Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest

The text of this hymn may have been inspired by the refrain of a hymn written by Father Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863), O Flower of Grace! Divinest Flower! The hymn can be found in the second edition of his JESUS AND MARY hymnal published in 1852. Father Faber is a convert to Catholicism, a student of St. John Henry Newman, a product of the Oxford Movement, and a priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri.

Jesus and Mary, 1852
Jesus and Mary, 1852
Jesus and Mary, 1852
Jesus and Mary, 1852
Jesus and Mary, 1852
Jesus and Mary, 1852

The words and melody that became traditional first appeared in the WREATH OF MARY compiled by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and published in 1883 by the Oliver Ditson Co. and captioned Our Lady of Help.

Wreath of Mary, 1883
Wreath of Mary, 1883

When trying to identify Sisters who wrote hymns or composed music difficulties arise. It was the custom in many religious communities not to give credit to individuals but the whole community. For example, Words and Music by S.N.D. (Sisters of Notre Dame); Words and Music by Sisters of Mercy; Words and Music by S.S.J. (Sisters of St. Joseph); Music by Sisters of Mercy, St. Xaviers’, Chicago, Ill.  

In some rare cases, authorship has been known in a verbal tradition and passed down by Sisters who knew the author or composer. There are a good many Sisters who wrote hymns, composed music, authored books, and pamphlets but their identities will forever be hidden. In other cases, authorship has been meticulously reconstructed by hymn researchers. In addition, a photograph of an individual Sister is somewhat rare and yet some photographs were taken, usually in groups. It wasn’t until after Vatican II that this custom began to change.

I recently learned through the correspondence of Peter Meggison producer of The Devotional Hymns Project that there was one Sister out of all the Sisters of Notre Dame who is generally considered the leader in the publication of all the American hymns and songs found in the hymn collections. It is likely that the words and the melody which became traditional to Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest, can be credited to Sister Aloysius (Josephine) Dorman (1835-1913).

Sister Aloysius was born in Washington D. C. on August 2, 1835 to parents Albert and Adelaide (D’Ancour) Dorman who both came from France. She entered the postulancy of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at the Sixth Street Convent in Cincinnati on May 1, 1854 and professed her perpetual vows in 1861. She spent twenty-five years at the Sixth Street Academy in Cincinnati, seventeen years at the Notre Dame Academy in W. Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, twelve years in Dayton, and a short time in Columbus, Hamilton, and Summit. She was a teacher of music and orchestration publishing songs and hymns for the schools. After a long and fruitful service to her Lord she returned to the Notre Dame Academy in Hamilton, Ohio in November of 1912.

She was known to have a lively disposition and would often charm the hearts of those around her, but little did she know how close the end was near. On one occasion in late March of 1913, she wielded the baton for an orchestra of many instruments and sang a gypsy song accompanying herself with tambourine dancing with as much agility as if she was twenty years of age. The next day she was not well and for two weeks came only to Mass and Holy Communion but, finally she had to confine herself to her room which was just above the sacristy. Sister Aloysius Dorman died April 1, 1913 and is buried in the Notre Dame Cemetery in Hamilton, Ohio.

This short narrative of Sister Aloysius Dorman was drawn from the research provided by the Ohio Unit Archives of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Cincinnati. The research included an excerpt from a letter written by Sister Agnes Immaculata Guswiler who was the first archivist in Cincinnati serving from 1970 to 1990. The letter dated September 29, 1989, gave an outline of Sister Dorman’s service, and identifies her as the composer of all the American hymns and songs. Also, excerpts from the Hamilton Annals were provided where Sister Dorman spent her last days.

The hymn Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest appeared in editions of the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK, 1887 thru 1935; the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL from 1888 thru 1925; HYMNS FOR THE ECCLESIASTICAL YEAR, 1925; the AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1913 and 1921;  SURSUM CORDA – A Collection of Hymns for the use of Catholic Schools, 1925; the Cleveland, Ohio DIOCESAN HYMNAL II, 1928; the ST. JOSEPH’S HYMNAL, 1930; the ALVERNO HYMNAL III, 1953; the CATHOLIC CHAPEL HYMNAL, 1944 thru 1968; OUR PARISH PRAYS AND SINGS, 1977; and A CATHOLIC BOOK OF HYMNS AND CHANTS, 2020.  

The original hymn consisted of three verses. Two additional verses were added and first appeared in the Revised edition of the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL published in 1918 – Lady, help our wounded soldiers, and Lady, help our absent loved ones. In 1943, two hymns were written for sailors and soldiers set to the traditional melody and appeared in the NOVENA HYMNS FOR SOLDIERS AND SAILORS, Mary, Guard Our Gallant Soldiers and Mary, Help Our Gallant Soldiers.

Novena Hymns for Soldiers and Sailors, 1943
Novena Hymns for Soldiers and Sailors, 1943
Novena Hymns for Soldiers and Sailors, 1943
Novena Hymns for Soldiers and Sailors, 1943

Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest although not originally written for novenas was incorporated into the evening novena programs as early as the 1930s. Among these novenas were those to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, the Sorrowful Mother, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The prayers of the novena were usually followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The evening novena programs, which included devotional hymns, were printed by the religious congregation which promoted the particular devotion (e.g., the Vincentians and Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, the Redemptorists and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, etc.).

Many of the evening novena prayer services began to fade in Catholic parishes throughout the United States with the introduction of the Saturday Vigil Mass.  

The Melodies

In addition to the traditional words and melody, I found four other melodies that were composed for this hymn. The first appeared in HYMNS FOR THE ECCLESIASTICAL YEAR published in 1908. The hymnal was compiled by Father Alphonsus Dress, Professor of Music at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

Hymns of the Ecclesiastical Year, 1908
Hymns of the Ecclesiastical Year, 1908
courtesy of www.catholicdevotionalhymns.com

Father Dress was born Alphonse Joseph Dress on April 22, 1877 in Clemency, Luxemburg to his parents Joseph and Christina (Decker) Dress. He was ordained a Catholic priest on June 19, 1904 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Archbishop Sebastian Gebhard Messmer (1847-1930). One of his early assignments was as Associate Pastor at St. Patrick’s in Tama, Iowa. He was then assigned to the School of the Old Masters in Ratisbon, Bavaria from 1905 to 1908 where he obtained a graduate degree (PhD) in music.

He returned to Iowa in 1908 and was the professor of music at Loras College. He compiled the HYMNS FOR THE ECCLESIASTICAL YEAR in 1908 and composed the first college song Purple and Gold in 1912. He was a staff contributor to The Catholic Choirmaster magazine from 1915 thru 1921. He also composed three choral pieces including Haec Dies, Miserere, and Terra Tremuit in 1924. These were published by J. Fischer & Bro. of New York and the copyrights were renewed in 1938.  He founded the famous Loras Vested Choir in 1908 and served as faculty member of Loras College for 25 years. The college has functioned under several different names: Saint Raphael’s Seminary and later Saint Raphael’s Academy (1839–1850), Mount St. Bernard’s College and Seminary (1850–1873), St. Joseph’s College (1873–1914), Dubuque College (1914–1920), and Columbia College (1920–1939).

Father Alphonsus taught music at Loras College from 1908 until 1941. He died on November 8, 1941 and is buried at Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Dubuque, Iowa. Some of the information is this short narrative of Father Dress was provided by Archives of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Pastoral Center.

The second melody is found in the SURSUM CORDA – A Collection of Hymns for the use of Catholic Schools. This collection of hymns was compiled and published in 1925 by the Sisters of St. Francis from Stella Niagara, New York. Organ accompaniment for this collection was provided by Father Florian Zettel, O.F.M. (1879-1947) of the Church of the Ascension in Portland, Oregon. The Sisters of St. Francis took charge of the Church of the Ascension parish school in 1917. The Sisters of St. Francis taught in the parish schools throughout California, Oregon, and Washington, often times taking charge of the schools after the Sisters of Mercy who preceded them. The melody is a variation of the tune Maria zu lieben which is used for the hymns Daily, Daily Sing to Mary and Holy Patron, thee saluting (St. Joseph).

Sursum Corda, 1925

A third melody was found in the Cleveland, Ohio DIOCESAN HYMNAL PART TWO – DEVOTIONAL HYMNS. The hymnal was compiled by Cleveland Ohio’s Bishop Joseph Schrembs, D.D., (1911-1945). Bishop Schrembs was elevated to Archbishop in 1935 and hosted the Seventh National Eucharistic Congress in Cleveland in the same year. The hymn collection was published by J. Fischer & Bro., New York in 1928.

Cleveland Diocesan Hymnal, 1928
Cleveland Diocesan Hymnal, 1928

The Diocesan Hymnal identifies this melody in the hymn index as German but does not identify the hymnal or the gesangbuch it is taken from. Many of the melodies in the hymnal were composed by Bishop Schrembs and arranged or harmonized by other composers like Rt. Rev. Monsignor Peter Griesbacher (P.G.), the Very Rev. Gregory Hügle, O.S.B. (G.H), Joseph I. Müller (J.I.M. or sometimes J.M.), and Alfred Kalnins (A.K.). The initials in the lower right of this hymn G.P. are not identified and so we are left with a mystery.

Diocesan Hymnal Acknowledgements

A fourth melody was found in the ALVERNO HYMNAL AND CHOIR BOOK PART 3. It was composed by Father Joseph Mohr, S.J., (1834-1892). Father Mohr is probably best known for his outstanding gesangbuchs like the Caecilia published in 1868 which contained an anthology of melodies from earlier centuries. His other collections like the Jubilate Deo published in 1877, found its way to America and helped to raise the standard of American hymnals which previously had relied on English and French sources.

The Alverno Hymnals were compiled by Sister Mary Cherubim Schaefer, O.S.F., (1886-1977). Sister Cherubim was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis. The Alverno Hymnal was published in three parts over the course of five years. They are:

  • 1948 ALVERNO HYMNAL BOOK 1 – Advent, Christmas, Holy Name, Epiphany, Holy Family
  • 1950 ALVERNO HYMNAL BOOK 2 – Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, The Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, Christ the King, and All Saints.
  • 1953 ALVERNO HYMNAL BOOK 3 – Hymns for Low Mass, to Our Lord, the Holy Eucharist, the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Guardian Angles, Holy Souls and SS Joseph, Francis of Assisi, Patrick, Anthony, and Cecilia.

The Alverno Hymnals with English texts were among the most extensive German-American collections to use German melodies from the gesangbuchs brought over by German immigrants to the United States. Sister Cherubim’s musical accomplishments are extensive. She was the organist at St Lawrence Church, Milwaukee, and director of music at St Joseph Convent. She established the St Joseph Convent Conservatory of Music, and later St Joseph Convent College of Music, published and edited the Liturgical Choir Book, the Organist’s Companion, and she established the Alverno College of Music. She composed fort-five mass settings, hymns, motets, and numerous works for the organ and was a regular contributor to the Caecilia Magazine in the late 1930s.

