Sleep, Holy Babe

Sleep, Holy Babe

Father Edward Caswall a Roman Catholic priest wrote the text of this hymn. The earliest occurrence of the hymn that could be located is in the Catholic journal THE RAMBLER published in 1850, and it is captioned To the Infant Jesus Asleep. 

The Rambler, 1850
The Rambler, 1850
The Rambler, 1850
The Rambler, 1850

The hymn also appeared in a literary review column on page 2 of the June 5, 1858 edition of THE PILOT, a Boston and New York newspaper. This was a review of the recently published MASQUE OF MARY, AND OTHER POEMS by Father Edward Caswall. This review was originally published in the London Weekly Register. 

The Pilot - June 5, 1858
The Pilot - June 5, 1858

Edward was a convert to Catholicism and was received into the Catholic Church on January 18, 1847, by Cardinal Charles Acton (1803-1847) at the Venerable English College in Rome. In attendance was Father John Henry Newman, Father Thomas Grant the Rector of the College, along with several others who had come with Edward that day. At this time Edward was married to Louisa Mary Stuart Walker who was also received into the Church of Rome a week later on January 25, 1847.

During the summer of 1849, England was in the grips of a vicious cholera epidemic which persisted even into the autumn season. Edward and Louisa had gone to stay at Torquay, a sea side resort. On September 14, early in the morning, Edward left for Mass and on his return from church he found Louisa and the landlady of the lodge where they were staying deathly ill with the cholera and by 11 o’clock that night Louisa Caswall was dead.

Edward was devastated and grief stricken as one could only imagine. He immediately sent word to Father Newman, and they arranged that Louisa’s Requiem Mass and burial would take place at St. Wilfrid’s in Cotton, Staffordshire. The pastor of St. Wilfrid’s was Father Frederick William Faber, a fellow convert and student at Oxford University. It is unclear if Edward or Father Faber knew each other before this time but certainly, they became acquainted at this Mass. Father Newman celebrated the Mass and Father Henry Formby a longtime friend whom Edward knew from their days at Brasenose College, Oxford, a fellow convert, and priest at the Oratory, sang the Dies Irae.

In the following year around February 1850, the Birmingham Oratory was established at its present address on Hagley Road in Edgbaston. It is also at this time that Edward was admitted as a novice to the Oratory and three days later he received the tonsure and was admitted to Minor Orders. Then on December 21, 1850 the anniversary of his wedding to Louisa, he was ordained as a subdeacon and a year later almost to the day on December 20, 1851 he was ordained a deacon. By April of 1852, the building in Edgbaston had been completed and all the Oratorians took up residence at the new location. On September 18, 1852, Deacon Edward Caswall along with Deacon Henry Bittleston were ordained as Catholic priest.

Father Edward Caswall – Courtesy of the Birmingham Oratory

Throughout his life, Father Caswall was a prolific writer. During his time at Brasenose College, a constituent college of Oxford University he published a number of literary works including The Oxonian – a series of papers on University life written with a humorist point of view. This was followed by his Pluck Examination Papers which he later published in a book The Art of Pluck – the caricature of these works was to enlighten the undergraduate on how to fail his examinations and in the lingo of the University to get plucked. The ability to write in satire and at the same time convey a moral point was a gift that Father Caswall possessed. These and several other publications where enormously successful and provided him a steady income which he would benefit from during his college days and in the future.

During his conversion journey to Rome, Father Caswall kept a journal that has remained unpublished, and its existence known only to a handful of people. He was a man of meticulous detail and observation and his eyewitness accounts of Roman Catholicism during his visit to Ireland in the summer of 1846 proved to be a turning point in his life.

On one occasion in 1846, on a summer evening, he witnessed a small group of poor worshipers praying in a Catholic chapel in Ireland. He observed that one person said the Lord’s Prayer as far as, as it is in heaven, and the others began at, give us this day our daily bread. Then the same person began another prayer, and the others began Holy Mary, and everything was in English. It was the first time he had heard any devotion to Our Blessed Mother and before the evening was over, he was kneeling down with them. Any Anglican preconceptions of idolatry left him, and he was consumed with the expression of love and humility of these poor men and women. From that point onward, he became devoted to the Rosary.

Almost two years after he joined the Catholic Church, Father Caswall published his first collection of hymns in 1849, the LYRA CATHOLICA, containing translations of all Breviary and Missal hymns of the Roman Breviary. Father Caswall was always working for the education of the poor and especially the children even during his curacy at Stratford-sub-Castle near Salisbury. A question that plagued him during his conversion journey was how the Latin liturgy could have any meaning for the average Catholic let alone the poor and uneducated.

During the summer of 1846 while in Ireland he attended a Requiem Mass for Pope Gregory XVI who had recently died. He was concerned and frustrated because he couldn’t follow the liturgy. How is it that the poor and uneducated understand the Latin liturgy and an Oxford graduate in the classics is lost? This was the underlying reason for his translations of the Roman Breviary – to publish in the English language for anyone who could read or to pray in private the Divine Office.

Father Caswall remained at the Birmingham Oratory until his death on January 2, 1878. Father Edward Caswall was named, along with Father Joseph Gordon and Father Ambrose St John, as one of the three Oratorians whom Newman deemed his greatest friends and most loyal and devoted laborer’s in St Philip’s vineyard.

There is so much more that could be written about Father Caswall but that is beyond the scope of this short write-up. His contributions to Catholic hymnody include such favorites as: At The Cross Her Station Keeping; Come Holy Ghost Creator Blest; Jesus the very thought of Thee; Joseph Our Certain Hope in Life; Joseph Pure Spouse; Sing My Tongue the Savior’s Glory; Ye Sons and Daughters of the Lord; Hark an Awful Voice is Sounding; Dear Maker of the Starry Skies; O Jesus Christ Remember; O Saving Victim Opening Wide; The Dawn Was Purpling O’re the Sky; See Amid the Winter Snow; When Morning Guilds the Skies; What a Sea of Tears and Sorrows; This is the Image of Our Queen; and many more hymns. He published several hymn books including LYRA CATHOLICA, 1849; the MASQUE OF MARY AND OTHER POEMS, 1858; and HYMNS AND POEMS, 1873.

Some of the details above were used with permission and were taken from EDWARD CASWALL: NEWMAN’S BROTHER AND FRIEND written by Nancy Marie de Flon and published by Gracewing in 2005. Nancy’s book is a wonderful biography of Father Caswall’s life and journey to Catholicism. An earlier biography of Edward Caswall was written by Edward Bellasis (1800-1873) an English lawyer and convert to Catholicism in the new edition of HYMNS AND POEMS published in 1908.

The Melodies

Thirteen melodies have been located for this hymn but only two were widely used. The other melodies appeared only once or twice in Catholic hymnals and quickly faded away. Four of these melodies are featured in this write-up.

The earliest and the most widely used melody first appeared in the Catholic hymnal EASY HYMNS AND SONGS FOR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, 1851 compiled by Henri F. Hemy (1818-1888). It is a Wiegenlied, literally cradle song or lullaby dated 1781 from Wilhelm Kothe’s GESANGBUCH FÜR KATHOLISCHE SCHULEN, 1882. The German text are not the words for the hymn Sleep, Holy Babe. 

This melody is found in these Catholic hymnals: WESTMINSTER HYMNAL, 1912 and 1939; CROWN HYMNAL, 1913; ST. GREGORY’S HYMNAL, 1920 and 1947; ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1925; THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL HYMNAL, 1930; LAUDATE CHOIR MANUAL, 1942; SING TO THE LORD, 1944; PIUS X HYMNAL, 1953; MEDIATOR DIE HYMNAL, 1955; the NEW ST. BASIL HYMNAL, 1958; the CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1966; and the ADOREMUS HYMNAL, 2011.

This melody is often attributed to Louise Reichardt who died in 1826. She is not the composer but instead is the daughter of Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752-1814) who is the composer of the hymn. Both father and daughter along with her mother Juliane were composers.

Gesangbuch für Katholische Schulen, 1908
The New St. Basil Hymnal, 1958

The second melody appeared in the HOLY FAMILY HYMNS, 1860 published by Richardson and Son in London, Dublin, and Derby. The melody is attributed to Father Louis Lambillotte, S.J., (1796-1855) a French Jesuit Catholic priest. This melody also appeared in the 1883 and 1897 PAROCHIAL HYMN BOOK’s compiled by Father Antoine Police, S.M., and published in London, New York, and Dublin. It also appeared in the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL from 1918 through 1953. The ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL was the most widely used Catholic hymnal and was published throughout the United States and Canada. Father Lambillotte is well known for the melodies of Come Holy Ghost Creator Blest; On This Day, O Beautiful Mother, and ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother.

Holy Family Hymns, 1860

The third melody is attributed to the Birmingham Oratory and can be found in THE BOOK OF HYMNS WITH TUNES, 1913 compiled by Dom Samuel Gregory Ould, O.S.B. (1864-1939). He was an organist, composer, and hymnologist. The majority of the hymn translations in this collection belong to Father Caswall.

The Book of Hymns, 1913
The Book of Hymns, 1913
The Book of Hymns, 1913
The Book of Hymns, 1913

John B. Dykes (1823-1876) composed the fourth melody, and it appeared in A DAILY HYMN BOOK, 1932 and 1948. His melody is also found in a number of Christmas carol collections starting around the 1870s. John Dykes was Cambridge educated and was ordained in the Church of England in 1847. 

A Daily Hymn Book, 1948
A Daily Hymn Book, 1948

The other melodies mentioned earlier were composed by the following:

  • From the CROWN OF JESUS MUSIC, 1864 compiled by Henri F. Hemy (1818-1888) is a melody by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).
  • In the POPULAR HYMN AND TUNE BOOK, 1868 compiled by Frederick Westlake there are two melodies. One by Frederick Westlake (1840-1898) and the other by John Francis Barnett (1837-1916).
  • A melody by an unknown composer is found in the 1885 and 1925 MANUAL OF SELECT CATHOLIC HYMNS AND DEVOTIONS, compiled by Father P. M. Colonel, C.SS.R.
  • From the ARUNDLE HYMNAL, 1905 there are two melodies, an ancient Catholic melody, and a melody by Walter Austin (1841-1912), one of the editors of the hymnal.
  • In MOTETS AND HYMNS – Used by the Pupils of the Sacred Heart, 1908 a melody by a Sister of the Sacred Heart from the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton.
  • In the 1905 and 1933 editions of the CATHOLIC CHURCH HYMNAL compiled by Augustus E. Tozer (1857-1910), is a melody composed by Jacob H. Schloeder (1865-1919).
  • From the 1954 ALVERNO HYMNAL PART 1, compiled by Sister Mary Cherubim, O.S.F. (1886-1977), a melody composed by Sister Mary Cherubim.

Copies of these melodies can be obtained by contacting Don Howe.

Reflection

For me, the melody attributed by Father Louis Lambillotte is the humblest and most moving of all the melodies. At St. Mary’s when I sang in the choir (1977-2005) this hymn was always part of our Christmas program and often times would be sung during Communion. We used the arrangement from the 1918 ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL.

When I meditate on the verses, I can see certain allusions to verses from the bible, Upon Thy mother’s breast, the Great Lord of earth, sea, and sky. Psalm 22:9-10, and Luke 11:27. I am reminded of the Annunciation and the Word made flesh in the phrase, Before the Incarnate King of kings, Luke 1: 26-38.

