s Lullaby.
Who wrote the original songs?
I wrote Snowflakes and Sister Peter Joseph wrote Madonna’s Lullaby.
What are your favorites?
My favorite track on the album is Sleep Little Jesus. It combines in a medley the much beloved traditional Silent Night with a beautiful lesser known Polish Hymn. Being as I am Polish, this was near and dear to me while it also seems to have connected as a favorite with many who have sent in comments about it being their favorite as well.
This new album again rocketed to No. 1. Have you ever imaged that your beautiful albums would be instant chart-toppers?
We have been humbled and surprised by the reaction to these special recordings we have released. We are immensely grateful to God for whom, in particular, we recorded this music as we asked Him to use it as He wished!
We are also most grateful that so many have found inspiration in sharing this piece of our community and our expression of our Faith. The music is, indeed, an overflow of who we are in the heart of Mother Church. Helping listeners be drawn closer to Our Lord by sharing our musical-prayer is, indeed, something we wanted to do.
Please share a thought or two on the Sisters’ 20th anniversary which you are celebrating this year and the wonderful growth of the congregation.
To be marking our 20th Anniversary this year has been an exercise in watching the hand of God at work and constantly thanking Him! Contemplating those first moments of our community — those early seeds beginning with four foundresses — and realizing today that God has blessed us with over 130 youthful, vibrantly alive and loving Sisters, only God could have seen that 20 years ago. Today, we teach preschool through college all over the United States and have the great honor of working and studying in Rome as well. There is immense cause for celebration this year in our Community; a year that providentially coincides with the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima! In fact, we released our Christmas CD on October 13 in her honor.
Did you tie the new Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring CD into the anniversary in some way?
Yes it was part of three special initiatives that we put together in honor of our 20th anniversary. These initiatives represent our teaching charism via a special cinematic episodic series which has aired multiple time on EWTN called: Disciple of Christ, Education in Virtue: Miniseries.
Also, we published a beautiful new book with a much needed inside view to vocation discernment and convent life today entitled And Mary’s Yes Continues. We also decided to top off the year by engaging the culture for the New Evangelization with this new Christmas album Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary.
It has been a very joyful year and one of greatest gratitude to God for all of the Sisters and every one of the many marvelous friends of our Community.
Musical Christmas with the Dominican Sisters of Mary on EWTN: (check for your time zone)
Tuesday -12/19 (Monday 11:30 pm) - 2:30 am
Wednesday -12/20 3:30 pm - 6:30 pm
Thursday - 12/21 10:30 am - 1:30 pm
Sunday -12/24 3:00 pm - 6:00 pm