Alverno Hymnal Part 3, 1953
Alverno Hymnal Part 3, 1953

Reflection

This hymn was sung before Mass on various occasions by St. Mary’s Choir in Akron, Ohio for more than thirty-five years and is one of my favorites. Someday, I’m sure this hymn will become a favorite in the repertoire of a Catholic Choir for our need of Mary’s help will never be diminished. I learned to sing this hymn using the arrangement from the St. Basil’s Hymnal.

The hymn echo’s the great Marian prayer The Memorare, Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Anyone who reflects on the verses of this hymn will immediately recognize some phrase that has found its way into their own lives or who has at one time, or another called on Our Lady’s help, experienced the pain and sorrow or prayed to soothe the rack’d beds of pain of someone they love. The third verse is a series of petitions to help our priests, our virgins holy, our Pope, and everyone who sings the praises of Mary that we May in heaven all meet again. The fourth verse implores Our Lady’s help for the wounded soldier, captives, sailors, and those who are suffering. The last verse implores Our Lady’s help for our absent loved ones, those in our family and friends now departed or absent from our lives for reasons we don’t yet understand, and so we ask Our Lady to guard and guide them far and near.

St. Basil's Hymnal, 1918

A special thank you to Peter Meggison producer of the Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to link to a recording of professional voices at St. Cecilia Church, Boston, Massachusetts.

Also, to Noel Jones, AAGO in granting permission to link to A Catholic Book of Hymns and Chants with nearly three hundred time-honored traditional Catholic hymns, including Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest. You can download A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants FREE at www.sacredmusiclibrary.com 

A Catholic Book of Hymns and Chants, 2020
A Catholic Book of Hymns and Chants, 2020

Below are computer generated sound files of the melodies listed above. The tempo is approximate but should provide the listener with a good sense of what the hymn sounds like. All the hymns are in the public domain. I have also included a recording of this hymn as sung by The Paulist Choristers, who were featured on Catholic radio programs throughout the nation and produced a collection of Catholic Novena Hymns which were widely sung in Catholic parishes, devotions, missions, and the like.

To music and choir 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 Mother of Mercy Catholic Hymns

Mary! How Sweetly Falls That Word

The text of this hymn, one of the many that honor our Lady’s name, can be found in Volume 3, No. 4 – Saturday January 24, 1846, edition of the CATHOLIC WEEKLY INSTRUCTOR, a weekly magazine printed and published by Thomas Richardson and Son in Derby and sold from their warehouses located in London and Dublin and by numerous booksellers and news outlets throughout England, Ireland, and the United States.

The poem was captioned TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN, and the author’s name is given simply as Sabrina. Two other poems by this author include Boundless Wishes and To the Lilly of the Valley and can be found in the February and December editions from 1846.

The Catholic Weekly Instructor, 1846

The first issue of THE CATHOLIC WEEKLY INSTRUCTOR was published in Ireland in 1844. In the United States, the first issue was published in 1849 by William J. Cummings and ceased publication in 1851 according to the Library of Congress. Originally published as a Boys’ and Girls’ Catholic magazine, it became the newspaper THE CATHOLIC WEEKLY INSTRUCTOR. The newspaper was a collection of articles distinctly Catholic in their origin with interest in natural history or science, extracts from travelers’ books, pieces of poetry, and many tales of fiction.

The Catholic Weekly Instructor - Ireland, 1844
Catholic Weekly Instructor - Philadelphia, 1849

The hymns earliest appearance is found in ST. JOSEPH’S COMPLETE HYMN BOOK, words only. A review of other hymns and hymn text in this collection suggest that this hymn book was printed around 1875, by William Hibbert of Manchester, England.

St Joseph's Complete Hymn Book, 1875
St Joseph's Complete Hymn Book, 1875

The chorus Sing, O my lips, and loudly proclaim, Oh, Mary, Oh Mary, how sweet is thy name appears to have been added at a later date because it is not part of the original poem. The origins of the chorus can be seen in ST. JOSEPH’S COMPLETE HYMN BOOK with Sing, O my lips, and joyful exclaim, Oh, Mary, how sweet is thy name.

The next appearance is found in the PAROCHIAL HYMN BOOK published in 1881. This hymn book was compiled and edited by Father Antoine Police, S.M., and was extremely popular in England, Ireland, and Scotland. It was succeeded by the PAROCHIAL HYMN BOOK, 1883, with a melody attributed to E. Bray.

Both of these hymn books were published in London. Father Police moved to Boston, and published the PAROCHIAL HYMN BOOK, 1897 sometimes referred to as the American edition. The composer of the melody is given as E. M. Bray, and this is the traditional melody.

Other hymnals include ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL from 1888 thru 1953 with the melody by E. M. Bray; the SODALIST’S HYMNAL, 1887 with two melodies each attributed to E. F. MacGonigle; OUR LADY OF MERCY HYMNAL, 1899 with a melody by Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly; the CROWN HYMNAL, 1913 with the melody by E. M. Bray; the NOTRE DAME HYMN TUNE BOOK, 1905 and the STANDARD CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1921 with a melody composed by Moir Brown; SELECTED HYMNS, ca. 1925, references ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL for the melody; and ST. JOSEPH’S HYMNAL, 1930, with the melody by E. M. Bray.

Three other compositions are attributed to E. M. Bray and are listed in the PAROCHIAL HYMN BOOKs of 1883 and 1897:

  • Blood is the price of Heaven, All sin that price exceeds.
  • What Mortal Tongue Can Sing Thy Praise
  • Saint Agnes, holy child, All purity

The last hymn Saint Agnes, holy child, All purity is also listed in the CROWN HYMNAL.

E. M. Bray was a musician living in London during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are at least two secular music scores, mazurkas, or Polish folk dances for pianoforte composed by E. M. Bray. One was published by Frederick Pitman & Co., in the 1870s, captioned Twilight Bells which was also still in print in the early 1900s. The other was Miranda published by the Messrs. White Brothers and listed in a newspaper article of the Glasgow Herald, Monday April 7, 1884, page 8.

Melodies

Below are the melodies by E. F. MacGonigle, E. M. Bray, Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly, and Moir Brown that are referenced above.

The Sodalist Hymnal, 1887 - 1st Setting
The Sodalist Hymnal, 1887 - 1st Setting
The Sodalist Hymnal, 1887 - 2nd Setting
The Sodalist Hymnal, 1887 - 2nd Setting
The Parochial Hymn Book, 1897
The Parochial Hymn Book, 1897
Our Lady of Mercy Hymnal, 1899
Our Lady of Mercy Hymnal, 1899
The Standard Catholic Hymnal, 1921

Reflection

I learned to sing this hymn when I sang in St. Mary’s Choir (1977-2010), and it is one of my favorite hymns to Our Lady. Oh, how I miss singing this hymn! The choir would sing this hymn before Mass or at the offertory on Sundays. At St. Mary’s we used the hymn arrangement from the St. Basil’s Hymnal featured below.

The second verse is a favorite of mine and the phrase Sweet as a mother’s voice. I can recall hearing my own mother’s voice when I was little and just starting kindergarten. I would be outside playing, and she would call from the back porch window, it’s time to get ready for school. It seemed to cut through the eddies of whatever I was doing.

What will it be like when we greet Our Lady in heaven and hear her sweet voice for the first time? What joy will fill our souls? So, while we still can, let us loudly proclaim, O Mary, how sweet is thy name!

St. Basil's Hymnal, 1925

The feast of the Holy Name of Mary dates to the 16th century and is celebrated on September 12th. 

A special thank you to Peter Meggison producer of the Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to link to recordings of this hymn by the Ensemble Cor et Vox at the magnificent St. John Cantius Church in Chicago featuring the melody by E. M. Bray, and the Church of the Advent, located in Boston’s Beacon Hill section featuring the melody by Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly.  

I’ve also included the melodies by E. F. MacGonigle and Moir Brown. These are computer generated sound files. The tempo is approximate but should provide the listener with a good sense of what the hymn sounds like.

The New Born King

This Christmas song was sung by Tom McNeill (1933-2019) a long-time choir member at St. Mary’s in Akron, Ohio during various years as part of the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day music program which had become traditional to St. Mary’s. This write-up is dedicated to Tom McNeill with whom I sang with for many years, but first, a little history on the author and composer of this beautiful Christmas song.

The New Born King - 1927
The New Born King - 1927
The New Born King - 1927
The New Born King - 1927
The New Born King - 1927
The New Born King - 1927

The words of this Christmas song were written by W. C. Kreusch (ca.1900). From bits and pieces that I found, he was a poet and a musician who sang bass. He had several poems and compositions to his credit including The King of the Deep Am I, published in 1901. Also, The Prophet King, published in 1904, and The World Moves On as Before. I found The World Move On as Before in an advertisement for the New York Clipper published in January 1900 for music publisher F. A. Mills (Frederick Allen Kerry Mills). Another song included Hail, Holy Light, with music by Kerry Mills. On an aside, Kerry Mills is probably best known for the musical composition of Meet Me In St. Louis, which was the featured song and the title of the 1944 MGM musical starring Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien.

The composer was Charles L’Espoir (Charles J. Gebest) (1873-1937). He was a successful composer, arranger, and conductor who served as the music director for George M. Cohan, a famous musician with many Broadway musicals and movie songs to his credit including one of his biggest hits, Give My Regards to Broadway. On an aside, Charles J. Gebest was the nephew of Charles Louis Gebest who was a circus composer and band leader of the John Robinson Circus (1880-1896).

The New Born King Christmas song was originally published in 1900 by Frederick Allen Mills Music Co., It was very popular and saw subsequent copyright renewals. Frederick Allen Mills held the original copyright of 1900, the copyright was then assigned to The Oliver Ditson Co., in 1906; later the copyright was then assigned and renewed to Paull-Pioneer Music Corp., in 1927. In 1932, Paull-Pioneer Music Corporation was assigned the copyright, however it does not appear that they renewed the copyright.  This Christmas song was given a new arrangement by Hartley Moore in 2022 and is copyrighted under that arrangement. However, the original arrangement by Charles L’Espoir, passed into the public domain in 2020. The Christmas song appeared in sheet music form only, with High, Medium, and Low keys.

The earliest recordings were by Harry Macdonough and Mr. Marshall in the early 1900s, on a 7-inch record by Columbia Records. This is probably one of the first recordings made on a vinyl (disk) record and not a phonograph cylinder.

What can say about Tom McNeill? He was my friend; he was a good family man with a beautiful Irish tenor voice. He raised six children with his lovely wife Dorothy who is still living and just celebrated her ninetieth birthday. Tom was quite the character and always had jokes to tell which were neither harmful nor offensive. Tom told me that he started singing with St. Mary’s Choir in 1948 when he was in high school.

I first met Tom when I joined St. Mary’s Choir in 1977, I was also in high school at the time and Tom was working the night shift at the Lawson’s Milk Company. He worked for Lawson’s for many years in the cooler, stacking milk cartons. I don’t remember exactly when, but Tom left Lawson’s to work as a security guard for Jackson High School in Jackson Township until he retired. Tom also served in the United States Army, and he was an avid golfer, and a devoted fan of the Cleveland Browns and Ohio State Football teams.