I am drawn into the joy of that Holy night in the third verse, While I with Mary gaze, In joy upon that face awhile, and with somber words, the foreshadowing of Good Friday unfolds, Ah, take thy brief repose, Too quickly will Thy slumber break, And Thou to lengthened pains awake, that death alone shall close.

Everyone who meditates on the verses may find other biblical references, what bible verses can you find?

St. Basil's Hymnal, 1918
St. Basil's Hymnal, 1918

Below is a selection of the four melodies described above which have been composed for the hymn. One of the recordings is from St. Mary’s Choir – Christmas Eve Midnight Mass from 1985. Nearly forty years have passed and my friends in the choir still sound wonderful! The others are computer generated sound files. The tempo is approximate but should provide the listener a good sense of what the hymn sounds like.

A special thank you to Peter Meggison producer of the Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to link to new recordings by the choristers of St. Peter’s Church in Columbia, South Carolina and the beautiful recording of Sleep, Holy Babe

Sweet Name Which Makes The Dying Live

Eliza Allen Starr (1824-1901) wrote the words of this hymn in 1866, and they appeared in her collection of Poems published by H. McGrath of Philadelphia in 1867. The poem was captioned The Holy Name of Jesus. Eliza was a prolific poetess, art teacher, and lecturer. She grew up in Deerfield, Massachusetts, and studied art in Boston. She taught art in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Natchez, Mississippi, and under the auspices of Archbishop Peter R. Kenrick (1806-1896), she joined the Church of Rome in 1854 at the old Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston.

Eliza Allen Star
Eliza Allen Star

In 1856, Eliza moved to Chicago where she remained for the rest of her life devoting her time to authoring poems, teaching art, and giving art lectures and courses at schools and academies throughout Chicago. In 1876, her career as an artist took her Italy, France, and England; and in 1885, Notre Dame University conferred upon her the Laetare Medal, she was the first woman ever to receive this prestigious award.  In 1893, she received a gold medal from the World’s Columbian Exposition also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, as an art teacher. Pope Leo XIII honored Eliza in 1900 with a cameo medallion as a mark of his approbation of her literary labors.

Poems by Eliza Allen Starr, 1867
Poems by Eliza Allen Starr, 1867
Poems by Eliza Allen Starr, 1867

Eliza was the author of Patron Saints, Pilgrims and Shrines, Songs of a Life Time, Isabella of Castile, Christian Art in Our Own Age, Christmas-Tide, The Seven Dolors of the Virgin Mary, and Three Archangels and the Guardian Angels in Art. A short biographical sketch of her life was published in the 1893 Woman of the Century – Leading American Women by Frances Willard and Mary Livermore. Also, in the Who’s Who in America, 1901/1902 by John Leonard. Eliza was a well-respected author and art critic known throughout America and Europe.

She was also the author of the hymn, O Face Divine! found in the HOLY FACE HYMNAL, 1891 with music composed by Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly of the Sisters of Mercy at St. Xavier’s Convent, Providence, Rhode Island. Sr. Mary Alexis Donnelly was one of the major contributors to American Catholic music in the late 19th and early 20th century period. Eliza never married and later in life she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic. She died at the age of seventy-seven after a short illness while visiting her brother in Durand, Illinois. She was buried at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Chicago wearing the Dominican habit.

The earliest that Sweet Name Which Makes the Dying Live appears in any Catholic hymnal is in the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1904 8th ed., and it continued to appear in later editions until 1925; also SELECTED HYMNS ca. 1926, Church Academy School, published by Angel Guardian Press, Jamaica Plain, Mass; It also appeared in the ST. JOSEPH’S HYMNAL, 1930 compiled by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Nazareth, Michigan; the SAINT ANDREW HYMNAL, 1945 compiled by Philip Kreckel and published by McLaughlin & Reilly Co.; the HOLY NAME HYMNAL, 1947; and in the PARISH HYMNAL, 1954 of St. Francis Church, Cleveland, Ohio.

St. Basil's Hymnal 8th ed. - 1904
St. Basil's Hymnal 8th ed. - 1904
St. Basil's Hymnal 8th ed. - 1904
St. Basil's Hymnal 8th ed. - 1904

The Melodies

Two melodies have been located for this hymn, a melody composed by a Sister of Mercy from St. Xavier’s in Chicago, and a melody found in the JUBILEE HYMNS BOOK, 1942 compiled and composed by Monsignor John Edward Ronan (1894-1962). The Jubilee series of hymn books were published in three volumes between 1942 and 1952 in Toronto, Canada.

The Sisters of Mercy, St. Xavier’s, Chicago

On the authority of the Mercy Heritage Center archivist, very few records of the sisters exist before 1929. In many of the former provinces, researchers/archivists have gone back and recreated files for historical sisters. However, this was not done in Chicago. This brief account of the sisters and their musical talents is taken from the sources listed below.

The identity of the Sister of Mercy who composed the melody that is traditional to this hymn remains a mystery yet there are a few who are worth mentioning because their musical abilities were well known among the sisters.

  • Sister Mary Vincent McGirr (Mary Anne McGirr), a famous musician. Sister Mary Vincent entered the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, She was one of the first novices who traveled with Mother Francis Warde and Mother Agatha O’Brien at the request of Bishop William Quarter (1806-1848) to establish the Sisters of Mercy in Chicago. Sister Mary Vincent professed her vows in 1846, and later she served as Mother Mary Vincent during the great Chicago fire of 1871. Sister Mary Vincent McGirr was under twenty-one when she professed her vows, and she died in 1909. Her father and brother were both doctors at Mercy Hospital.
  • Sister Mary Xavier McGirr (Catherine Cassie McGirr) sister of Sister Mary Vincent McGirr. Both were accomplished musicians according to the Illinois Catholic Historical Review, 1920, page 347 (see link below). Sister Mary Xavier went on to serve as Mother Mary Xavier the first superior for the Sisters of Mercy in Ottawa, Illinois. Mother Mary Xavier died May 2, 1876. Both her and her sister were born in Youngstown, Ohio, both entered the Order of Mercy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and both professed their vows in Chicago.
  • Sister Mary Angelica Mahon, whose eyes failed from constant daily copying of music to oblige others and giving music lessons by gas light. Eventually, she went blind. She died in 1907, after twenty-five years of religious life.
  • Sister Mary Louis Broderick, a music teacher of instrumental and vocal music. She died a few years later around 1912 but no date is actually given.

The Sisters of Mercy were quite influential in setting up schools and hospitals in and around the Chicago area. The Motherhouse was opened in 1846 and St. Xavier’s Academy in 1847. Mercy Hospital opened a few years later in 1851. Their nursing skills were called upon during the Cholera epidemic of 1854 and 1873, and during the Civil War they were summoned by Colonel Mulligan, who had organized the Irish Brigade and were placed in charge of the Jefferson City Hospital and the steamboat Empress. Many of the soldiers from both sides were still on the battlefield in tents deprived of every comfort, while suffering from wounds of every description. The steamboat Empress made many trips with suffering soldiers ferrying them to better care facilities including Pittsburg Landing near Shiloh, Keokuk in Iowa, Louisville, and St. Louis.

The great Chicago fire of 1871 which destroyed much of the city also destroyed the convent, boarding school and the Academy located on Wabash and Madison streets. Only small items which the sisters could carry out and some religious paintings cut from their frames were saved. Everything else was lost in the fire. The sisters were homeless. Mercy Hospital which had only recently been expanded survived and was soon over flowing with patients. The sisters saw to the needs of thousands of individuals, attending to people in numerous ways, the severely burned and those so covered with smoke and soot that they could not tell black from white or who was who. In a single night more than one hundred thousand people were rendered homeless.

from REMINESCENSES OF SEVENTY YEARS (1846-1916)
from REMINESCENSES OF SEVENTY YEARS (1846-1916)

There is much more that could be written about the Sisters of Mercy and their great accomplishments and trials in Chicago, but this is beyond the scope of this short write-up. A fascinating history of the Sisters of Mercy of St. Xavier’s can be found in the REMINESCENSES OF SEVENTY YEARS (1846-1916) published in 1916 by The Fred J. Ringley Co., of Chicago as well as the LEAVES FROM THE ANNALS OF THE SISTERS OF MERCY, published between 1881 and 1889, and the ILLINOIS CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW published in 1920.

Monsignor John E. Ronan composed the second melody. John Ronan was born in 1894 and studied music at St. Michael’s College in Toronto. He was drawn to the priesthood completed his seminary studies and was ordained in 1922. He continued to study church music in New York, Paris, Rome, Vienna, and Munich. He would go on to become a prolific composer of sacred music. He taught music in Catholic schools in Toronto and in time established the St. Michael’s Cathedral Choir School for boys in Toronto. In 1947, Father Ronan was given the title of Monsignor in recognition of his dedicated work in sacred music.

Though many of his compositions are unpublished more than nine hundred of his hand written manuscripts were discovered, catalogued, and digitized. Monsignor Ronan continued to teach music and served as principal of St. Michael’s Cathedral Choir School until his death in 1962.

St. Basil's Hymnal, 1918
Jubilee Hymns Book, 1942 (© St. Michael’s Choir School, 2015)

Reflection

St. Mary’s Choir sang this hymn at my grandfather France’s funeral as the recessional hymn when the funeral procession leaves the church and heads to the final resting place. Grandpa France died in March 1957 of a fatal heart attack while working for McNeil Machine & Engineering Co., in Akron, Ohio. I remember being told that grandpa died praying the rosary. He worked in the tool crib and often many hours would go by that no one signed out any tools and so he would pray his rosary. On this particular day I am also told that before going to work he and grandma had a disagreement about something, and heated words were exchanged between the two of them. I would like to think grandpa was praying the rosary that morning for any harsh words or remarks he may have said to grandma.

Roland & Margaret France 1943
Roland & Margaret France 1943

My grandfather was born in 1895 and raised Methodist and my grandmother was raised Catholic. He married my grandmother on April 17, 1917 in the Methodist church on North Arlington Street, Akron, Ohio and six months later after grandpa joined the Catholic Church they were married in St. Joseph’s Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. My grandmother was a wonderful Catholic woman, a mother of eight, and a foster-mother to twenty-eight children.

I remember being told that grandpa played the violin and grandma played the piano, and that they would often play together at home sharing hymns and songs that each of them knew. I wish I had known my grandfather, because from the stories I have heard, he was quite the character, but he died a year before I was born. Grandpa was also a member of the Holy Name Society at St. Mary’s in Akron, Ohio.

I learned the melody from ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL when I sang in St. Mary’s Choir (1977-2010). I really love this hymn and would like it to be the hymn the choir sings at my funeral. Every time I hear it the melody and words linger with me all day long and sometimes into the next day.

There are many poetic images from the bible in these verses, how many can you find?

The hymn is also a prayer, O Mary, teach me to pronounce that name of names most dear, and softly bend adoring head, when Jesus name I hear. This would make an excellent hymn to sing during November, for All Souls Day, and anytime a loved one is remembered.

In addition to my anecdotal evidence, there is other proof that this hymn and others were used at Catholic Requiem Masses either before Mass, when the funeral procession enters the church (ex., Sister Mary Rose – The Catholic Transcript, Thursday 3-24-1932, pg.7); as a recessional hymn (ex., Mary Gertrude Drumright – Drumright Evening Derrick, Monday 1-24-1921, pg1); and at the grave side (ex., Blazius Brozozowski, The Gonzales Inquirer 5-28-1931, Find-a-Grave); also (Daniel Daley Jr., The Lusk Herald (Lusk, WY), Thursday 2-27-1936, Niobrara County Library);  Other evidence was located in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) February 15, 1938, and August 17, 1953; however these obituaries were only available with subscription.