I had a chance to speak with Theresa, Tom’s oldest daughter who shared this short sentiment with me: My Dad sang many weddings, funerals, and entertained his entire family with his beautiful voice. He never lost the talent. His mother recognized his singing voice around the time of his Confirmation. He also sang with the choir over at Annunciation Parish during the years when we were growing up. 

St. Mary's Choir, 1995
St. Mary's Choir, 2000

In the choir photo from 1995, Tom is in the top row, second from the right, I am third from the right. In the choir photo from 2000, he is also in the top row far left and I am standing next to him.

St. Mary's Choir, 2010
Tom McNeill, 2010

Tom and I continued to sing together in St. Mary’s Choir until St. Mary’s closed in June of 2010. The above photo is one of the last photos of Tom and I singing together at St. Mary’s. These photos were taken from a DVD of the last Mass. This DVD was produced by Tom’s niece Karen McNeill. It contains many photographs from St. Mary’s Church and the last Mass. The DVD is dedicated to those parishioners and clergy who have made St. Mary’s Parish in Akron, Ohio, a place of genuine devotion since 1887. The DVD is still available and can be obtained by contacting Karen McNeill at godzgirl333@aol.com

In the photos, Tom and I are standing behind the organ. The other gentleman standing next to me is Tel Wartko (1928-2010). This photo was taken at the last Mass which was on June 27, 2010. St. Mary’s was among fifty parishes closed or merged by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon between August 2009 and June 2010 as part of a diocesan wide reconfiguration to address a shortage of priests, declining attendance, and dwindling resources in the eight-county diocese. The closure of St. Mary’s was very difficult for many parishioners.

After the closure, I became a parishioner of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Akron, Ohio and I was singing in their choir by Christmas of 2010. Tom, returned to Annunciation Parish which by now was Visitation of Mary, a merger with St. John the Baptist Parish that took place in November, 2009, and sang with the funeral choir.  In response to petitions from parishioners, the Vatican in March of 2014, ordered eleven of those parishes (including St. Mary’s and St. John the Baptist) to be reopened. St. John the Baptist reopened in July, and St. Mary’s reopened on August 15, 2014, the Feast of the Assumption and merged with St. Bernard’s in downtown Akron. Tom and I as former St. Mary Choir members came to sing for the reopening Mass, and we sang for a few weeks afterwards until word came that the choir was to be made up of St. Mary parishioners.

Well, Tom and I were not parishioners, I was a cantor and choir member over at St. Paul’s and Tom was over at Visitation of Mary, so we were politely asked to leave. It was then that I invited Tom to come and sing with me over at St. Paul’s and by Christmas of 2014, we were again singing together. Tom continued to sing with St. Paul’s Choir until the summer of 2017 when he had to leave the choir and care for his wife Dorothy, who was then having some health issues.

St. Paul's Choir - Akron, Ohio
St. Paul's Choir - Akron, Ohio

Not long after, Tom sent me an email with this wonderful message of gratitude which I share below.

Thank you, Don, for all the wonderful years we have been singing together. It’s been about 50 years, off & on. You taught me a lot about music & I appreciate all of it. May you continue on, singing God’s praises. You’ve been a great friend & mentor. God bless you, Tom  

Tom died a few years later in February 2019. He sang in the choir for more than sixty years. May perpetual light shine upon him!

Tom McNeill, 2019

Reflection

Much of what I have written regarding my friend Tom is based on my memories. Many of the St. Mary Choir members pictured above are gone now and I am the last of that wonderful and special group of singers. Tom and I sang together at St. Mary’s for many years, and we had a lot of fun in the choir loft over those years singing duets together, practicing for the Christmas season in the cold chill of the church, and some pretty hot summer days, typical of summers in Ohio. We shared choir picnics and Christmas parties together at the home of Bea & Ralph Jordan. Ralph was the organist and choir director at St. Mary’s for sixty-seven years. Suffice is to say, Tom and I spent many Sundays’, Christmas’ and Easters’ doing what we do best, singing God’s praises.

This lovely Christmas song was sung by Tom during Communion, this would give most of the choir members time to go down from the choir loft to receive Communion and make our way back. The verses remind me of the Christmas story and takes me to that special night when the heavens shown with Glory, certainly a reference to Luke’s gospel 2:9. What beautiful verses to hear and reflect on as we receive into our hearts, the Christ Child, the living God in the Blessed Sacrament. In the next few phrases, I am reminded of the account in Matthew’s gospel 2:1, Came then the wise men from afar who followed a living star.

The author switches back and forth between the gospels of Matthew and Luke, to tell us again of the kingly child, in a manger sleeping and His mother the Virgin mild. I hear again the song of the angels, Glory to God! Peace be on earth and good will to men. Then the verses tell me of the shepherds watching their flocks by night, and the message of the angel, Fear not; to you this day is given, Jesus, the new born King! The real meaning of Christmas is retold in this lovely Christmas song with beautiful poetic imagery. 

I returned to St. Mary’s in the fall of 2022 and joined a wonderful group of young singers pictured below. The young people have moved on now to raise their family and chase their dreams. I continue to sing and share the cantor role with the organist.

St. Mary's Choir - Christmass 2022

Take a moment to reflect on these verses and sing along with Tom, and with the angels to Praise to the new born King! Below is a recording from an old cassette tape of St. Mary’s Christmas 1985 and my friend Tom McNeill singing The New Born King.

Help, Lord, The Souls Which Thou Hast Made

The words of this hymn was written by Cardinal John Henry Newman, now Saint John Henry Newman. This hymn appears in his HYMNS AND VERSES, 1853, and later in his VERSES ON VARIOUS OCCASIONS, 1868, and captioned For the Dead (A Hymn) with a reference date, The Oratory, 1857.

Verses on Various Occasions, 1868
Verses on Various Occasions, 1868

There is so much that I could write about life of Saint John Henry Neman and his journey to Catholicism, but this would be a somewhat lengthy endeavor and is beyond the scope of this short write-up. However, it seems only fair to mention something of his journey to the Catholic Church.

John Henry Newman was born in February of 1801 in Old Broad Street, London, and in 1808 attended Ealing School. In the summer of 1817, he went into residence at Trinity College, one of the constituent colleges of Oxford University. He excelled in his education, taking a Bachelor of Arts, in 1820, and Master of Arts, in 1823. By the Spring of 1824, he was engaged to take the curacy of St. Clement’s at Oxford, and by June of the same year, he was ordained a deacon in the Church of England. The following year in late May of 1825, he was ordained a priest at Christ Church, Oxford, and in 1828, he was appointed by the Bishop of Oxford to the Vicarage of the University Church, St. Mary the Virgin.

On a historical note, Oxford University has been the center of three great religious movements, each associated with the name of a single man, the Lollardist, a pre-Protestant religious movement in the fourteenth century, the Methodist in the eighteenth, and the Oxford Movement in the nineteenth. The first, John Wycliffe was the inspiring genius; of the second, John Wesley; and of the third, John Henry Newman. The third of these movements, the Oxford Movement, carried John Henry Neman, together with many of his friends and followers, into the bosom of the Catholic Church.

In the years following his appointment as Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin, a number of parliamentary events would turn much of the established church and state traditions in on itself, including the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts of 1828, the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Bill of 1829, and the Reform Bill of 1832. These events would challenge the teaching by Anglican theologians, that the State and the Church were constituted of the same body of men viewed under different aspects, the Church being the State in its spiritual, and the State being the Church in its temporal aspect. Among the clergy however, a more pressing question was at stake, especially for those who had accepted the High Church tradition, that is, if the Church were disestablished, on what foundation did their authority to teach the nation rest?

At the heart of the Oxford Movement was John Henry Newman and the Tracts for the Times, a religious pamphlet that was circulated throughout the English countryside. The most famous of these Tracts was Tract 90, published in 1841, where Newman scrupulously examined the thirty-nine articles that defined the doctrine of the Church of England. In his examinations, Newman contended that at its root the identity of the Church of England was Catholic rather than Protestant.

Almost at once, Newman was regarded as a traitor. Tract 90 was denounced by the Church of England as Newman knew it probably would be. Soon afterwards, a firestorm irrupted, many clergy, various ranks of nobility, military, medical and legal professionals, publishers, universities scholars and students, and other Protestants from every walk of life, converted to Catholicism. Newman maintained his position as Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin until 1843, when he was compelled to resign it. For two years, Newman would face many agonies until, by his own convictions, he left the Church of England.

By 1845, he had retired to the Oxford parish of Littlemore, and with the help of a Passionist priest, made his submission to the Catholic Church and within two years he was ordained a Catholic priest. He founded the English Oratory a year later. Then he was appointed Rector of the Catholic University of Ireland for four years and opened the Oratory School after that appointment. In 1877 he was elected the first honorary fellow of Trinity College and was made Cardinal in 1879 by Pope Leo XIII. He died on August 11, 1890, and was canonized by Pope Francis in 2019. Saint Newman was a prolific writer, and his published works are numerous.

The Hymnals

The hymn appeared in several Catholic hymnals. These include Tozer’s 1898 CATHOLIC HYMNS; the ARUNDEL HYMNS, 1905; Tozer’s CATHOLIC CHURCH HYMNAL, 1905 and 1933; the BOOK OF HYMNS WITH TUNES, 1913; MANUAL OF CATHOLIC HYMNS, 1916; the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL from 1918 thru 1958; the ST. GREGORY HYMNAL, 1920 and 1940; the ST. MARY’S MANUAL, 1924; the SURSUM CORDA, 1925; also Cleveland, Ohio Bishop Schrembs’ DIOCESAN HYMNAL PART 2, 1928; the GLORIA HYMNAL, 1933; the AVE MARIA HYMNAL, 1936; the SAINT ANDREW HYMNAL, 1945; the WESTMINSTER HYMNAL, 1912, 1939, and 1952; the ST. CECILIA HYMNAL, 1955; and a couple of modern hymn books which include the ADORAMUS HYMNAL, 1997 and 2011; and A CATHOLIC BOOK OF HYMNS AND CHANTS, 2020.

The Melodies

From my own collection of over one-hundred-fifty hymnals that date from 1840 to 1992, I found several melodies that have been composed for this hymn. A quick survey on the internet suggest there may be other melodies that have been ascribed to this hymn. For example, the melody sometimes referred to as Coventry Carol (Lullah, thou little tiny child) from the 16th century works quite well. However, for the purpose of this short write-up I have limited the melodies to my own collection.

The melody by Samuel Webbe Jr., (1770-1843), and the melody by Dom Gregory Murray, O.S.B. (1905-1992) are the most common. There are a handful of lesser-known melodies which include compositions by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), an English composer of Renaissance music; Thomas Haigh (1769-1806), and English composer and violinist; a Slovak melody arranged by Nicola Montani (1880-1948); a melody by Willam Sewell (1861-1942), the choirmaster and organist at the Birmingham Oratory; a melody arranged by Msgr. Peter Griesbacher (1864-1933); from the Ave Maria Hymnal is a melody named Ancient Melody; and a Dutch melody arranged by Cornelius O’Sullivan (1841-1907), a brewer’s chemist and self-taught musician, several of his hymn arrangements are found in the New Saint Basil Hymnal.

St. Basil's - Melody by Samuel Webbe Jr.
Westminster Hymnal 1912 - Spanish Melody

More than any other hymnal, the St. Basil’s was the most widely used hymnal in the United States and Canada. Because of the hymnals popularity, many hymns became beloved among Catholic choirs more so than the hymns original source. The hymnal was also the most severely criticized of all American hymnals.

The composer Samuel Webbe Jr. was born in London and studied music under his father and became a good pianist and organist. Following in his father’s footsteps, he devoted himself to the practice of vocal composition. Around 1817, he started teaching music and became the organist of the Spanish ambassador’s chapel. Many years afterwards he became the organist at St. Nicholas Church and St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Chapel. He composed many songs, motets, and hymns. He died November 25, 1843.

Sir Richard Runciman Terry was the choirmaster of the Westminster Roman Catholic Cathedral in London. He is best known for cultivating a revival of English church music. He was the principal editor of the Westminster Hymnal published in 1912. This hymnal was the only authorized collection of hymns of the Catholic Church of England and Wales. The melody is listed simply as a Spanish Melody.

In the 1940 and 1952 editions of the Westminster Hymnal, the Spanish Melody was replaced with a melody by Dom Gregory Murray, O.S.B., M.A., F.R.C.O. He began his musical career as a choirboy under Sir Richard Terry at Westminster Cathedral, London. While still a boy he became assistant organist to Sir Richard. As organist and choirmaster of Downside Abbey he continued his active interest in all branches of church music, particularly Gregorian Chant. He passed the examination for Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists at the age of seventeen. He served on the Committee of the Society of St. Gregory, the English association of Catholic church musicians, and his organ recitals, for some time, were regular feature of English Radio programs.

Westminster Hymnal 1952 - Melody by Dom Gregory Murray, O.S.B.

The Gloria Hymnal was published by the Basilian Fathers in 1933. It is a hymnal for use in church, schools, and home with a collection of English and Latin hymns, Masses, Vespers, and Benediction motets. It contains liturgical music for requiems, funerals, Forty Hours, and other religious functions. It is remarkably similar to St. Basil’s hymnal though some of the hymns are different.

The Gloria Hymnal - Melody by Thomas Tallis
Diocesan Hymnal Part 2 - Arranged by Msgr. Griesbacher

The composer Thomas Tallis was an English composer of sacred music and was a leading figure in church music in the 16th century. In 1575, he and William Byrd were granted a patent to print and publish music. This was the first time such a patent had been granted. He is probably best known for his choral piece If Ye Love Me. Thomas Tallis died in November 1585.

The Diocesan Hymnal Part 2 was compiled by Cleveland, Ohio Bishop Joseph Schrembs, and it was published in 1928. He compiled and published three hymnals including, The Diocesan Hymnal Part 1 which was published in 1926 consisting of Communion and Confirmation Hymns. Part 2 consisting of Devotional Hymns, and a third, The Eucharistic Hymnal published in 1935, embodied hymns taken from Part 1 & Part 2. He was himself a musician and composed several hymns and was instrumental in producing manuals of Gregorian Chant and Catholic editions of music text books for elementary schools. He is also considered one of the pioneers of Catholic radio. He spoke frequently on local radio stations giving sermons and catechetical instructions often followed by the singing of hymns for which he composed the tunes. He was instrumental in persuading the National Council of Catholic Men (NCCM) to sponsor the Catholic Hour that began broadcasting in 1930. This weekly radio program reached a large national audience.

Monsignor Peter Griesbacher was responsible for a large number of harmonization’s of the hymns found in the Diocesan Hymnals. He was German born 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. He died on January 28, 1933.

The Ave Maria Hymnal was compiled by Father Joseph J. Pierron and published by The Bruce Publishing Company with offices in New York, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The Ave Maria Hymnal saw several editions with the first edition published in 1929 and the last edition in 1941.

The Ave Maria Hymnal - Ancient Melody

The Ave Maria Hymnal is a collection of English and older German melodies. Father 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 prominent churches throughout Wisconsin. In November 1949, he went to Boys Town, Nebraska to serve as music director for Father Flanagan’s boys. Father Pierron was editor of the Caecilia magazine in 1930, and composed several hymns, hymn collections, mass settings, and authored several articles on music.

The Book of Hymns with Tunes was compiled by Dom Samuel Ould, O.S.B., and was published in 1913. It is one of the most important Scottish Catholic hymnals of the day. Dom Samuel Ould was a member of the Benedictine Community, Fort Augustus Abbey, Iverness, Scotland. He was the son of Wesleyan Methodist parents; he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1879 and became a priest in 1891. He was an organist, composer, a writer of Ecclesiastical music, and a noted hymnologist. He is best known for being the first musician to give the full eight stanzas of the Adeste fideles and provide a harmonization for each of them.

The Book of Hymns with Tunes
Melody by Thomas Haigh
The Book of Hymns with Tunes
Melody by Thomas Haigh

The composer was Thomas Haigh, he was an English violinist, and pianist. He studied music composition under Joseph Haydn in the early 1790s. He also studied organ at the Royal College of Music in London and made several trips to Australia where he was for a time organist and choirmaster at St. Andrews Cathedral in Sydney. He wrote orchestral, chamber, church, and piano music. He died in London in April 1808.

The St. Gregory Hymnal and Choir Book was compiled by Nicola A. Montani and published in 1920 and a revised edition in 1940. He was a conductor, composer, arranger, and publisher of sacred music. He was the cofounder of the St. Gregory Guild and the Society of St. Gregory. He was chief editor of the Catholic Choirmaster, a monthly magazine devoted to liturgical church music.

The St. Gregory Hymnal - Arranged by Nicola Montoni
The St. Gregory Hymnal - Arranged by Nicola Montoni

The melody is from the Slovak hymnal identified by J. Vincent Higginson, author of Handbook for American Catholic Hymnals as Duchovny Spevnik Katolicky published in 1909.

The Arundel Hymnal was compiled and edited by Henry Duke of Norfolk and Charles T. Gatty, Fellow of the Society of Antiquities. The hymnal is a tribute to Saint Philip Howard, Lord Arundel, born in 1557 who died in the Tower of London, 1595, for his religious beliefs. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970. The Arundel hymnal was originally produced in parts and when the first part was completed in 1898, Henry Duke of Norfolk sent a copy to Pope Leo XIII who in turn wrote a letter of congratulations and encouragement. The Arundel hymnal is a collection of German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Bohemian, and Hungarian tunes and texts. The Arundel Hymnal could be characterized as an anthology given the wide diversity of texts and tunes and as such became a source for American editors in search of new material.

Arundel Hymnal - Melody by William Sewell
Arundel Hymnal - Melody by William Sewell

The composer of this melody was William Sewell. He served as the organist of the Redemptorist Church of St. Mary’s, Clapham for twenty-five years. 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 a convert to Catholicism and joined the Church of Rome in 1885.

Last but not least we have a melody found in the New Saint Basil Hymnal. This hymnal was the last of the St. Basil’s hymnals and was published shortly after the Encyclical Mediator Dei of 1947 and the Encyclical Musica Sacra Disciplinae of 1955. The Encyclical Mediator Dei stressed the importance of having the congregation answer the priest in a fitting manner or sing hymns suitable to the parts of the Mass. The Encyclical Musica Sacra Disciplinae expressed similar ideas, enlarging the principles concerning hymnody and made other suggestions.

In the Preface of the New Saint Basil Hymnal, the editors explained that the focus of the hymnal was toward congregational participation and liturgical song. They further commented on the good old hymns, those hymns beloved by Catholics for more than half a century if not longer, were outdated and harmful in that they expressed a religious emotion which was overly exaggerated, over familiar and, eventually, false – since they teach the singer to pray badly.

The new hymnal consisted largely of tunes from English, German, Irish, Italian, and Slavic sources. The hymnal was praised by some as one of the better outstanding contemporary collections that addressed the recent developments in American Catholic Hymnody. This praise was short lived and faded as the introduction of the vernacular liturgy became common place.  In fact during the 1960s, 90% of the hymns in Catholic hymnals, those beloved by Catholics, were replaced by Protestant sources.

The New Saint Basil Hymnal - Melody arranged by Cornelius O'Sullivan
The New Saint Basil Hymnal - Melody arranged by Cornelius O'Sullivan

This 14th century Dutch melody was arranged by Cornelius O’Sullivan, a brewer’s chemist. Many of his arrangements can be found in the New Saint Basil Hymnal. Very little information on this self-taught musician exist. One source online, a Dictionary of Irish Biographies, gives the following: On Candlemas Day 1870, O’Sullivan married Edithe Nadin of Barrow Hall, Barrow upon Trent, near Derby, the daughter of a colliery owner. She was an accomplished musician and had a fine voice. The two became valued members of the choir at the local catholic chapel at Guild Street, Burton upon Trent. He died in January, 1907.

Reflection

We are often remiss in singing prayerful hymns for the poor souls in purgatory and asking God to pardon their sins committed here. The verses that Cardinal Newman wrote help me to remember the Church teachings on purgatory (CCC 1030-32), and that the souls there, joy to undergo the cleansing flames that they may be made perfect in heart and will, a reference to Matthew’s gospel 5:48, In a word you must be made perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. In the second verse, Until the high behest is done, And justice has its fill, I recall Matthew’s gospel, 5:26, I warn you; you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. I can also see this gospel passage in the fourth verse, In prison for the debt unpaid.

Both St. Peter and St. Paul, remind us of the cleansing flames (1 Cor.3:15; 1 Peter 1:7). Anyone who meditates on these verses will see something different or recall some passage from the Old or New Testament or nothing at all.

What can you see?

This is wonderful hymn to sing for All Souls Day and throughout the month of November, and really throughout the whole year. This hymn reminds me of our duty to pray for our loved ones, our friends who are gone now, and our neighbors.

May we always remember our departed loved ones by singing prayerful hymns and may those who hear this hymn especially those in most need of God’s mercy be given pardon and granted everlasting life.

Below are computer generated sound files of all the melodies listed above. The tempo is approximate but should provide those listening a good sense of what the hymn sounds like. Of all the melodies listed below, I like the Spanish melody from the Westminster Hymnal, 1912.

Jesus, Keep Me Close to Thee

The words of this hymn were composed by Frances Fanny Jane Crosby (1820-1915). Her hymn Close to Thee was written in 1874, and it first appeared in the hymn collection SONGS OF GRACE AND GLORY.  This collection was compiled by William. F. Sherwin and Silas J. Vail and published by Horace Waters & Son of New York.

Songs of Grace and Glory, 1874
Songs of Grace and Glory, 1874

William F. Sherwin (1826-1888) was an American Baptist hymn-writer and musician. He was born in Buckland, Massachusetts in 1826. He studied music under Dr. Mason Neal and in due course became a teacher of vocal music. He was passionately involved in Sunday Schools and widely recognized throughout Massachusetts, Hudson, and Albany Counties in New York, and the New York City area where he composed carols and hymn-tunes for the schools. He died in Boston in 1888.