Other hymns were also listed in the evidence above including Miserere, Pie Jesu, Lead Kindly Light, Be Comforted Ye that Mourn, O Salutaris, Face to Face, Heaven is His Eternal Home, O Thou Sacred Heart, O What Could My Jesus Do More, and Nearer, My God to Thee – with verses written to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Though these funeral accounts highlight prominent citizens of some stature and one religious it does show that the hymn Sweet Name Which Makes the Dying Live was used at Requiem Masses throughout Catholic parishes in the United States during the first half of the 20th century.

A special thank you to Peter Meggison producer of the Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to link to the choir of St. John the Guardian of Our Lady from Clinton, Massachusetts. Please take a moment to listen to this beautiful collection of hymns and the wonderful hymn Sweet Name Which Makes the Dying Live.

Below are the melodies composed for the hymn Sweet Name Which Makes the Dying Live. These are computer generated sound files. The tempo is approximate but should provide the listener a good sense of what the hymn sounds like. Music directors, if you use any of these selections in your Sunday or weekly music programs and you make a recording, contact the author and I may feature it in the What’s New section of the website. 

O Queen of the Holy Rosary

Emily Mary Shapcote (née Steward) wrote the words to this hymn in 1882 and it first appeared in ST. DOMINIC’S HYMN-BOOK published in 1885 by Burns and Oates and was sold throughout England and America.

St. Dominic's Hymn-Book, 1885
St. Dominic's Hymn-Book, 1885
St. Dominic's Hymn-Book, 1885

The history books have little to say about Emily, her early life, and her journey to Catholicism. She was born in Liverpool, England in 1828 and married the Rev. Edward Gifford Shapcote in 1856. He was a graduate of Corpus Christi College one of the constituent colleges of Cambridge University and the late curate of St. George’s-in-the-East. He was an English minister in the Church of England and a missionary in Africa. Emily joined the Catholic Church in 1866 and her husband joined a few years later in 1868.

Emily was a hymn writer with several hymns to her credit and is the author of several books including Legends of the Blessed Sacrament published in 1877; Among The Lilies published in 1881, and Mary: The Perfect Woman published in 1904. She co-authored a hymn collection with her sister and aunt – HYMNS FOR INFANT CHILDREN published in 1852 by Joseph Masters of London. Those marked E being by Emily Shapcote, those marked A by her aunt, Mary Steward, and those marked C by her sister, Eleanor Steward. A third edition with accompanying tunes was published in 1872, and was edited by the Rev. John B. Dykes, Vicar of St. Oswald’s in Durham, England.

Hymns for Infant Children, 1872
Hymns for Infant Children, 1872
Hymns for Infant Children, 1872

In 1873, Emily translated the Latin prayer Salve Mundi Salutare (O Saviour of the world, I cry to Thee) A Rhythmical Prayer to the Sacred Members of Jesus Hanging upon the Cross. This prayer is attributed to St. Bernard and is still popular today. A detailed look into the origins of this prayer can be found at the Hymnology Archive.

Emily died in 1909 while residing in the city of Torquay. Torquay is a seaside resort town on the English Channel in Devon, South West England.

In addition to ST. DOMINIC’S HYMN-BOOK above the hymn Queen of the Holy Rosary appeared in the following Catholic hymnals: SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK, 1887 thru 1935 compiled by the Sisters of Notre Dame; CATHOLIC HYMNS, 1898 compiled by Augustus Edmonds Tozer (1857-1910); THE BOOK OF HYMNS WITH TUNES, 1913 compiled by Dom Samuel G. Ould, O.S.B., (1864-1939); ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1918 thru 1958 compiled by The Basilian Fathers; DIOCESAN HYMNAL, 1928 compiled by Cleveland, Ohio’s Archbishop Schrembs (1866-1945); CATHOLIC CHURCH HYMNAL, 1905 and 1933 compiled by Augustus Edmonds Tozer; AVE MARIA HYMNAL, 1936 compiled by Father Joseph J. Pierron (1875-1949); the ST. CECILIA HYMNAL, 1928 thru 1960 compiled by J. Alfred Schehl (1882-1959); HOLY NAME HYMNAL, 1947 compiled by Father James J. McLarney, O. P., (ca. 1900s-1969);  and MEDIATOR DEI HYMNAL, 1955 compiled by J. Vincent Higginson (1896-1994) ( a.k.a. Cyr de Brant).

The Melodies

The first verse of the hymn began Queen of the Holy Rosary, the O being added to fit some of the melodies. Ten different melodies have been located for this hymn from Catholic hymnals listed above.

One of the first melodies to appear in American Catholic hymnals was composed by a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur from the Philadelphia Community and was published by the Oliver Ditson Company of Boston in 1887. During this time period the Oliver Ditson Company had become one of major music publishing houses and had offices in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The identity of the Sister who composed the melody is unknown. This is not at all uncommon because in those days’ authorship was not given to the individual but to the whole community. This melody continued to appear in later publications of the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK, 1907 and 1935; also the ST. PAUL HYMNAL, 1915; HYMNS USED BY THE PUPILS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME, 1921 and 1948; the LAUDATE CHOIR MANUAL, 1942.

Sunday School Hymn Book, 1887
Sunday School Hymn Book, 1887
Sunday School Hymn Book, 1887
Sunday School Hymn Book, 1887

A second melody appeared in CATHOLIC HYMNS compiled by Augustus Edmonds Tozer and published in 1898 by Cary & Co., in London and by the Frederick Harris Co., in Toronto, Canada. This collection of hymns is considered to be a musical edition of the ST. DOMINIC’S HYMN-BOOK noted above. Augustus Edmonds Tozer (1857-1910) was a convert to Catholicism and received his Doctorate from Oxford University and was named a Knight of St. Sylvester for his work in the reform movement in England. J. Hallett Sheppard (1835-1879) composed the melody, and little is known about this composer except that he died on January 11th of consumption in 1879 at the age of forty-three. His daughter, Teresa Madeleine Hallett who was only six months of age died a month earlier on December 30th.

Catholic Hymns, 1898
Catholic Hymns, 1898
Catholic Hymns, 1898
Catholic Hymns, 1898

A third melody appears in THE BOOK OF HYMNS WITH TUNES compiled by Dom Samuel Gregory Ould, O.S.B., (1864-1939) published in 1913 by Cary & Co., London and by the Edward Schuberth & Co., of New York. This is one of the most important Scottish hymn collections of the early twentieth century. Samuel Gregory Ould is a convert to Catholicism and joined the Church of Rome in 1879. He is best known for his CANTIONES SACRAE: MUSICAL SETTINGS OF THE ROMAN LITURGY published by Novello and Company of London, in 1899. William Sewell (1861-1942) composed the melody. He served as the organist of the Redemptorist Church of St. Mary’s, Clapham for twenty-five years and he composed a Mass setting for St. Philip Neri while he was in charge of music at Birmingham Oratory as well as other Mass settings. He was co-editor of THE BOOK OF HYMNS WITH TUNES in collaboration with Dom Gregory Ould. William was also a convert to Catholicism and joined the Church of Rome in 1885.

The Book of Hymns, 1913
The Book of Hymns, 1913
The Book of Hymns, 1913

The fourth melody which has become traditional to the hymn is from the WIRTEMBERGISCHEN KATHOLISCHEN GESANGBUCH, 1784. The tune name is known as ELLACOMBE. The melody has been used for various hymns and appeared in American hymnals as early as 1872. However, the first American hymnal to use this tune for O Queen of the Holy Rosary was the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1918. The hymn continued to appear in later editions including the NEW ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL published 1958.

St. Basil's Hymnal, 1918
St. Basil's Hymnal, 1918

Archbishop Joseph Schrembs, D.D., of Cleveland, Ohio composed the fifth melody, and it was arranged by Msgr. Peter Griesbacher (1864-1933), the melody appeared in the DIOCESAN HYMNAL PART TWO – DEVOTIONAL HYMNS published by J. Fischer & Bro., of New York in 1928. Archbishop Schrembs was the fifth Bishop of Cleveland and served from 1921 to 1945. He was named Archbishop by Pope Pius XII on March 29, 1939. Very few musicians and parishioners remember Archbishop Schrembs important contribution to Catholic hymnody. Below is a brief synopsis of his contributions.

He was a musician and lover of sacred music and composed several hymns. He was instrumental in producing manuals of Gregorian Chant and Catholic editions of music text books for elementary schools. He also envisioned a plan for Church music reform that would begin with young children. He compiled two Diocesan Hymnals and the Eucharistic Hymnal between 1926 and 1935. The hymns embodied in the Eucharistic Hymnal were taken from The Diocesan Hymnal, Books One and Two. Archbishop Schrembs was the Protector of Priests’ Eucharistic League in the United States and Promoter of the Eucharistic Congress in 1935 when the Seventh Eucharistic Congress met in Cleveland.

Diocesan Hymnal Part One, 1926
Diocesan Hymnal Part Two, 1928
Eucharistic Hymnal, 1935
Diocesan Hymnal, 1928
Diocesan Hymnal, 1928

The Rt. Rev. Msgr. Peter Griesbacher (P.G.) was responsible for a large number of the harmonization’s of the hymns found in the Diocesan Hymnal, Books One and Two. He was a German born music composer and ordained a priest in 1886. He edited a number of publications of Catholic church music and has composed numerous mass settings, a number of cantatas, various choral works, and organ manuals.

Victor Hammerel composed or arranged the sixth melody which is found in the CATHOLIC CHURCH HYMNAL compiled by Augustus Edmonds Tozer and published by J. Fischer & Bro., of New York and The Vincent Music Co., of London. The first printing of this collection was in 1905 and a second printing in 1933. Victor Hammerel was choirmaster for a time at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament and organist at St. John’s Church both within a few miles of each other in Providence, Rhode Island. He composed a number of mass settings, choral works, and hymn collections including HYMNS TO THE SACRED HEART AND HOLY NAME OF JESUS, 1898; DEVOTIONAL HYMNS TO OUR LADY, 1900; TWENTY-TWO CHRISTMAS AND EASTER CAROLS, 1900. This melody also appeared in the PAROCHIAL HYMNAL, 1951 compiled by Father Carlo Rossini for the hymn Queen of the Holy Rosary.

Catholic Church Hymnal, 1933
Catholic Church Hymnal, 1933

A seventh melody can be found in the AVE MARIA HYMNAL, 1936 compiled by Father Joseph J. Pierron and published by The Bruce Publishing Company with offices in New York, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The melody is attributed to Michael Haydn (1737-1806). The AVE MARIA HYMNAL saw several editions with the first edition published in 1929 and the last edition in 1941. The hymnal is a collection of English and older German melodies. Joseph Pierron was ordained a priest in 1905 and studied music in Europe for three years. He held assistant positions in various parishes and pastorship in several churches throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In November 1949, he went to Boys Town, Nebraska to serve as music director for Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home. Father Pierron was editor of the Caecilia magazine in 1930, and composed several hymns, hymn collections, and authored several articles on music.