Silas Jones Vail (1818-1884) was, for much of his life, a maker of hats and was employed by Willam H. Beebe who owned a fashionable hat store in New York. Silas later started his own hattery business where he was successful for many years. However, as the times changed, so did his trade and he could not stay in business. In the late 1860s, he devoted himself completely to music and was well known for composing music for use in churches and Sunday Schools. Frances Crosby wrote expressly for him many hymns that he set to music including Close to Thee. His melody for this hymn is widely known throughout Protestant circles and is still used to this day.

Frances Crosby was blinded during infancy and as she grew older, she learned to accept her blindness as a gift and blessing from God. She began writing poetry verses when she was 8 years old, and her first poem was published in 1831 and her first book of poetry The Blind Girl and other Poems was published in 1844. She spent 12 years at the New York Institute for the Blind and another 12 years as a teacher there.

Fanny Crosby at age 52
Fanny Crosby at age 86

She started writing hymns when she was 40 years of age and continued to do so throughout her lifetime. In her later years, she devoted herself to missionary work and was affectionately called by those to whom she ministered to as Aunt Fanny. Because of her prolificity in writing hymns, publisher’s ascribed to her as many as 40 different pseudonyms.  Frances Crosby was a Methodist and some of her more successful hymns include Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine; Pass me not, O Gentle Savoir; Safe in the Arms of Jesus and Saved by Grace. She died in the early morning hours of Friday, February 12, 1915, at the age of 95. She wrote at least 8,000 hymns and was one of the most popular and well-respected poets in America.

The Melodies

There are only two melodies for this hymn. The first, as indicated above, was composed by Silas J. Vail, and is commonly found in Protestant hymnals. Another melody was composed by a Sister of Mercy from the Providence, Rhode Island, Community: Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly, R.S.M, (1857-1936). Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sister Mary Alexis was one of the leading contributors to American Catholic music. Her contributions to Catholic music, however, have largely been forgotten by all except a few vintage organists and hymnologists. The remainder of this write-up is dedicated to Sister Mary Alexis. 

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

Sister Mary Alexis was born Julia Donnelly in Yorkshire, England during the month of March 1857. When she was a young girl, she came to the United States and settled in the small town of Harrisville, Rhode Island. On November 1, 1877, she entered the Sisters of Mercy at St. Xavier’s Convent, in Providence, Rhode Island. She was recognized by her superiors as a gifted musician and began her first teaching assignment at St. Patrick’s School, Providence.

At the urging and solicitation of friends, she compiled her first hymnal with all original music and dedicated it to the Holy Face of our Lord to whom she had a deep devotion. The HOLY FACE HYMNAL was published by J. Fisher & Bro., of New York in 1891.

Holy Face Hymnal, 1891
Holy Face Hymnal, 1891

The Holy Face Hymnal was a great success and numerous letters of commendation from across the country resulted from its publication.

Holy Face Hymnal, 1891
Holy Face Hymnal, 1891
Holy Face Hymnal, 1891

In a letter from the celebrated poetess Miss Eliza Allen Starr, from St. Joseph’s Cottage in Chicago, she writes: My Dear Sisters of Mercy: — It does not seem a suitable acknowledgement of the honor you have done to my little verses, merely to express my gratification at seeing them really made into a hymn, to be sung by venerated religious in their choirs and by their devout pupils… The little verses referred to by Miss Starr is her poem O Face Divine! The hymn was favored with two separate melodies and is the first and third hymn featured in the collection of one-hundred and twenty-one hymns.

In another letter written by Father J. J. Keogh, Pastor of St. John’s Cathedral in Milwaukee, Wisconsin we find, I have examined the hymnals you sent me, and I have selected the Holy Face for our school. The teachers and pupils seem to be very much pleased with it. Please send me 50 copies of the Holy Face Hymnal for the present.

In 1899, after receiving many requests for another volume of hymns, a second hymnal, OUR LADY OF MERCY, was compiled by the Sisters of Mercy and published by J. Fischer & Bro., of New York. This collection of hymns and litanies for use at May Devotions, Sodalities, etc., contained nearly all new and original melodies. Somewhat unique to this hymnal was the setting of the voice parts independent of the accompaniment which proved to be a valuable aid to the children in rendering the hymns.

In the same year, Pope Leo XIII consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart leading to an increased demand for Sacred Heart hymns. OUR LADY OF MERCY HYMNAL features a number of selections to meet this demand including O Sacred Heart, O Sacred Heart, So humble and so meek, the text of this hymn was written by Miss Eleanor C. Donnelly, one of America’s most celebrated Catholic poets.

Our Lady of Mercy Hymnal, 1899
Our Lady of Mercy Hymnal, 1899
Our Lady of Mercy Hymnal, 1899
Our Lady of Mercy Hymnal, 1899

In 1904, The Catholic Music Publishing Company was founded by James M. McLaughlin and James A. Reilly. Soon afterwards, the company became known as McLaughlin & Reilly Company and was one of the most successful Catholic music publishing companies in America. Sister Mary Alexis had close associations with the company’s president, James A. Reilly, who was a benefactor of the Sisters of Mercy.  Some of the first musical selections to appear in the company’s catalog were those by the Sisters of Mercy. These appeared in a series of hymn booklets or hymn pamphlets. The hymn pamphlets were approximately eight pages each and were comprised of various hymns suitable for specific occasions or general use. These hymn pamphlets were extensively sold throughout McLaughlin and Reilly’s existence. Below are a few of these hymn pamphlets by the Sisters of Mercy.

Advertisement of McLaughlin and Reilly
featuring hymn pamphlets by the Sisters of Mercy
Hymn pamphlet No. 17
Hymn pamphlet No. 29
Hymn pamphlet No. 31
Hymn pamphlet No. 23
Hymn pamphlet No. 25

Due to the success of her first two hymnals, Sister Mary Alexis continued to write hymns which appeared in sheet music form. Some of these were privately published the Sisters of Mercy, some by the Oliver Ditson Co., a music publisher with offices in Boston, Chicago, and other major cities throughout United States, and also by McLaughlin & Reilly. She composed at least three Ave Maria’s and several choral pieces including The Day is Done; the Divine Praises; Immaculata Conceptio; O Jesu Deus Magne; Lead, Kindly Light; and Quid Retribaum Domino.

Ave Maria, 1893
Immaculata Conceptio, 1893
O Jesu Deus Magne, 1893
The Day is Done, 1906
Lead, Kindly Light, 1906
Divine Praises, 1908

In 1910, Sister Mary Alexis was elected Reverend Mother of the Providence Community of the Sisters of Mercy and served in this capacity for six years. Mother Alexis was a natural concerning business and community affairs and was gifted with foresight and was almost prophetic in many of her duties as Reverend Mother. The health of her sisters was of paramount importance to her, so she conceived of a place in the country for rest and relaxation. During her role as Reverend Mother, she acquired the Fiske Estate which was to become the Mount St. Rita property in Cumberland, Rhode Island. For many years Mount St. Rita served as a retreat and convalescing home for the sisters. Eventually, the Sisters gave up this wonderful facility to a large health care system and it became known as Mount Saint Rita Health Center.

After completing her term as Reverend Mother in 1916, she again took up her role as a music teacher and composing music. In 1924, she composed the Sacred Chorus Ecce Sacerdos Magnus and in 1927, she published her third hymnal, OUR LADY OF MERCY HYMNAL – Volume 2.

Ecce Sacerdos Magnus, 1924
Ecce Sacerdos Magnus, 1924
Our Lady of Mercy Hymnal Volume 2, 1927
Our Lady of Mercy Hymnal Volume 2, 1927

Sister Mary Alexis taught music for more than twenty years in many of the schools of the Providence Diocese. In 1935, she asked to go to St. Xavier’s to prepare for her meeting with her beloved Father. Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly died on July 4, 1936 at St. Xavier’s Convent, Providence, Rhode Island. Many of Sister Mary Alexis’ compositions were dear to her and one in particular was her favorite, Jesus, Keep Me Close to Thee, which was played and sung at her funeral Mass.

As a member of the Sisters of Mercy, Sister Mary Alexis gave up the right to have her name added to her compositions. In keeping with the custom of the time, attribution was given to the Community rather than the individual. Now, since Vatican II, those in religious life are treated as individuals and receive credit for their work. All the music presented in this write-up, including the three hymnals as well as sheet music, hymn pamphlets, and original works formerly attributed to a Sister of Mercy or Sisters of Mercy can be credited to Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly. These musical compositions are a testament to the technique, harmonization, and beauty of expression of this outstanding Catholic musician and Sister of Mercy.

Other Hymnals

The hymn Jesus, Keep Me Close to Thee was found in these Catholic hymnals: the STANDARD CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1921; SELECTED HYMNS, 1930; and the MOUNT MARY HYMNAL, 1937. All of these have Sister Mary Alexis’ melody.

Reflection

The verses of this hymn are prayerful petitions asking Jesus to be close to us all through life and at its closing. We do not seek relief from worldly pleasures, nor do we seek fame or fortune, we gladly toil and suffer whatever befalls us with a simple request, Jesus keep me close to Thee. In the last verse, Lead me through this vale of sadness, I see an allusion to the famous psalm, The Lord is my shepherd. (Psalm 23), Even though I walk in the dark valley I will fear no evil. How appropriate are the words of this hymn for someone entering into eternal life. This would make a wonderful hymn to sing to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or as a Communion/ Blessed Sacrament hymn, or as a hymn for a funeral Mass. 

The life of Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly and her musical compositions shared here in this short write-up are the results of one man’s research efforts: Peter Meggison. Peter began his research on Sister Mary Alexis in 1986. During that time, there were many nuns who knew Sister Mary Alexis from their novitiate days; Peter spoke with many of these nuns, and they all spoke highly of her.

In 1991, an article appeared in The Anchor – a diocesan newspaper serving the Southeast Massachusetts Fall River Diocese which included Cape Cod & the Islands. Peter was at that time a parishioner of St. James Parish in Holbrook. The article was written by Sister Carol Jussaume, R.S.M., who was the archivist at the time and was captioned Former student produces cassette of Mercy Music.

Mercy Music Cassette Cover, 1991

In 2014, Peter was asked to be the speaker on the life of Mother Alexis at the 100th anniversary of the acquisition of the Mount Saint Rita property. He was requested by the nuns because he was the only person who was alive at that time who knew more about Mother Alexis than anyone else.

Today, Peter Meggison produces The Devotional Hymns Project, a personal effort to share and preserve a heritage of Catholic music. Whether you are a student who remembers being taught by the Sisters of Mercy, or a young whippersnapper, or simply curious about Catholic music, I highly encourage you to visit this website and listen to the most comprehensive collection of Catholic hymns and religious songs written in the English language.

A special thank you to Peter Meggison producer of the Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to share a recording of Jesus, Keep Me Close to Thee. The hymn was sung by the Dorian Concert Choir on June 27, 1990 at Holy Name Church in Providence, Rhode Island. 