Ave Maria Hymnal, 1936
Ave Maria Hymnal, 1936

Hans Newsidler (ca. 1508-1590) composed the eighth melody. This melody is often attributed to Michael Praetorius (1571-1621); however, it is his harmonization of the melody that should be properly credited to him. The melody is identified as Ich Will Ein Neues Singen in editions of the SONGS OF SYON published in London by Schott & Co. This collection of Anglican hymns was compiled by the Rev. George R. Woodward, M.A., (1848-1934) and saw four editions between 1904 and 1923. The melody appeared in the ST. CECILIA HYMNAL compiled by Joseph Alfred Schehl (1882-1959) and published by the Frederick Pustet Co., Inc., with offices in New York and Cincinnati. The hymnal achieved five editions between 1928 and 1960, and was the Official Hymnal for the Schools of the Archdioceses of Cincinatti. Joseph Schehl was a famous composer, choirmaster, and musician from Cincinnati. He dedicated more than sixty years to his musical career and served as organist-choirmaster for forty-seven years at St. Lawrence Parish, Prince Hill, Cincinnati. He composed eight mass settings, various motets, and several volumes of organ music.

St. Cecilia Hymnal, 1955
St. Cecilia Hymnal, 1955

Stefano Constantino Yon (1876-1956) composed the ninth melody, and it is found in the HOLY NAME HYMNAL, 1947 compiled by Father James J. McLarney, O. P., and published by McLaughlin & Reilly Co., of Boston. The Holy Name Society consists of thousands of chapters in the United States and remains active in Catholic parishes even today. Constantino Yon or as he was sometimes referred S. Yon, or S. Constantino, was the organist and choirmaster of St. Vincent Ferrer’s Roman Catholic Church in New York, a position he held for almost forty years. He was a composer of hymns and other sacred music, and his choir would perform annually at the Christmas parties given by Cardinal Spellman for the children of New York’s Foundling Hospital. Constantino was a teacher of voice and piano and gave lessons at his home, in his studio in Carnegie Hall as well as the Academy of Mount St. Vincent and Elizabeth Seton School in Yonkers. Pietro A. Yon, the famous organist of St. Patrick’s Cathedral of New York and best known for his choral work Gesù Bambino (When blossoms flowered ‘mid the snows) was Constantino’s younger brother.

Holy Name Hymnal, 1947
Holy Name Hymnal, 1947

The source for the tenth melody may be the MAINZ GESANGBUCH of 1661 or 1870. It is from this collection of German songs that the melodies for To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King and the Stabat Mater (At the Cross Her Station Keeping) are found. Another source is the CATHOLIC YOUTH’S HYMNAL compiled by Benjamin Hamma (1831-1911) and published by J. Fischer & Bro., of New York in 1891. Benjamin Hamma was a German composer and teacher with a number of hymns, choral pieces, and Mass settings to his credit. This melody is used in other Catholic hymnals for the hymns I’ll Sing a Hymn to Mary and I’ll Sing to Thee, O Mary. An examination of these arrangements did not reveal a composer’s name and it was found that only a few measures from each arrangement appear to be the same, suggesting a common melody which has been altered over time.

Mediator Dei Hymnal, 1955
Mediator Dei Hymnal, 1955

Reflection

There are two melodies that I learned while singing in St. Mary’s Choir (1977-2010), the traditional melody (Ellacombe) found in St. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1918 and the melody found in the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK, 1907 by the Sisters of Notre Dame, captioned Our Lady of the Rosary. In the poetic imagery we can clearly see that our Pater’s and Ave’s recited with each bead we say are likened to roses in garlands, very poetic indeed since the beads of the rosary are strung together like a wreath. The help and grace we receive from praying the rosary are not to be trifled with or scoffed at, for the rosary has brought many souls to Christ.

As I was taught, each decade of the rosary is a journey in the sacred life of Jesus and every bead like a step toward Calvary. In singing this hymn, I have come to believe the author intended the words We gather to thine honor, buds white, and red and gold as symbols of the mysteries themselves. The Joyful mysteries are white roses, and Sorrowful mysteries are red roses, and the Glorious and Luminous mysteries gold roses.

It’s amazing to me that some of our best devotional hymns were written by converts to the Catholic Faith. At St. Mary’s when I sang in the choir, we would sing this hymn before Mass, at Offertory or as a second recessional. The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7, let us sing this hymn once again during the month of October in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary and make it part of our parish repertoire.

A special thank you to Peter Meggison producer of the Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to link to the choir of Blessed Sacrament Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Five of the melodies listed above are beautifully woven together producing a wonderful and truly uplifting recording.

Also, to Noel Jones, AAGO in granting permission to link to A Catholic Book of Hymns with 295 time-honored traditional Catholic hymns, including two arrangements of O Queen of the Holy Rosary. This is a wonderful collection of hymns with text approved, having the IMPRIMATUR from the Roman Catholic Church in the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, which make them perfectly suited for Mass and devotions.

Listed below are computer generated sound files. The tempo is approximate but should provide the listener a good sense of what the hymn sounds like. All the hymns are in the public domain. Music directors, organist, and choirmasters, if you use any of these selections in your Sunday or weekly music programs and you make a recording, contact the author and I will feature your recording and choir in the What’s New section of the website. 

Mother of Mercy, Day by Day

Father Frederick William Faber (1814-1863) wrote the text of this hymn. He was a convert to Catholicism and was received into the Catholic Church on November 18, 1845, by Bishop Wareing, the first Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Northampton. He made his first communion and in confirmation he took the name of his patron St. Wilfrid. He began writing hymns in 1848 and wrote his first two hymns while on a retreat in Yorkshire in the small sea-side town of Scarborough. These were Mother of Mercy, Day by Day and Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All.

Jesus and Mary, 1849
Jesus and Mary, 1849
Jesus and Mary, 1849

These first hymns and the few that followed where published in his JESUS AND MARY hymnal of which there were more than 1,000 copies sold by 1849. Father Faber wrote more than ninety hymns, some of them we still sing today including Faith of our fathers, living still; Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All; Dear Angel Ever at my Side; Dear Guardian of Mary; Like the Dawning; O Come and Mourn With Me Awhile, and There’s a wideness in God’s Mercy. He authored several books including All For Jesus; The Precious Blood; The Blessed Sacrament, and Growth In Holiness.

There is so much that I could write about Father Faber and his journey from Calvinism to Anglicanism and finally to Catholicism, but this would be a lengthy endeavor and is beyond the scope of this short write-up. However, it is worth mentioning a little something, call it a summary, of his journey to the Catholic Church.

As a young man Frederick Faber showed a natural prowess of poetry. This poetical element was developed during his boyhood and in the countryside of his youth (Westmoreland, Yorkshire, and Ambleside. Ambleside is a town that sits on the east side of the northern headwater of Windermere, England’s largest natural lake.) and where he spent much of his school days (the Grammar School of Bishop Auckland, Kirkby Stephen in Westmoreland until 1825, Shrewsbury School and then Harrow School) until he graduated to Oxford. He enrolled at Oxford University beginning in 1832 and was accepted to Balliol College one of the constituent colleges of Oxford and took up residence in the Lent Term of 1833 which was during the great Oxford Movement.

By his second year at the university his religious views began to undergo a change. Suffice is to say he rejected the teachings of Arminianism and all Calvinism (that God predestines people by choosing who will accept his salvation and that Christ suffered only for the elect of God, the chosen) and became a zealous advocate of Anglican principles. There are expressions found in his letters to his brother, friends and colleagues that indicate he had some misgivings concerning the Anglican beliefs. Certain doctrinal questions that were brought forward as a result of the Oxford Movement began to stir in him including the Catholic teaching on transubstantiation. He didn’t know it then, but these inner murmurings and doubts would in time lead him to the Catholic Church. It is also here that he became an enthusiastic admirer of Rev. John Henry Newman, vicar of St. Mary’s, although at this time he was not personally acquainted with him.

In 1835, Frederick Faber was chosen as a scholar of University College another of the constituent colleges of Oxford University. He desired earnestly to devote himself to the service of God and looked forward to a time when he could receive ordination as a minister in the Church of England. His election to fellowship at Oxford gave him a secure position and he set to work busying and preparing himself for orders. In August of 1837 he received deacon’s orders in the Church of England and was assigned to St. Wilfrid’s Cathedral of Ripon. In 1839 on the 26th of May he received priest’s orders and the Rectory of Elton, in Huntingdonshire, was offered to him by his college.

Courtesy of The London Oratory https://www.bromptonoratory.co.uk/
From the book Life and Letters of Frederick William Faber, D.D., Priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri

Shortly after accepting his duties as Rector of Elton he took a trip to the continent by way of France and then to Italy. He visited various cities in France and Italy when finally he arrived in Rome on May 9th, 1843. It is here that he acquired his devotion to St. Phillip Neri (1515-1595), the founder of the Oratorians. While in Rome he attended Ascension Thursday Mass in St. John Lateran’s church, the Pope’s cathedral. He was quite moved by the whole experience especially when Pope Gregory XVI descended from his throne and knelt before the foot of the altar. Mr. Faber left Rome on St. Alban’s Day (June 17) and traveled to Albano to spend a few quite days in the woods. Albano is about a twelve-hour ride from Rome in a horse drawn carriage.

Very ealry the next morning he received a letter that he was being summoned for an audience with the Pope at the Vatican Library at 5 P.M. that very day. He hurriedly set off to Rome in full dress and arrived at the Vatican Library and waited until the Pope arrived. Through an interpreter Frederick Faber and the Pope had a lengthy conversation which encompassed a few church matters but mostly his desires to join the Catholic Church.

The Pope said to him, You must not mislead yourself in wishing for unity, yet waiting for your Church to move. Think of the salvation of your own soul. He then laid his hands on Mr. Faber’s shoulders and blessed him with this prayer, May the grace of God correspond to your good wishes, and deliver you from the nets of Anglicanism, and bring you to the Holy Church. Frederick Faber left Rome greatly affected by the affectionate demeanor of this old Pope, his blessing, and his prayer. It was a day he would always remember.

He returned to his parish of Elton and the nearly one thousand parishioners, every day growing more and more Roman. For the next two years every expression of Catholic life answered a doubt or dispelled some fear and the words of the Holy Father to save his own soul weighed heavily upon him. By now many of his friends had already joined the Catholic Church and on November 16th, 1845, he officiated for the last time as Rector of Elton. Two days later he was received into the Catholic Church.

This brief account can hardly elucidate every happening, trial, and inward struggle of Father Faber’s conversion journey. You can learn more about this wonderful Catholic priest and his journey to Catholicism by reading his biography in The Life and Letters of William Frederick Faber, Priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, published in 1869.

The Melodies:

The melodies that have been composed are attributed to several musicians including two melodies by Henri F. Hemy (1818-1888) found in the CROWN OF JESUS MUSIC published in 1864, of these two melodies one would become traditional to the hymn; a melody by Meyer Lutz (1829-1903) found in THE POPULAR HYMN AND TUNE BOOK published in 1868; a melody by W. C. Peters (1805-1866) found in PETERS’ CATHOLIC HARP published in 1895; a melody by John Richardson (1816-1879) found in Tozer’s CATHOLIC HYMNS published in 1898; a melody by Henry Baker (1835-1910) and a melody by Sir Alfred Scott Gatty (1847-1918) found in the ARUNDEL HYMNAL published in 1905; a melody by Sir Richard R. Terry (1865-1938) found in the WESTMINSTER HYMNAL published in 1912; a melody by a Marist Brother known only as B. M. J., found in the AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNAL published in 1913; a melody by Father Simon M. Yenn (1863-1938) found in the ST. GREGORY HYMNAL published in 1920; and a melody from Melchior Vulpius’s Gesangbuch of 1609 found in the WESTMINSTER HYMNAL published in 1939.

Melodies by Henri Hemy - Crown of Jesus Music, 1864
Crown of Jesus Music, 1864 (traditional melody)

Henri (Henry) F. Hemy was born in 1818 Newcastle, England. He was the organist at St. Andrew’s Church in Newcastle and later professor of music at St. Cuthbert’s College now Ushaw College in Durham. He sang baritone and painted artwork. He composed more than seventy different works of music including waltzes, polkas, hymns and set most of Longfellow’s works to music. He compiled two hymn collections including EASY HYMNS AND SONGS, 1851 and CROWN OF JESUS MUSIC, 1864.

Melody by Meyer Lutz - Westlake's Popular Hymn and Tune Book, 1868

Meyer Lutz (Wilhelm Meyer Lutz) was a German born English organist. He was a composer and conductor known for his work touring with theater companies. He composed several operas and was the musical director of the Gaiety Theater in London’s West End. He was also the church organist in Birmingham, Leeds, and London. His father was Joseph Lutz (1801-1879), a music professor who introduced music to his son in the 1830s.

Melody by W. C. Peters - Peters’ Catholic Harp, 1895

William Cummings Peter was born in England and he came to Texas in 1820. During the years 1826-1828 he gave piano lessons in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1829, he opened a music store in Louisville, Kentucky and another in Cincinnati, Ohio. Peters’ Catholic Harp was first published in 1863. Hymnals and other musical publications by the firm Peters’ in Cincinnati were extremely popular in the 1880s.

Melody by J. Richardson – Tozer’s Catholic Hymns, 1898

John Richardson grew up a choir boy at St. Mary’s Church, Liverpool, and later organist for St. Nicholas Church for twenty years. He taught music at St. Edward’s College and Upshaw and retired to Preston. He was admired by Cardinal Newman and honored by Pope Pius IX. He composed the melodies for the following hymns including By the Blood that flowed from Thee; Jesus, ever loving Savior; Come Holy Ghost, Creator Come; Sweet Mother, turn those gentle eyes; Look down, O Mother Mary; Hail, bright Star of Ocean, God’s own Mother; Mother of Mercy, Day by Day; and several others.

Melody by Henry Baker – Arundel Hymnal, 1905
Melody by Sir Alfred Scott-Gatty

Henry Baker composed the first tune found in the Arundel Hymnal of 1905. Henry Baker was a civil engineer building railroads in India. He was however musically inclined and completed a music degree at Exeter College, Oxford in 1867. He composed this tune known as Hesperus, Quebec, and Elim while a student at Exeter College.

Sir Alfred Scott-Gatty composed the second tune found in the Arundel Hymnal. He was a composer of children’s music and a few operettas. His collection of Little Songs for Little Voices was published in three volumes. He also was an officer of arms at the College of Arms in London and was knighted for his services in 1911.

Melody by Sir Richard R. Terry – Westminster Hymnal, 1912
Melody by B.M.J. – a Marist Brother – American Catholic Hymnal, 1913

Sir Richard R. Terry composed the melody found in the Westminster Hymnal of 1912. He was educated at King’s College, Cambridge and joined the Catholic Church in 1896. He was choirmaster and organist at the Westminster Catholic Cathedral from 1901-1924, and the editor of the Westminster Hymnal published in 1912. He was knighted in 1922.

Little was known about the Marist Brother B. M. J., except that he composed more than fifty of the hymns found in the AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNAL. Recently, the archivist for the Marist Brothers revealed to me that B. M. J. was a pseudonym for Brother Zephiriny. It was a customary practice in those days that an individual Brother’s name could not be used in a publication or in a musical composition without the expressed permission of the Brother Provincial. The Marist Brothers of the Schools of New York compiled the hymnal, and it consisted of Hymns, Latin Chants, and Sacred Songs for Church, School, and Home. There were two editions of the hymnal published by P. J. Kenedy & Sons of New York. The first was published in 1913 and the second edition was published 1921. Brother Zephiriny was one of the outstanding leaders of the U.S. province from 1892 until his death in 1928.

Melody by S. M. Yenn – St. Gregory’s Hymnal, 1920
Melody from Vulpius’s Gesangbuch – Westminster Hymnal, 1939

Father Simon Yenn served on the Music Committee for the Society of St. Gregory and was the Diocesan Director of Sacred Music for Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He composed the melodies for three hymns found in the ST. GREGORY HYMNAL published in 1920. Why art thou sorrowful? Mother of Mercy, and Hail Virgin, dearest Mary (Queen of May). He was a contributor to the Catholic Choirmaster magazine from 1915 till 1923 and wrote a series of articles on Church Music Reform.

Melchior Vulpius was a German composer and schoolmaster. He was a prolific composer and during his lifetime one of the most important contributors of Lutheran hymn tunes in Germany. He has two hundred motets and some four hundred hymns to his credit. He compiled several hymn collections and published several Sacred Vocal works both in Latin and German. The music was arranged by DOM Gregory Murray, O.S.B., a student of Sir Richard Terry.

Reflection

The arrangement I learned to sing in St. Mary’s Choir (1977-2010) which is the traditional melody comes from the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1918. The choir would sing this hymn before Mass on many occasions as a prelude and especially for the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, September 24. At St. Mary’s we had a custom of singing a hymn the weekend before to remind parishioners that a feast day was fast approaching. Every so often the feast day would fall on Sunday which makes singing the hymn ever more appropriate.

The first verse of the hymn is quite moving and expresses the love many Catholics have toward Our Lady. The words, Thy gifts are strewn upon my way, Like sands upon the great seashore, are constant reminders to me of the many gifts we have received from Our Lady in our struggle against the wily snares of Satan. These include the Rosary, the Miraculous Medal, the Brown Scapular, the many invocations, prayers, and Church dogmas. What gifts of Our Lady have you found along your way that have helped you?

The last verse touches me deeply. Father Faber writes, Jesus, when His three hours were run, Bequeath’d thee from the cross to me, reflecting on John’s gospel (Jn. 19:26-27) where Jesus says to his mother from the cross, Woman, behold your son and to John, behold your mother. This hymn is by far one of my most favorite Catholic hymns and one that often times will spontaneously surface in my memories. I sing along with my friends of St. Mary’s Choir who precede ahead of me to that heavenly glory.

St. Basil's Hymnal, 1918 (traditional melody)

I want to thank Peter Meggison, producer of The Devotional Hymns Project for granting permission to link to a newly commissioned recording by the St. John Cantius Church, Chicago. Click on the link to hear this beautiful recording which includes all the verses from Father Faber’s 1849 hymn Mother of Mercy, Day by Day.

Below is a selection of the melodies listed above which have been composed for the hymn. These are computer generated sound files. The tempo is approximate but should provide the listener a good sense of what the hymn sounds like. All the hymns are in the public domain. Church musicians, if you use any of these selections in your Sunday or weekly music programs and you make a recording and you are willing to share, contact the author and I will feature it in the What’s New section of my website. 

Hail! Virgin of Virgins

Father Jeremiah William Cummings, D.D., (1814-1866) wrote the text of this hymn for the Feast of the Assumption. It first appeared in his SONGS FOR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AND AIDS TO MEMORY FOR THE CATECHISM. The first edition was published in 1860 by P. O’Shea and contained sixty hymns. The second edition was published in 1862 by J. & D. Sadlier and contained ninety-two hymns. One of the hallmarks of Father Cummings hymn book was the attention given to the education of school children which focused on Catholic fundamentals like the Ten Commandments, the Seven Sacraments, and Theological Virtues and adapting them into hymns. These two publications are quite significant and until 1860, the only Catholic collection of original hymns, the first of its kind, by an American author.

Songs for Catholic Schools, 1862
Songs for Catholic Schools, 1862
Songs for Catholic Schools, 1862

Father Cummings was born in Washington, D. C., and after his father died, he and his mother moved to New York City. From a youthful age he wanted to become a priest, but he and his mother were as poor as church mice. In September 1834, and through the good graces of Father J. P. McGerry of the New York Archdiocese, he was accepted to the College of the Propaganda in Rome. He was a gifted student and gained the degree of Doctor of Divinity. He returned to New York and was assigned to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and later he was appointed pastor of the new St. Stephen’s Parish where he oversaw the building of the church and school. He had a great fondness for music, and soon took charge of the choir. Oftentimes as were the case, well-known singers from the Metropolitan Opera House joined the choir. Through his influence the choir gained the esteem of the people who came from all over the city to Sunday High Mass. St. Stephen’s Church became one of the largest Catholic parishes of the day with over 28,000 parishioners. Father Cummings remained pastor of St. Stephen’s parish until his death in 1866.

Father Cummings was one of the first American Catholic hymn writers with over ninety original hymns to his credit. He is referred to as The Forgotten American Hymnodist in an article written by Monsignor Hugh Thomas Henry (1862-1946) that appeared in THE CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Jul. 1915), pp. 139-147. Some of Father Cummings hymns which achieved popular success include, Christ is Risen from the Dead; O Brightness of Eternal Light; Let a Pious Pray Be Said; Great God, Whatever through Thy Church; Daughter of God the Father, and Most Holy Trinity One God. Father Cumming’s Christ is Risen from the Dead was a favorite Easter hymn when I sang in St. Mary’s Choir.

In addition to the hymnals noted above Hail! Virgin of Virgins appeared in the following Catholic hymnals: CATHOLIC HYMNS AND CANTICLES and THE COMPLETE SODALITY MANUAL, 1863, compiled by Father Alfred Young, C.S.P.; THE CATHOLIC YOUTH’S HYMNAL, 1871, compiled by the Christian Brothers; THE MANUAL OF SELECT CATHOLIC HYMNS, 1885 and 1925, compiled by Father P. M. Colonel, C.SS.R; the CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1885, 1888, 1894 and 1909, compiled by Father Alfred Young, C.S.P.; PSALLITE, 1901, 1907, and 1928 compiled by Father Alexander Roesler, S.J,; the CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1920, compiled by Father John G. Hacker; THE STANDARD CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1921, compiled by James A. Reilly; the ST. MARY’S MANUAL, 1924, compiled by Christian A. Zittel, and OUR LADY OF MERCY HYMNAL, 1899, VOL. 1 and 1927, Vol. 2., compiled by the Sisters of Mercy with music by Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly, R.S.M; also the CATHOLIC HYMNAL AND SERVICE BOOK, 1966, Benziger edition. Many of the hymnals listed above are available from the CCWATERSHED.ORG website.

The melodies:

One of the first melodies to appear in American Catholic hymnals was composed by Signor Domenico Speranza (ca. 1860). He was a highly respected Italian composer known for his system of musical instruction for the children of Turin. He was a professor of vocal and instrumental music and the Director of the Italian Musical Institute in San Francisco. He was also connected to the Academy of Music in New York City. Father Cummings chose him to prepare the music for the hymnal SONGS FOR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, and with the exception of five of the hymns, Signor Speranza composed all the music in the first edition.

Songs for Catholic Schools, 1862

A second melody appears in the CATHOLIC VOLCALIST, and in the CATHOLIC YOUTH’S HYMNAL. The CATHOLIC VOLCALIST was a Catholic periodical of the 1860s made up of Sacred Music including litanies, anthems, motets, hymns, for the use of churches, schools, and private families. The Christian Brothers of New York compiled the CATHOLIC YOUTH’S HYMNAL. The Brothers were a mix of German and French backgrounds and taught in the Catholic schools surrounding St. Stephen’s Parish. Around twenty-five of the hymns were composed by the Brothers and fifteen melodies were composed by Father Louis Lambillotte, a French Jesuit priest (1796-1855). Father Lambillotte is best known today for his compositions Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest; On This Day O Beautiful Mother, and ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother.