Mother Dear, O Pray for Me

Mother Dear, O Pray for Me

Isaac B. Woodbury (1819-1858) composed the text and the original tune of this ballad and dedicated it to his own mother. It was published as sheet music by G. P. Reed & Co., of Boston in 1850. Isaac was a teacher, composer, and publisher of church music. He was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, and studied music in Boston when he was a young boy. By age nineteen he was in London and then Paris furthering his study of music. He returned to America and published several tune books. Isaac was the organist and director of music at the Rutgers Street Church and editor of the American Monthly Musical Review. He is best known for the hymn books THE DULCIMER: or the NEW YORK COLLECTION OF SACRED MUSIC, 1851 and THE THANKSGIVING, 1857.

Mother Dear O Pray for Me, 1850
Mother Dear O Pray for Me, 1850

The Catholic verses and melody that became traditional to this hymn first appeared in PETERS’ CATHOLIC HARP, 1863 and was captioned O Virgin Mother, Pray for Me.

O Virgin Mother, Pray for Me - Peters Catholic Harp, 1863

The revised version also appeared in the SACRED WREATH, 1863. Father Edward Sorin, S.J., was the co-editor of the SACRED WREATH and the translator of many hymns. He was also the first editor of The Ave Maria, a weekly Catholic magazine. It is possible that Father Sorin, or Father Felix Barbelin, S.J., altered the text and composed the traditional Catholic melody. Father Barbelin who first made the singing of Catholic hymns popular in Philadelphia also established what would become May Crowning’s and May Processions in this country.

Another well-known hymn-writer whose name and contributions have been forgotten in the history of Catholic musicians may have been responsible for the revised hymn text. She was a close friend to both Father Sorin and Father Barbelin. She was a regular contributor to The Ave Maria, a weekly Catholic magazine and helped to enlist other men and women in the field of Catholic literature to contribute.

She was the author of the Memoir of Father Felix J. Barbelin, S.J., founder of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Philadelphia, and the Life of Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul. To learn more about this Catholic hymn writer and her contributions to Catholic music follow the link given here: Daughter of a Mighty Father.

The hymn next appeared in the CATHOLIC YOUTH’S HYMN BOOK, 1871 where it gained greater popularity, but it was from the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL that the hymn gained wide use rather than its original source. This hymn would become one of the most beloved Catholic novena hymns of the late nineteenth and twentieth century period.

The Melodies

Apart from the melody that became traditional, I found four other melodies for this hymn. The first melody was composed by Augustus Cull (ca. 1865). He was a German composer and arranger living in New York and was particularly active during the American Civil War. His works included polkas, ballads, and various arrangements of hymns and national songs. Most of his compositions were published by Horace Waters, a music publisher living in New York City.

The Catholic Youths Hymn Book, 1871
The Catholic Youths Hymn Book, 1871

A second melody appeared in the 1925 edition of Sursum Corda – A Collection of Hymns for the use of Catholic Schools. This collection was compiled by the Sisters of St. Francis from Stella Niagara, New York, with organ accompaniment by Father Florian Zettel, O.F.M. (1879-1947). He was the organist at the Church of the Ascension in Portland, Oregon. The star in the upper right of the hymn indicates an original melody.

Sursum Corda, 1925

A third melody was composed by Cleveland Ohio’s Bishop Joseph Schrembs, D.D., (1911-1945) and it appeared in his Diocesan Hymnal Part Two – Devotional Hymns. Bishop Schrembs was elevated to Archbishop in 1935 and hosted the Seventh National Eucharistic Congress in Cleveland in the same year. The melody was arranged by Monsignor Peter Griesbacher (1864-1933). Msgr. Griesbacher was responsible for a large number of harmonization’s of the hymns found in the Diocesan Hymnals. He was German born and ordained a priest in 1886. He edited a number of publications of Catholic church music and has composed several mass settings, a number of cantatas, various choral works, and organ manuals.

Diocesan Hymnal Part 2, 1928
Diocesan Hymnal Part 2, 1928

A fourth melody appeared in the Alverno Hymnal and Choir Book Part Three – Hymns for Low Mass. The Alverno Hymnal consisted of three volumes and was compiled by Sister Mary Cherubim Schaefer, O.S.F. (1886-1977). Her musical accomplishments are many. She was a regular contributor to the Caecilia Magazine in the late 1930s.

Alverno Hymnal Part 3, 1953
Alverno Hymnal Part 3, 1953

Other Catholic Hymnals

In addition to the hymnals mentioned so far, Mother Dear, O Pray for Me appeared in the following Catholic hymnals: LAUDIS CORONA (1880 and 1885); ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL (1888 thru 1953); the HOLY FAMILY HYMN BOOK, 1904; the SUNDAY SCHOOL YOUTH’S MANUAL – CANTICA SACRA, 1908; the CROWN HYMNAL, 1912; the DE LA SALLE HYMNAL, 1913; MANUAL OF CATHOLIC HYMNS, 1916; HYMNS used by the Pupils of the Sisters of Notre Dame, (1920 and 1948); SELECTED HYMNS, 1930 compiled by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Archdiocese of Boston; the CATHOLIC SCHOOL HYMNAL, 1930; ST. JOSEPH’S HYMNAL, 1930 compiled by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Michigan; A CATHOLIC HYMN BOOK, 1932; NOVENA HYMNS for Soldiers and Sailors, 1943 with variation Mother Dear, O Pray for Them;  MANUAL OF HYMNS FOR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, 1948; the PARISH HYMNAL, 1954 compiled by St. Francis Parish in Cleveland, Ohio; THE CATHOLIC CHAPEL HYMNAL* (1944 thru 1968); OUR PARISH PRAYS AND SINGS, 1977; A CATHOLIC BOOK OF HYMNS, 2020.

* Of the hymnals above, THE CATHOLIC CHAPEL HYMNAL is of particular significance. This collection of hymns is a result of a survey of 118 Chaplains in the Armed Forces during WWII. The survey was conducted by McLaughin & Reilly, one of the most successful Catholic music publishing companies of the twentieth century. The Chaplains furnished the title of the hymns best known by the servicemen and women as indicated by spontaneous congregational participation during chapel services.

In addition, Mother Dear, O Pray for Me was number three in a list of ten Catholic hymns voted most popular in a national contest conducted by Extension Magazine in 1947, confirming the selections made by the Chaplains in 1943. The contest rules were simple, name your favorite Catholic hymn and tell in not more than one hundred words, why this hymn is your favorite.

Mother Dear, O Pray for Me and Holy God, We Praise Thy Name were two of the best known hymns of the 20th century. These hymns were regularly featured on many of the Catholic radio programs of the 1930s and 1940s including Father Finn’s Catholic Hour, a weekly radio program that often featured The Paulist Choristers directed by Edward Slattery.

Reflection

This is a favorite hymn of mine and was a favorite hymn at St. Mary’s when I sang in the choir (1977-2010). We used the arrangement from the St. Basil’s Hymnal which was one of the most widely used hymnals in Catholic parishes throughout the United States. Singing a Marian hymn just before Mass or during Mass was somewhat of a tradition at St. Mary’s and the parish greatly benefited from this devotion to Our Lady. The choir would often sing this hymn right after the Rosary on Sunday mornings.

The nautical allusion found in the first verse, I wander in a fragile bark o’re life’s tempestuous sea, reminds me of the apostles out on the sea of Galilee when a great storm arose. How many times do we find ourselves in a bark, which in ancient times referred to a small boat, and we are tossed about to and fro on the sea of life. How many times have we stumbled, scraped our hands and knees, only to be comforted by our attentive mother’s care and her sweet smile of love?

In today’s world we are confronted with so many distractions, at home, at work, or even in church and the authors nautical allusion continues when he writes Should pleasure’s siren lay, e’er tempt thy child to wander far, From virtues path away. I am reminded of my old high school mythology teacher who spoke of the sirens, mythical and dangerous creatures, incredibly sensuous, who would lure sailors into ship wrecks on the rocky coast of their island. What a painful lesson to learn when the sirens sing their enchanting songs, when thorns beset life’s devious way, and darkling waters flow, then Mary aid thy weeping child, Thyself a mother show.

Many times, when I am doing some work around the house, when some troubling event or some anxiety ebbs its way into my life or when the sirens call, I ask my mother to pray for me. She is in heaven, and she can do more for me now than she ever could here on earth. I would like very much to have this be the entrance hymn for my funeral for just as I ask my earthly mother to pray for me, I ask my Blessed Mother to pray for me.

This is an excellent congregation hymn, and we often neglect singing hymns that honor Our Blessed Mother because it’s not in season. If we can honor Our Lady in the Liturgy, and in the Eucharistic prayers every day, then we can honor her by singing her praises. Be spontaneous and see what great graces will flow when we honor Our Lady just because…because we lover her! Take a few moments to reflect on these verses and ask your music director to make this lovely Marian hymn part of your parish repertoire.

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

I want to thank Peter Meggison, producer of The Devotional Hymns Project for granting permission to link to a recording by a choir of professional voices at St. Cecilia Church, Boston, Massachusetts.

A special thank you to Noel Jones, AAGO in granting permission to link to A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants with nearly 300 time-honored traditional Catholic hymns and Chants including Mother Dear, O Pray for Me.

A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020
A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020
A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020

Below are the recordings mentioned above and several computer-generated sound files of the melodies described in this write-up. The tempo is approximate but should give the listener a good sense of what the hymns sound like.

In This Sacrament, Sweet Jesus

Eucharistic revival

Father John Furniss, C.SS.R. (1809-1865), composed the words for this hymn for use at Mass and it first appeared in his HYMN-BOOK FOR SUNDAY SCHOOL OR CATECHISM published in 1861, and was sold throughout Dublin, London, and Derby by publisher Thomas Richardson and Son. It consisted of six verses.

Hymn-Book for Sunday School or Catechism, 1885
Hymn-Book for Sunday School or Catechism, 1885

John Furniss was born near Sheffield, England on June 19, 1809 where is father was a wealthy master-cutler. He attended Sedgley Park School, St. Mary’s College in Oscott, and Ushaw College, where he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1834. He was a resident priest at Doncaster in South Yorkshire, England for five years and afterwards traveled for eight years throughout Europe and the East. He returned home in 1847, and spent some time at Islington, a district in the North of Greater London. He joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists, at St. Trond (Sint-Truiden), Belgium in 1851. He served for a short time as a missionary in England and Ireland but eventually devoted himself completely to missions for children.

This devotion to children inspired him to write hymns and books for their needs in simple language. Among his more popular works are the Sunday-School or Catechism, the Hand-Book for the Sunday School Teacher, The Sight of Hell and What every Christian must Know and Do.

From Book 10, The Sight of Hell by Father John Furniss, 1874

What every Christian must Know and Do, published in 1857, which contained a condensed exposition on the moral and natural law, drew a critical review by the Protestant publication the Saturday Review. Father Furniss wrote a defense in response to this review.