The Catholic Volcalist, 1860
The Catholic Youth's Hymnal, 1871

A third melody appeared in CATHOLIC HYMNS AND CANTICLES and THE COMPLETE SODALITY MANUAL compiled by Father Alfred Young, C.S.P. (1831-1900). The composer of this melody is not known although in the Preface of both hymnals several individuals are mentioned for their contributions to the hymnals but a special thank you is given to T. J. Wallace, Esq., organist of St. Paul the Apostle Church located in New York City for his contributions.

Catholic Hymns and Canticles, 1863
Catholic Hymns and Canticles, 1863

In 1885, a melody appeared in the Father Alfred Young’s CATHOLIC HYMNAL. This hymnal saw subsequent printings in 1888, 1894 and 1909. More than half a century later the same melody appeared in the Benziger publication of the CATHOLIC HYMNAL AND SERVICE BOOK, 1966.

The Catholic Hymnal, 1885
Catholic Hymnal and Service Book, 1966

During the early part of the twentieth century the hymn was adapted to a tune from Bone’s Cantate, 1858 and appeared in the Catholic hymnal PSALLITE, Father Hacker’s CATHOLIC HYMNAL and the ST. MARY’S MANUAL. The tune is known as Wie schön scheint die Sonn (time index ~ 2:30)

St. Mary's Manual, 1924

Among the several melodies that were composed for this beautiful hymn the melody that achieved the greatest success was by Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly, R.S.M. (1857-1936) of the Order of Mercy, St. Xavier’s Convent, Providence, RI., Her composition was published by J. Fischer & Bros., in song sheet form and by McLaughlin & Reilly, Co., in their hymn-pamphlet No. 25, HYMNS TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY published in 1906. This hymn pamphlet and others that featured her musical compositions appropriate for various occasions or use proved to be an enormous success for McLaughlin & Reilly and were sold continually during the company’s existence. This arrangement also appeared in OUR LADY OF MERCY hymnal published in 1899 and OUR LADY OF MERCY Vol. 2 published in 1927. Both of these hymnals were compiled by the Sisters of Mercy with music by Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly. It also appeared in the STANDARD CATHOLIC HYMNAL published by McLaughlin & Reilly, Co., in 1921.

Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly, R.S.M., courtesy of catholicdevotionalhymns.com
Our Lady of Mercy, 1899

Reflection

When I meditate on the verses, I can see several allusions to biblical passages in the hymn. For example, thy throne is in heaven, thy Son is its King, a reference to Psalm 45:10, the Queen takes her place at your right hand in gold of Ophir. The Mystical Rod pointing to Isaiah 11:1, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse. Also, the Handmaid of God a reference to Luke 1:38, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, and again the sun with its rays calling to mind Rev. 12:1, a woman clothed with the sun, and we bless thee, from Luke 1:48, all generations shall call me blessed. I also see a reference to John 19:27 in the phrase Oh be thou our Mother. Each person who reflects on these verses will see something different or nothing at all. What can you see? 

This would make a wonderful hymn to sing at the beginning of Mass, at offertory, or as a recessional during the month of August and for the Feast of the Assumption. At St. Mary’s where I grew up and sang in the choir for more than thirty years, we didn’t wait for a feast day to arrive to honor Mary, she was our patroness and the Mother of God, so we honored her with hymns on most Sunday’s throughout the year. Be spontaneous and see what graces and help will come from Our Blessed Mother when you express your love for her through hymns.

On another note, Father Cummings is sometimes credited as the author of the hymn Immaculate Mary, Thy praises we sing. This is FALSE. This hymn first appeared in the CANTATE OMNES Catholic hymnal published in 1952 and the words are by an unknown author or editor. The hymn was offered as a substitute for the beloved Marian hymn Immaculate Mary, Our hearts are on fire. This brings to mind an interesting narrative I read in the Introduction to the PEOPLE’S HYMNAL published in 1955 by THE HYMN COMMITTEE of THE THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, Washington, D.C., Catholic devotion, as the Church takes care to emphasize, should represent, not what we would wish to feel, but what we actually do feel. There is no need for saying that our hearts are on fire when really, they are not.

Hmm…We’re not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us (Luke 24:32)

A beautiful Harp solo of Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly’s composition and many of her other compositions can be found by visiting The Devotional Hymns Project website produced by Peter Meggison. 

Below is a selection of the melodies composed for the hymn Hail! Virgin of Virgins described above. These are computer generated sound files. The tempo is approximate but should provide the listener a good sense of what the hymn sounds like. All the hymns are in the public domain. Music directors, if you use any of these selections in your Sunday or weekly music programs and you make a recording, contact the author and I may feature it in the What’s New section of the website. 

Lord, for Tomorrow and Its Needs (Just for To-Day)

The words of this hymn were written in the early morning hours of 1877 by Sister Mary Xavier while attending the bedside of an elderly nun whose life was ebbing away. The lines were of great comfort to the patient. In time, Sister Mary Xavier sent the words of the hymn to her mother, who had them published in the January issue of the MESSENGER OF THE SACRED HEART, 1880. This is the earliest known publication of the hymn to exist.

When conducting my research, I noted some inconsistencies found among the online sources with regards to Sister Mary Xavier, not the least of which is when she was born. So, I contacted the archivist of the Mount Pleasant Community in Liverpool, England to see if she could supply the correct biographical details of Sister Mary Xavier which she did.

Sister Mary Xavier was born Sybil F. Partridge on April 11, 1850, in London. Her father Professor Richard Partridge (1805-1873) was a London Doctor of Medicine and president of the Royal College of Surgeons. The family was distinguished for literary and artistic gifts. Three sisters entered Religion and died before Sister Mary Xavier. Her brother, Sir John Bernard Partridge (1861-1945), the famous cartoonist, joined the staff of Punch a British weekly magazine.

In 1873 Sybil Partridge offered herself as a Postulant at the Mother House of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Namur, Belgium. Not long after she was clothed in the Religious habit and took the name Sister Mary Xavier. In 1876 she made her Religious Profession at Namur, after which she was sent to the Convent of Notre Dame, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool. During this period, she also presented herself for examination gaining the Parchment which qualified her for teaching in the Training College. From the beginning of her career, she showed herself to be an exceptionally gifted teacher, and under the leadership of Sister Mary of St. Philip (Frances Mary Lescher) (1825-1904), contributed much to the fame of the Training College during the years she worked there.

In 1898 she became the first Principal of St. Mary’s Hall, a Secondary Training College opened in connection with the Notre Dame Convent, Mount Pleasant. In 1903, Sister Mary Xavier, at the request of former students and colleagues, published a book, IN HYMNIS ET CANTICIS, a collection of her poems, both sacred and profane.

The Sisters of St. Mary's Hall
Training College Sisters

The Mount Pleasant Community archivist supplied the above photos. The photo on the left captioned The Sisters of St. Mary’s Hall was marked with names on the back and if we accept that the naming is correct we have from left to right, Sister Julie of St. Agnes (Julie des Agnes), Sister Mary Xavier, Sister Rose of St. Joseph, and Sister Mary of St. Philip. The photo captioned Training College Sisters was not marked with any names. However, the four sisters who have been named already are in the second photo. Sister Mary of St. Philip is in the center (seated), in the first row on the left and right of Sister Mary of St. Philip and seated on the ground is Sister Rose of St. Joseph (left) and Sister Mary Xavier (right). Sister Julie of St. Agnes is seated in the second row, second from the left. The date of these photos is not known but were taken a few years apart and before 1904. Few photographs exist of the Sisters but clearly there were times when groups were photographed. Sisters were not usually allowed to have photographs taken until the late 1960s which makes these photographs incredibly special.

Sister Mary Xavier was twenty-seven years of age when she composed what was to become her most famous hymn. She composed as many as nineteen hymns and most of them appear in the NEW HYMNS by the Sisters of Notre Dame, published by Cary & Co., London circa 1892. Also in the AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1913 and 1921, more than ten of Sister Xavier’s hymns appear in this one hymnal. Among the more widely used hymns of Sister Mary Xavier were her communion hymn Jesus, Thou Art Coming, her hymn Mother of Christ (Mater Christi), and Mother of all that is pure and glad (Causa Nostrae Laetitiae) also known as the Holiday Hymn.

In 1916, Sister Mary Xavier retired from Mount Pleasant and moved to Birkdale – part of the seaside town of Southport, just north from Liverpool. There was a good-sized community there for many years. Sister Mary Xavier died on February 23, 1917. She was buried in one of the Southport Catholic parish church graveyards. 

The hymn appeared in the following Catholic hymnals: the 1912 and 1939 WESTMINSTER HYMNAL, a melody by Laurence or Lawrence Ampleforth, this is a pseudonym used by Richard R. Terry (1865-1938); the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1918 thru 1953, to a melody by James Edmund Jones; the ST. GREGORY HYMNAL, 1920, to a melody by Nicola Montani; the AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1913 and 1921, to a melody by F. M. S. (Marist Brothers); in SELECTED HYMNS, 1930, a small book of hymns (words only) by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Archdiocese of Boston; also in A DAILY HYMN BOOK, 1948, to a melody by Fr. F. M. de Zulueta, S.J.; the ALVERNO HYMNAL Part III, 1953, to a melody attributed to R. R. Terry and slightly altered; the MANUAL OF HYMNS FOR THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL, 1948 (words only) published especially for the Catholic Parochial Schools; and in the NEW ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1958, to a melody by John Lee. Many of the hymnals listed above are available from the CCWATERSHED.ORG website.

The hymn is also found in many non-Catholic hymnals with melodies by various composers including Horatio R. Palmer (1834-1907), George C. Stebbins (1846-1945), and Thomas T. Noble (1867-1953). The authorship of the hymn has been pirated many times. Attributions to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) and his son Bishop Ernest Wilberforce (1840-1907) both from the Church of England are commonly found in the hymnals. In an interview with Bishop Ernest Wilberforce about a month before he died, he denied any authorship to the hymn. Another name was William Huckle a convict from Dominion Penitentiary in Canada who claimed to have written the verses in a moment of inspiration. Being a character of more than unusual disreputableness William Huckle’s claim was dismissed. Some of the verses especially the Catholic verse beginning In Purgatory’s cleansing fires are left out of the non-Catholic hymnals.

The hymn appeared in sheet music form with music composed by several musicians. The first was composed by Jane Bingham Abbott published in 1894 by Clayton F. Summy Co. of Chicago and Weekes & Co., London and later sung by contralto Christine Miller on Edison records in 1914. Paul Ambrose (1868-1941) composed a melody in 1905 which was published by The Arthur P. Schmidt Co. of Boston. Between 1910 and 1921, several compositions were published by G. Schirmer, Inc., of New York. These include Mary Turner Salter (1856-1938) in 1910, Frederick Flaxington Harker (1876-1936) in 1914, and Eugene W. Wyatt (1880-1927) in 1921.

The melody that became the most widely used gained its great popularity through the 1930 film Song O’ My Heart, produced by the Fox Film Corporation and sung by the well-known Irish tenor John McCormack. Blanche Ebert Seaver (1891-1994) composed the music for the hymn in 1926. The melody by Blanche Seaver touched the hearts of many and its popularity grew. Baritone John Charles Thomas, accompanied by pianist Carroll Hollister, also sang Just For Today on Victor Red Seal records and radio during the 1930s and 1940s. Copies of the sheet music published by Sam Fox Publishing Company can be found on eBay.

In the CAECILIA magazine archives of the Church Music Association of America there is a wonderful write-up on the origins of the hymn and its author from which some of the details given in this story have been taken. You can read the full article in the November 1936 edition, page 445, captioned THE HYMN JUST FOR TODAY.

Just for To-day by Jane Bingham Abbot, 1894
Just for To-day by Paul Ambrose, 1905
Just for To-day by Eugene W. Wyatt, 1921
Just For To-day by Blanche Ebert Seaver, 1926

Reflection

During my earlier years in St. Mary’s Choir (1977-2010) this hymn was sung on various occasions before Mass by my friend and fellow tenor Tom McNeil (1933-2019). Over the years this prayerful hymn would find its way back to me, and I would hum the melody and sing the words that I once heard long ago. How wonderful to discover that the melody Tom sang was composed by Blanche Seaver and the words composed by Sister Mary Xavier. The verses reflect the words of Our Lord, Enough then, of worrying about tomorrow. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own (Matt. 6:34).

Another wonderful reflection of this hymn appeared in the CAECILIA magazine mentioned above in the article, WHAT QUALITIES SHOULD A GOOD HYMN HAVE? page 448. This review examines the following characteristics: Simplicity, Freshness, Reality of Feeling, Consistent Elevation of Tone, and A Rhythm Easy and Harmonious.

Simplicity – The more you enter those stanzas, the more you are enraptured by the childlike simplicity of a soul that trustfully longs for her God and of a soul that has, grasped the wonderful lesson of the Gospel: Be not solicitous for your life … Behold the birds of the air. Consider the lilies of the field. Be not solicitous for to-morrow (Matt. 6:25-34).

Freshness – Like a clear bubbling fountain these lines issue forth from the well-spring of a deep, loving heart. There is no laboring, digging and artificial hymn-smithing; the inspiration is right there, and the pen can hardly keep pace with the mental rapture; that’s why the World so eagerly has taken to these verses.

Reality of feeling – What is more real than death? And what is more certain than that the present day may be our last one? If under pressure of this awful reality, the soul embraces her God with every fiber. Can anyone say that these lines are destitute of sound feeling?

Consistent elevation of tone – There is no monotony in these lines; one mental vista seems to chase the other; the sanctified daily routine of cloistered life: Work and pray and obey and deny thyself’ passes quickly before our mental gaze; we hold our breath and admit that the program of every Christian is held up before our eyes.

A rhythm easy and harmonious – Easy, yes, it is easy, not labored rhythm; it is playful, joyful, inviting, and for this reason it is harmonious rhythm: it is music for the soul, inspiration for the mind, a vigorous incentive for the will.

The hymn Lord, for Tomorrow and Its Needs appears in A Catholic Book of Hymns published by the Sacred Music Library. This is a wonderful collection of 295 time-honored Catholic traditional hymns.

Newly commissioned recordings of some of the hymns written by Sister Mary Xavier can be found by visiting the Devotional Hymns Project website produced by Peter Meggison. Look for these hymns written by Sister Mary Xavier:

  • Jesus, Thou Art Coming
  • Mother of Christ
  • Mary, O Turn Thine Eyes Upon Us
  • Fierce and Loud is the battle raging
  • Lord, for Tomorrow and Its Needs
  • Mother! Mother! I’m Coming Home
  • O Lord of Host
  • O King and Lord
  • Nunc et in hora mortis
  • Heart of Jesus! Sacred Heart!
  • Queen and Mother

Visit the Devotional Hymns Project website often because new recordings of Catholic devotional hymns are always being added.

O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine!

The author and composer of this hymn is Father Theodore A. Metcalf and for a long time, little was known or written about Father Metcalf and his contributions to Catholic Music for most of the 20th Century. In February 2020, while I was researching this beautiful hymn, I came across an old Catholic periodical from 1888 known by its subscribers as the Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart or The Pilgrim of Our Lady of Martyrs.

The Messenger of the Sacred Heart periodical was first published in France by Jesuits of the Apostleship of Prayer (Society of Jesus) around 1861; and it spread to other countries including United States, Australia, Canada, England, and Ireland. It was one of the most widely read Catholic periodicals, and by the mid-twentieth century there were over seventy Messengers published in more than forty languages. It is still published today as The Sacred Heart Messenger.

Theodore A. Metcalf was the grandson of Theron Metcalf, a member of the Massachusetts Judicial Court. Theron Metcalf was a high Anglican and encouraged family members to become Catholic, even though he did not convert himself. Two of his grandsons did become Catholic, including Father Metcalf.

Father Metcalf was baptized in the chapel of Holy Cross College, Worcester, Mass., when he was a boy by Bishop Fitzpatrick on Oct. 2, 1851. Father Metcalf was ordained in May 1869 in the new Cathedral Chapel of the Holy Cross, Boston. He studied at the American College in Rome and later served as the college’s vice president, and he had the honor of attending the first Vatican Council acting in the role as a transcriber.

Sacred Heart Review - 1918

He returned to the Boston Archdiocese and was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Charlestown in 1874, succeeding Father William Byrne. He was Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston, 1874-1879, under Archbishop John J. Williams, and lived at the Cathedral parish during this time. He conducted some of the most important ceremonies the church had witnessed such as the dedication, the conferring of the pallium on the Right Rev. John J. Williams, and the solemn requiem for Pope Pius IX.

Father Metcalf was the master of ceremonies at the dedication of St. Mary’s Church, Dedham, Massachusetts, October 1880.

Dedication of St. Marys Church in Dedham - Boston Post Oct 19,1880

In 1881, Father Metcalf was appointed as the third pastor to Our Lady Star of the Sea in Marblehead, Mass., from 1882 to 1886. While he was there the Young Men’s Catholic Temperance Society was formed. In 1886 he was appointed pastor to the Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston where he served for four years. During his pastorate at Gate of Heaven Church, he defended the church publicly regarding its teachings on indulgences during an incident involving a faculty member at English High School who was critical of church teachings.

During his years at Gate of Heaven parish, he established and encouraged Sacred Heart devotions and was affiliated with the League of the Sacred Heart of the Apostleship of Prayer. At this time, he composed several hymns to the Sacred Heart, among others.

  • Hymn for the League of the Sacred Heart (Form your ranks, oh! all ye Leaguers of the Heart Divine)
  • May Hymn (Welcome dearest, Mother, this beautiful Mayday)
  • Hymn to the Sacred Heart (O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine!)
  • Ave Maris Stella (Hail, thou star of ocean! Portal of the sky!)
  • Hymn of Thanksgiving to the Sacred Heart (Heart of Jesus, We Are Grateful)
  • O Cor Jesu (Cordis Jesu dulcis, Amor sacratissime!)

All the hymns listed above can be found in the monthly editions of the Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart, periodicals (publ. 1888-1894).  Father Metcalf’s Hymn to the Sacred Heart, more commonly known through its opening lines, O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine! became traditional among American Catholics. It appeared in the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1888, published by the Basilian Fathers of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada. Successive editions of this hymnal, which was to become the most popular of all American Catholic hymnals for most of the 20th Century, included this hymn.  In 1890, Father Metcalf retired from the Gate of Heaven Church because of poor health. During his lifetime Father Metcalf gained a reputation as an effective preacher drawing many from all parts of the city to listen to his sermons. Father Metcalf died July 29, 1920.

Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart - 1888

The hymn, O Sacred Heart, O Love Divine, was the most popular of all hymns to the Sacred Heart in pre-Vatican II days. It is contained on a DOT record 33 LP Album, circa 1961, Best-Loved Catholic Hymns. The hymns are sung by the Lennon Sisters and directed by Lawrence Welk. Some may recall, too, that it was used as an introduction to the Sacred Heart Hour, a radio program in the 1940s that converted to a TV program in the 1950s and even into the early 1960s.

Best-Loved Catholic Hymns
Best-Loved Catholic Hymns

O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine! and Heart of Jesus, We Are Grateful appeared in the 1944, 1954, 1958, and 1968 editions of The Catholic Chapel Hymnal, a publication of McLaughlin & Reilly Co. There are no new hymns (previously unpublished) contained in this volume; the hymns included are the result of an extensive survey compiled by McLaughlin & Reilly of military chaplains in World War II. The 118 Catholic chaplains were asked which hymns elicit spontaneous singing by the servicemembers participating in chapel services. The Catholic Chapel Hymnal is the outcome of that survey.

Unfortunately, no attribution is given to Father Metcalf in any of the major hymnals in which his works appear. These hymnals include the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL (1888 thru 1925); THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY HYMNAL, 1898; the AVE MARIA HYMNAL, 1936; HYMNS USED BY THE PUPILS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME, (1920 and 1948), and ST. JOSEPH’S HYMNAL, 1930. This may have been the way Father Metcalf intended it to be. Yet, on the other hand, his O Sacred Heart, O Love Divine was the most popular and widely used of all hymns to the Sacred Heart in American Catholic life through the entire 20th century. It was used at Sacred Heart novenas, devotions, First Friday Masses, and by Catholic school children at various exercises honoring the Heart of Jesus.

After Pope Leo XIII consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart in 1898, there was a great demand for Sacred Heart hymns as this devotion was flourishing. Thus, the hymns mentioned, and many other others, became an important part of Catholic devotional life.

Reflection

The hymn is a collection of invocations to the Sacred Heart to hear our prayers and will for some of you be very new as you are not accustomed to singing to the Sacred Heart in this way. In the first verse we ask the Sacred Heart to keep us near and to make our love like His.

O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine! Do keep us near to Thee.
And make our love so like to Thine, that we may holy be.

In the second verse you might ask what is the Temple pure or House of Gold? What can be our heaven here below? When you are in church what do you see that resembles a temple or a house of gold? From which our delights and wealth ever flow, can you see it?

I have a particular fondness for the last verse because all of us have at one time or another been ungrateful or forgetful of the Sacred Heart.

Ungrateful hearts, forgetful hearts, the hearts of men have been.
To wound Thy side with cruel darts, Which they have made by sin.

In the gospel we read that a soldier pierced the side of Jesus with a lance (John 19:34). Father Metcalf uses this imagery but switches the lance to darts made from sin. How often have you wounded His Sacred Heart with the cruel darts you have made from your sins?

This was an extremely popular hymn to sing when I was in the choir at St. Mary’s, especially during the month of June which the Catholic Church dedicates to the Sacred Heart. We would sing this hymn sometimes before Mass, at Offertory, during Communion and for Benediction services. We used the arrangement found in the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1918. May the hearts of many known only to God be drawn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and may this hymn become the favorite in the repertoire of Catholic choirs again.

St. Basil's Hymnal - 1918

Below is a recording from a cassette tape of St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Concert that was held in June 1982 featuring O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine! and Heart of Jesus, We Are Grateful. It’s so good to hear my friends in the choir again.

A special thank you to Peter Meggison producer of the Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to link to the Hymn Fest for the Sacred Heart which was performed by the choirs of St. Adelaide Church, Peabody, MA, on June 28, 2019. 

Also, a special thank you to Noel Jones, AAGO in granting permission to link to A Catholic Book of Hymns with nearly 300 time-honored traditional Catholic hymns, including O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine! and Heart of Jesus, We Are Grateful.