What Every Christian Must Know and Do, 1857
What Every Christian Must Know and Do, 1857
What Every Christian Must Know and Do, 1857
What Every Christian Must Know and Do, 1857

Father Furniss continued to write hymns and books for children until his death on September 16, 1865 in Clapham, England. More than four million of his booklets were published and many of his booklets are still available today.

Other hymns written by Father Furniss which gained some popularity include:

In This Sacrament Sweet Jesus, found its way into other Catholic hymnals in America and England which include: the CROWN HYMN BOOK, 1862; the CROWN OF JESUS MUSIC, 1864; the CANTICA SACRA, 1865; PETERS’ SODALITY HYMN BOOK, 1872 and 1914; LAUDIS CORONA, 1880; the PAROCHIAL HYMN BOOK, 1881 thru 1897; MANUAL OF SELECT CATHOLIC HYMNS, 1885 and 1932; the SODALIST HYMNAL, 1887; CATHOLIC HYMNS, 1898; SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK, 1887 thru 1935; ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1888 thru 1953; CATHOLIC SCHOOL AND SODALITY HYMNAL, 1900; the HOLY FAMILY HYMN BOOK, 1904; YOUTH’S MANUAL FOR CHURCH AND SCHOOL, 1908; CROWN HYMNAL, 1913; DE LA SALLE HYMNAL 1913; the BOOK OF HYMNS, 1913; SURSUM CORDA, 1925; OUR LADY OF MERCY Volume 2, 1927; HYMNS USED BY THE PUPILS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME, 1921 and 1948; the ALVERNO HYMNAL, 1953; NEW ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL 1958.

Free downloads of many of the hymnals noted above can be found online at Corpus Christi Watershed website or at the Internet Archive.

The Melodies

Several melodies were composed for this hymn including by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791); a melody by Msgr. Lorenzo Perosi (1872-1956); William J. Marsh (1880-1971); a German melody; an Irish and French melody; a melody by Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly (1857-1936); a melody by E. F. MacGonigle; a melody by Joseph Mohr; a melody by J. Storer; a couple of airs identified as St. Alphonsus and St. Joseph; and a melody by Samuel Richard Gaines (1869-1945).

Of these melodies, two became popular, the German melody, and the melody by Samuel Richard Gaines.

Sunday School Hymn Book, 1907
Sunday School Hymn Book, 1907
Manual of Select Catholic Hymns and Devotions, 1885
Manual of Select Catholic Hymns and Devotions, 1885

The German melody featured here from the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK, 1907 was composed for the nativity carol Schönstes Kindlein, and appeared in the 1858 edition of Bern H. Francis Hellebusch’s Katholisches Gesang-und Gebet-Buch. This melody can be found in other American hymn books including:

  • The Catholic Youth’s Hymn Book, 1871; the St. Basil’s, (1906 thru 1918) and the De La Salle, 1913 hymn books for the text Hear Thy Children, Gentle Jesus
  • Laudate Choir Manual, 1942 for the text Dear Little Jesus, Sweetest Savior
  • The St. Mary’s Manual Chants and Hymns, 1924; the Mt. Mary Catholic Hymnal, 1937; the St. Rose Catholic Hymnal, 1940; and Manual of Select Catholic Hymns, (1885 and 1925) for the text Lovely Infant, Dearest Savior

The second melody for the text Come, Sweet Jesus, first appeared in the MANUAL OF SELECT CATHOLIC HYMNS AND DEVOTIONS, 1885. This collection of hymns was published for the parish services of the Redemptorists Fathers in the United States and was compiled and arranged by Father Philip Mary Colonel, C.SS.R. (1843-1925) *

The only clue that we have that points to a composer of the second melody are the initials S.R.G., or Samuel Richard Gaines. His name also appears in the Diocesan Hymnal of the Cleveland Diocese, Part Two, Devotional Hymns, as one of the musicians responsible for harmonization’s for the hymns Sweet, Mother Hear and On This Day O Beautiful Mother. The Diocesan Hymnal which consisted of three volumes, was compiled by Bishop Schrembs of Cleveland, Ohio. In addition, the melody appears in:

  • the ST. BASIL’S HYMN BOOK from 1888 thru 1953, for the text In this Sacrament, Sweet Jesus.
  • the NEW ST. BASIL HYMNAL, 1958 with a melody composed by William Marsh for the text In this Sacrament, Lord Jesus.

*About Father Philip Mary Colonel, C.SS.R.

Recently, I learned more about Father Philip Mary Colonel, C.SS.R., and his role in Catholic music from the Redemptorists Archivist in Philadelphia. Philip was born on September 8, 1843 in Kloster Ebrach, Bavaria. His father, who was born in France, was a staunch Catholic, and his mother, whose birthplace was Alsace Lorain, was a devout Lutheran. Philip was the youngest of nine children and as a boy served at mass and sang in the choir of his parish church. Afterward, he played the organ there.

His father died when he was young, and shortly after this his mother and siblings came to the United States and settled in New York. At age seventeen, Philip entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. He professed his vows in 1860 and was ordained in 1869. On the day Philip was invested with the Redemptorists habit, his mother became a Catholic. He was stationed in Buffalo at St. Mary’s Church for 25 years, during which time he composed and published his hymnal of 1885. His brother Joseph was a member of the St. Louis Province of the Redemptorists. Their sister became an Ursuline nun.

Father Colonel died on March 1, 1925 while a member of the St. Michael the Archangel community in Baltimore. He was the oldest Redemptorists in the Province, he served fifty-six years as a priest and sixty-five years in religious life. I hope this short exposé on Father Colonel’s life, brief though it be, will find favor with him and his brother Redemptorists Father John Furniss, and bring awareness to many of you of their contribution to Catholic music.

Courtesy of the Redemptorists Archives, Philadelphia
Courtesy of the Redemptorists Archives, Philadelphia
Courtesy of the Redemptorists Archives, Philadelphia
Manual of Select Catholic Hymns and Devotions, 1925
Manual of Select Catholic Hymns and Devotions, 1925

Reflection

I remember singing this hymn at Mass on so many occasions when I sang in St. Mary’s Choir (1977-2010). This is a beautiful hymn to sing for Communion and during Eucharistic Adoration. The verses are clear and unmistakable in professing the Catholic belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

During Communion we ask Jesus to come so that we can receive Him and be united to Him and never more to be separated from Him. The hymn is even appropriate to sing after Communion because we thank Jesus for coming, and truly believe that He is present in our souls. Take a moment to reflect on these verses and ask your music director to incorporate this lovely hymn into your next Mass or Eucharistic Adoration. The arrangement I sang in St. Mary’s Choir was from the Revised Edition of the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1918.

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

I want to thank Peter Meggison, producer of The Devotional Hymns Project for granting permission to link to a recording by Vocalist Teri Kowiak and colleagues who joined organist Peter Krasinski at St. Joseph Church in Needham, Massachusetts. This is the German melody from the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK.

A special thank you to Noel Jones, AAGO in granting permission to link to A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants with nearly 300 time-honored traditional Catholic hymns and Chants including In this Sacrament Sweet Jesus.

Also, to the Redemptorists Archives, Philadelphia for their help in providing details of Father P. M. Colonel.

A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020
A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020
A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020
A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020

Below are recordings from The Devotional Hymns Project website featuring St. Joseph Church in Needham, Massachusetts, and a recording from A Catholic Book of Hymns. Also, a computer generated piano arrangement of the Samuel Gaines melody. 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.

Hide Thou Me

Hide Thou Me

This short write-up is about a local musician from Cleveland, Ohio. His name was Louis (Ludwig) Adolph Imgrund (1873-1950). Louis was an immigrant and organist at two Catholic parishes, a composer of both secular and sacred music, a teacher of organ technique and composition for more than forty years. He traveled to Germany on more than one occasion and applied for US Citizenship and took the Oath of Allegiance in 1913. The narrative of this work has been kept to a minimum to allow the documents to speak for themselves.

Louis (Ludwig) Imgrund is the composer of the hymn Hide Thou Me. Louis Imgrund immigrated to the United States with his father, mother and siblings and settled in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1880, he was six years old. His father was a wagon maker and as a young man Louis studied music at various academies and by his early twenties went to Cologne, Germany to complete his studies.

In 1902, while in Germany completing his studies, he received a commission to be the organist at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On May 6, 1903 he married his first wife Catherine Newberg. St. Augustine’s was a new church and was dedicated on May 12, 1901 and was under the jurisdiction of the Franciscan Friars.  A detailed history of the Diamond Jubilee of St. Augustine Parish can be found online, a reference to Louis Imgrund can be found on page 163 and this is the only mention of him in this historical account. He was the choir director of the Casino Choral Club, a group of thirty-five singers consisting of both men and women. The Choral Club was established by the St. Augustine Casino Society which took their name from the old school hall.

The Pittsburgh Press - March 24, 1902 
Courtesy of Lawerenceville Historical Society
The Pittsburgh Press - March 24, 1902
Courtesy of Lawerenceville Historical Society

Between 1910 and 1913, Louis was involved in directing and accompanying various organ recital’s, holiday concerts, and charity benefits including directing the first Pittsburgh Opera Concert. During this time, a musical piece, A Song of Old Pittsburgh, was published. The words were by Dr. H. Asthalter, and the music was composed by Louis Imgrund. He served as organist for St. Augustine’s Parish for about 15 years.

The Pittsburg Daily Post - January 12, 1913
The Pittsburg Daily Post - January 12, 1913
The Pittsburgh Press  - February 4, 1912
The Pittsburgh Press - February 4, 1912
The Pittsburgh Catholic - December 28, 1911
The Pittsburgh Daily Post - July 3, 1910
The Pittsburgh Daily Post - July 3, 1910
The Pittsburgh Gazette Times - May 28, 1911
The Pittsburgh Gazette Times - May 28, 1911
The Pittsburgh Daily Post - June 27, 1913  Courtesy of Lawrenceville Historical Society
The Pittsburgh Daily Post - June 27, 1913
Courtesy of Lawrenceville Historical Society
The Pittsburgh Gazette Times - March 24, 1913
Song of Old Pittsburg - Catalog of Copyrights, 1911
The Pittsburgh Gazette Times - October 6, 1911

Around 1914/15, Louis, his wife, and two children moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he took the job of organist at St. Agnes Church. St. Agnes Parish was established to meet the pastoral needs of the German and Irish immigrant neighborhoods. The Rev. Gilbert Jennings was the first pastor, and the school was staffed by the Congregation of Saint Joseph. St. Agnes Parish was established in 1873 and by 1894 the growth of the parish necessitated expanding the church and construction of a new school building in 1904. St. Agnes High School for girls opened in 1911. The parish continued to grow and in March of 1914, ground was broken for a new church.

St. Agnes Church
Cleveland Catholic Diocese
St. Agnes Church Post Card
Courtesy of The Devotional Hymns Project

The new church was completed in 1916 and Louis Imgrund, organist and choirmaster directed the music at the dedication. A news article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer documents the event.