St. Mary Parish May Crowning

On May 2, 2022, I emailed Father Chris Zerucha, Pastor of St. Mary Parish in Akron, Ohio to share with him my short story on the origins of the most widely used May Crowning hymn in the Catholic Church, Bring Flowers of the Rarest. I grew up in St. Mary’s Parish and sang in the choir for over thirty years (1977-2010). I was happy when Father Zerucha invited me to attend the 9AM Mass at St. Mary’s on May 8, Mother’s Day. They celebrated a First Communion and had a May Crowning after Mass. It was beautiful sunny day for an outdoor gathering to crown Our Lady. 

Everyone received a small blue leaflet entitled May Crowning with the words of the hymns printed on the pages and on the back page of the leaflet were the words of Bring Flowers of the Rarest. There was a small ensemble of singers that led the congregation. It brought back a lot of memories. The Mass included some exceptionally good hymn selections including, Jesus Christ is Risen Today; Jesus My Lord, My God My All, and O Lord I Am Not Worthy for the First Communion hymn. When I arrived, they were praying the rosary before the Blessed Sacrament.

To my surprise Father Zerucha featured my hymn reflections in St. Mary’s weekly bulletin. God Bless you and thank you Father Chris Zerucha.

I took a few photos which I thought you might enjoy. As you enter from the side entrance, they have this beautiful scale model of St. Mary’s Church. The parish is currently engaged in a $1 million dollar restoration project.

May Crowning
May Crowning
May Crowning
May Crowning
St. Mary's Church
St. Mary's Church
Parish Bulletin Cover
Pastor's Note
Over the high altar

Bring Flowers of the Rarest

This hymn, sometimes referred to as the Crowning Hymn because of its chorus, O Mary, We Crown Thee with Blossoms Today, is the most widely used and well-loved of all Marian hymns for May Crowning. Even though other crowning hymns were composed, this hymn was never superseded. The earliest appearance of the hymn is found in the LAUDIS CORONA, 1880 hymnal with no attribution given to the author or composer. In the Preface of this hymnal the publishers give thanks to the Sisters of Notre Dame for their kindness in granting permission to use selections from their hymnal MAY CHIMES, 1871.

Laudis Corona 1880
Laudis Corona 1880

A few years later the hymn was published in the WREATH OF MARY, 1883 and captioned Our Lady, Queen of Angels with attribution for the words and music by Mary E. Walsh. This hymnal was compiled and arranged by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur of Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Wreath of Mary 1883
Wreath of Mary 1883

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur came from Belgium and arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1840. They began teaching in the Philadelphia area in 1856. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur of Cincinnati, Ohio compiled the WREATH OF MARY and MAY CHIMES hymnals. The hymnals consist mainly of Marian hymns written and composed by the Sisters and their students. The hymnals were published by the Oliver Ditson, Co., Boston. The Oliver Ditson Company was one of the major publishing houses of the late 19th century with offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia.

May Chimes Hymnal 1871
Wreath Of Mary Hymnal 1883

Mary E. Walsh wrote three other hymns including Mary Queen of All the Flowers, the Memorare, and Evening Hymn. These appeared in the hymnal MAY CHIMES.

May Chimes 1871
May Chimes 1871
May Chimes 1871

Bring Flowers of the Rarest appeared in other Catholic hymnals including the CONVENT HYMNS AND MUSIC, 1891 (London); the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK, 1887, 1907, and 1935 editions; the HOLY FAMILY HYMN BOOK, 1904; ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1888 thru 1953; the NOTRE DAME HYMN TUNE BOOK, 1905 (London); The STANDARD CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1921; ST. JOSEPH’S HYMNAL, 1930; HYMNS USED BY THE PUPILS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME, 1921 and 1948 editions; the ALVERNO HYMNAL PART 3, 1953: and THE CATHOLIC CHAPEL HYMNAL, 1944, 1949, 1958 and 1968 editions. 

Two other melodies were composed for this hymn. The first is by Peter Piel (1835-1904) a well-known German composer with over forty mass settings and other compositions for music in the church. Then the hymn was set to a melody composed by Michael Haydn (1737-1806) an Austrian composer and younger brother of the more celebrated Joseph Haydn. These melodies never attained wide use and were soon forgotten.

The history books are silent when it comes to Mary E. Walsh, not much is known about her. So, I contacted the archivist with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur located in Cincinnati, Ohio and the archivist had this to say, I find no Mary Walsh of any kind that entered our community and was born before the song was written. Some of the works of Mary E. Walsh show that she was a pupil of the Sisters of Notre Dame. The archivist could not verify that Mary E. Walsh was a student and indicated, that there are very few surviving student lists, and they do not go back far enough. 

Mary E. Walsh’s other contributions are in the secular field, and they include, The Campaign Polka, a musical composition for the Philadelphia Cornet Band published 1864; the Golden Locks Ballad, published in 1873, by Lee & Walker a Philadelphia music company, and the Black Hawk Waltz, published in 1874 by the Oliver Ditson Co., and is based on the story of the famed Chief Black Hawk (1767-1838). The Black Hawk Waltz is still popular today and is used by some music teachers as an important teaching piece.

Campaign Polka 1864
Golden Locks 1873
Black Hawk Waltz 1874

Reflection

I learned to sing Bring Flowers of the Rarest while singing in St. Mary’s Choir (in Akron, Ohio) and attending the May Crownings where this hymn was lovingly sung by all with vigor and devotion. We used the ST. BASIL’S arrangement at St. Mary’s.

St. Basil's Hymnal 1918
St. Basil's Hymnal 1918

Many of the saints have referred to Mary’s Psalter and the Rosary beads as flowers, particularly roses and even more so as the prayers we offer up. It is not the earthly flowers we bring from our gardens and place on Our Lady’s altar or crown Her with but those flowers/ prayers we bring from our spiritual garden. Some are fair, those we say in haste, and some are the rarest, those we say on the spot or that come devoutly said from our hearts and minds. It is traditional to place on the head of a statue of Mary a wreath of red and white roses symbolic of motherhood and virginity. 

To me, one of the most moving phrases is found in the second verse, How dark without Mary life’s journey would be. How dark indeed would the life of the church be without our Blessed Mother and how lost we would be if Christ had not bequeathed His mother to us from the Cross. I believe this to be an allusion to the words our Lord spoke to us, I will not leave you orphaned (John 14:18).

As mentioned above we would sing Bring Flowers of the Rarest at St. Mary’s for our May Crowning which was usually an outdoor parish event that took place on the parish grounds (weather permitting) around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, otherwise the May Crowning was in the church.

The May Crowning program for 1982 consisted of the following Marian hymns: Mary, Dearest Mother; Mother Dear, O Pray for Me; Bring Flowers of the Rarest; O Queen of the Holy Rosary; ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother; Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest, followed by a prayer of consecration to Our Blessed Mother and benediction which included the traditional O Salutaris, Tantum Ergo, the Divine Praises; Holy God We Praise Thy Name and finally Jubilate Deo (Glory to God) composed by Alphonse Weiss and arranged for four voices by James A. Reilly of McLaughlin and Reilly Music Co.

Below are recordings from a cassette tape of the hymns we sang at St. Mary’s May Crowning in 1982. After almost forty years I was surprised that this cassette tape played at all. It’s wonderful to hear my friends who sang in the choir. 

A newly commissioned recording of Bring Flowers of the Rarest and other May Crowning hymns sung by the Seraphim Singers at Holy Name Church, Boston can be found on The Devotional Hymns Project website produced by Peter Meggison.

All the hymns presented here are in the public domain. It is my hope that these hymns will once again become a favorite of parish or choir repertoire. 

Christ Is Risen

This wonderful Easter hymn was written by Father Jeremiah Cummings (1814-1866) and it first appeared in his SONGS FOR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, 1862 and was captioned The Resurrection.  Father Cummings mother converted to Catholicism shortly after he was born. After his father’s death they moved to New York. He was young man when he was accepted as an ecclesiastical student in Bishop Dubois seminary in Nyack. He went to the College of the Propaganda at Rome to make his theological studies and was ordained as a priest on January 3, 1847. He earned his Doctor of Divinity and returned to New York and served as a priest at the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral. During his service at St. Patrick’s, he proved himself as linguist, writer, and musician, and a popular preacher and lecturer. In November of 1848, he was appointed pastor of St. Stephen’s Parish by Bishop John Hughes where he continued to serve until his death.

Songs for Catholic Schools, 1862
Songs for Catholic Schools, 1862

All the hymns found in the SONGS FOR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS except for one, Canticle on the Blessed Sacrament, were written or translated by Fr. Cummings. Several of Dr. Cumming’s hymns including Great God, whatever through Thy Church; O brightness of eternal Light, and Hail, Virgin of Virgins, appeared in Catholic hymnals but no attribution was given to Fr. Cummings. Fr. Hugh Thomas Henry (1862-1946) a noted author and translator of hymns including Long Live the Pope wrote a wonderful article that sheds light on the carelessness of some publishers and gives detailed proof of Fr. Cummings authorship. The article appeared in THE CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW, Volume One, No. 2, July 1915, captioned A Forgotten American Hymnodist.

The hymn text for Christ Is Risen also appeared in other Catholic hymnals including the CANTA SACRA, 1865; LAUDIS CORONA, 1880; the ROMAN HYMNAL, 1884; the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK, 1887 thru 1935; the CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1920; the MANUAL OF SELECT CATHOLIC HYMNS, 1885 and 1924; and the PAROCHIAL HYMNAL, 1951. Other melodies were composed for the text including an adaptation of Mendelssohn’s Hark the Herald Angels Sing found in the LAUDIS CORONA.

The melody that I learned to sing was composed by a Sister of Notre Dame from the Philadelphia community and was first published in the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK, 1887. I don’t know which sister composed the melody because in those days’ authorship was not given to the individual but to the whole community. This melody and text also appeared in the 1907 and 1935 editions of the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK.

Sunday School Hymn Book, 1887

Reflection

This hymn was traditionally used as a recessional in our music program for Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday, and Sundays throughout Easter at St. Mary’s. The tenors would ad lib beginning in the first verse starting at measure ten, we would echo the sopranos and alto’s, O praise the Lord with grateful voice and again in measure fourteen, echoing Alleluia, Alleluia. I have included this adaptation though it was not original to the hymn. This is a lovely Easter hymn that preserves some of the Latin, Resurrexit sicut dixit which means He is risen as he said.

This hymn was written during a period that produced many hymns for school children, and we can see this in the simplicity of the verses which echo the Gospel account of Matthew.

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning (Matt. 29:1) Our Lord rose from the dead, Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia. An angel appears from heaven, rolls back the stone, and sits down upon it and his appearance was like lightning and his cloths white as snow (Matt. 29:2-3), Angels clad in snowy white, coming from the realms of light. He announces to the women, go quickly, and tell the disciples, They bid us sing with grateful voice, bid us all Rejoice, Rejoice! that He is risen from the dead, Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia! Alleluia! (Matt. 29:7). Even though the hymn was written for school children it is still a wonderful hymn to sing and should appeal to people of all ages.

Sunday School Hymn Book, 1907

You can play all of the hymns below.

The first recording is a computer generated sound file. The tempo is approximate but should provide the listener a good sense of what the hymn sounds like. The second recording is from a cassette tape of St. Mary’s Choir Easter Vigil, 1982. This hymn in the public domain. Music directors, if you use this hymn in your Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday program and you make a recording, contact the author and I may feature it in the What’s New section of the website. Bible verses cited above are from the NEW AMERICAN CATHOLIC BIBLE, 1971 edition.