St Agnes Dedication - Cleveland Plain Dealer 1916
St Agnes Dedication - Cleveland Plain Dealer 1916

On August 15, 1929, just a few weeks after the family returned from a trip to Bremen, Germany, his wife of twenty-six years, Mary Catherine, died at home from cancer. She is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

After his wife died, Louis opened his home to lodgers and according to the April 1930 census, Louisa Singuf and her daughter Margaret Singuf were lodgers. Louisa was well-connected with the larger music scene in Cleveland. Her name and that of her late husband Adolph Singuf appears in an advertisement from the 1919-1920 Second Season of Cleveland Orchestra which was conducted by Nikolai Sokoloff. Later that year, on October 11, 1930, Louis married Louisa A. Singuf. On January 22, 1932, Louisa’s daughter Margaret Mary died after suffering from a long illness. She is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

Ad from Cleveland Orchestra's Season Two Program - 1920
Ad from Cleveland Orchestra's Season Two Program - 1920

On June 3, 1934, a three-day celebration took place for the Golden Jubilee of Msgr. Gilbert Jennings the first pastor of St. Agnes Church. Prof. Louis Imgrund conducted a choir of sixty-five boys and twenty men.

Cleveland Plain Dealer - 1934
Cleveland Plain Dealer - 1943
Cleveland Plain Dealer - 1934

In 1936, Louis composed and arranged the hymn HIDE THOU ME. This hymn was published by Kollie’s Music House in Cleveland, Ohio. Kollie’s Music House was located along the 9700 block of Lorain Ave and was established on December 1, 1920 by J. P. Kollie and his sons. It was at first a small neighborhood store with a small stock of records and a small stock of instruments. It would become the recognized musical instrument place on the West Side of town and a leading supplier of Catholic Church Music. A second location was established on Hemlock Ave around 1923. Based on a review of archived city directories Kollie’s Music House continued operations until 1944.

Hide Thou Me - Catalog of Copyrights 1936
Hide Thou Me - Catalog of Copyrights 1936
Hide Thou Me - Male Quartette
Hide Thou Me - Male Quartette
Hide Thou Me - Solo or Chorus
Hide Thou Me - Solo or Chorus

The hymn was not featured in any of the main stream Catholic hymnals, and there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that Louis wrote the words of this hymn after reflecting on the death of his wife, his stepdaughter, and other personal hardships. 

In 1943, St. Agnes celebrated its 50th Anniversary as a parish with Coadjutor Bishop Hoban presiding at the solemn pontifical jubilee celebration. At this event Louisa Singuf Imgrund directed a choir of forty-five youths and two men with Louis Imgrund as the organist. All the music for this event was composed by Louis Imgrund and dedicated to St. Agnes.

St. Agnes Jubilee
Cleveland Plain Dealer - 1943
St. Agnes Jubilee
Cleveland Plain Dealer - 1943
St. Agnes Jubilee
Cleveland Plain Dealer - 1943

On July 31, 1950 after a long and fruitful career, Louis died. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio. Louis was organist at St. Agnes Church for over 30 years. A memorial of his death appeared in the 1950 November – December issue of the Caecilia Magazine and in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The prayer card has a lovely and prayful sentiment which you don’t find very often today.

Louis Imgrund Prayer Card  Courtesy of Lawerenceville Historical Society
Louis Imgrund Prayer Card
Courtesy of Lawerenceville Historical Society
Louis Imgrund Obituary Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1950
Louis Imgrund Obituary
Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1950
Caecilia Magazine - Nov-Dec, 1950
Caecilia Magazine - Nov-Dec, 1950
Imgrund - Singuf
Calvary Cemetery Cleveland, Ohio

Not long after Louis’ death, St. Agnes parish suffered many hardships. In 1962, the Cleveland Diocese placed the parish in the care of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, an order dedicated to serving African-American and Latino Catholics. The week-long HOUGH RIOTS, which ravaged the Hough neighborhood in July of 1966, exacted a heavy price, both physically and psychologically, on the St. Agnes community. Problems continued to plague the parish in the 1970s which included the parish school closing in 1973, and costly repairs to the church building. Faced with renovation and a dwindling congregation, the Diocese of Cleveland opted to demolish the church building in a controversial decision. St. Agnes Church was torn down on November 24, 1975. All that remains of the church is the bell tower.

St Agnes Church - Cleveland Catholic Diocese
St. Agnes Bell Tower
Google Maps Street View 2023

On March 30, 1980, the Cleveland Diocese officially merged St. Agnes with the neighboring Our Lady of Fatima Parish to create St. Agnes – Our Lady of Fatima Parish.

I contacted the parishes mentioned in this short write-up during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and from St. Agnes – Our Lady of Fatima Parish there was little interest in knowing about the organist Louis Imgrund. The new parish serves the African-American community and celebrates with gospel music.

St. Augustine’s Church in Pittsburgh is now Our Lady of Angels Parish and is staffed by the Capuchin Franciscans. Their interest in learning more about Louis Imgrund was more fruitful. Brother John Harvey, OFM Cap., passed my request to their local historian James Wudarczyk and eventually to Tom Powers, President of the Lawrenceville Historical Society who provided me with the photo of Louis Imgrund’s prayer card and newspaper clippings.

I was also put in contact with Ann Larabee, great-granddaughter of Louis Imgrund. She was quite happy to have the chance to share with me some family history of her great-grandfather. She told me that Louis once played for the Pope, was especially interested in Gregorian chant, and that he composed a Mass.

Reflection

This is how I became familiar with this hymn. It so happened that one day during my time singing in St. Mary’s Choir (1977-2010), my Grandma France, my mom’s mother, asked me to inquire of the organist if he had music for a hymn with the lyrics In Thy Sacred Heart my Jesus, Hide Thou Me. So, I asked Mr. Jordan who was the organist and sure enough he opened the file cupboard in the choir loft and reached in and pulled out two copies of the hymn, one was the Male Quartette arrangement and the other the Solo or Chorus arrangement. Later, when I next saw grandma, I presented her with the two copies and her eyes welled up and I could tell she was deeply touched and wished me to convey her many thanks to Mr. Jordan.

This is an exceptionally beautiful hymn to the Sacred Heart which expresses love and confidence in Jesus Christ and implores his help, guidance, and protection throughout our lives. Sometimes we forget that Jesus Christ, His Mother and His Saints are real people and not just statues, paintings, icons, or figments of our imaginations but real people who have feelings and even though they know all our needs, they still like to be told that we love them.

I like the Male Quartette version the best. When we sang this in the choir at St. Mary’s, the men would sing the baritone part and the choir would join in and sing the harmony parts. We sang this great hymn as a prelude before Mass, as an Offertory hymn, and at Communion especially during the month of June, a time which the Catholic church sets aside for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

May the hearts of those known only to God find refuge in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and may this hymn hidden for so many years become known again and sung by choirs everywhere.

A special thank you to Peter Meggison, producer of The Devotional Hymns Project website for allowing me to link to a recording of the hymn Hide Thou Me as sung by the Bel Canto Singers of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Volo, Illinois. 

Daughter of a Mighty Father (Macula non est in te)

Eleanor Cecilia Donnelly (1838-1917) is the author of this hymn. Eleanor began to write poetry at an early age. Her older brother, the Honorable Ignatius Donnelly, former Lieutenant-Governor of Minnesota, and an author in his own right, taught Eleanor the mysteries of meter. On page 352 of the 1917 June issue of The Catholic World a monthly magazine published by the Paulist Fathers is a memorial to Eleanor Donnelly written by Father Thomas M. Schwertner, O.P., S.T.L., (1883-1934) within this memorial is an anecdote in Eleanor’s own words that recounts being taught by her older brother. She herself, speaking of her childhood, relates how she used to go to her brother’s study to be trained in the occult mysteries of poetic meter. What can a child of eight or ten know of prosody or poetic feet? Yet I have a distinct remembrance of standing—a tiny girl—by Ignatius’ writing table, and of being shown by him with great kindness and patience how to reckon on my fingers the correct number of syllables in a given line.

Eleanor C. Donnely - ca. 1900
Eleanor C. Donnely - ca. 1900
Hon. Ignatius Donnelly - ca. 1897
Hon. Ignatius Donnelly - ca. 1897

I found two sources which show that Eleanor is the author. The first source is from  her own collection of poems CROWNED WITH STARS published by Notre Dame University of Indiana in 1881. This collection of poems was published to aid in placing on the dome of the new University of Notre Dame, Indiana, a colossal statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crowned with twelve stars of electric light.

There are twelve poems that Eleanor wrote for each star in the crown, and each was given a particular virtue. Purity, Simplicity, Generosity, Recollection, Humility, Fraternal Charity, Poverty, Obedience, Detachment, Fidelity, Self-Immolation, Divine Love and Eternal Union with God. The statue of Our Lady atop the dome is over eighteen feet tall and both statue and dome are gilded in gold. The poem was for the second star – Simplicity.

Crowned With Stars, 1881
Crowned With Stars, 1881
Crowned With Stars, 1881
Crowned With Stars, 1881

The second source is GEMS OF CATHOLIC THOUGHT, a collection of poetry and prose by various Catholic authors which was published by the Redemptorist Fathers of Boston, Massachusetts in 1908.

Gems of Catholic Thought, 1908
Gems of Catholic Thought, 1908

There are other accounts indicating that she started writing poetry at an early age. One such account says she was a young girl of eight or nine when she wrote a hymn to the Blessed Mother. In an article that appeared in the 1917 summer issue of ARISTON, published every quarter by the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, there is a brief memorial to Eleanor Donnelly and a passage that reads, When she was ten years of age, she took first prize for a literary composition. Two hundred children competed for the prize. Miss Donnelly’s closet rival was her sister, Eliza.

Ariston - Summer 1917
Ariston - Summer 1917
Ariston - Summer 1917

After a careful review of her many works of poetry which are available online, I found the hymn she wrote as a little girl in her book of poetry Little Compliments of the Season and other Tiny Rhymes for Tiny Readers published by Benziger Brothers in 1887. It is captioned A Little Girls Hymn To The Blessed Virgin.

Compliments of the Season, 1887
Compliments of the Season, 1887
Compliments of the Season, 1887
Compliments of the Season, 1887

Eleanor was born on September 6, 1838 to Dr. Philip Carroll Donnelly and Catherine Frances (née Gavin) Donnelly. Her father emigrated from Ireland, settled in Philadelphia, and married Catherine Frances Gavin. For a time he was a traveling salesman of small dry goods and later owned a pawnshop. He studied medicine in the 1830s at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and received his medical degree in 1839. Her father became a distinguished physician, and he held a number of important positions in and about Philadelphia and was one of the founders of the Philadelphia College of Medicine. He came down with typhus after treating a patient and died a few years after Eleanor was born. Her mother was an exceptional woman faith who continued to operate the pawnshop and saw to the education of the children.

Eleanor had four older siblings: Sarah T. Donnelly, her oldest sister, and Eliza; her older brothers John G., and Ignatius Donnelly, and her younger sisters: Agnes (Mrs. Samuel Kilpatrick), and Philipanna Donnelly. Agnes was the only one of her sisters who married and had children. The entire family was musically and literary artistic. Sarah, Eliza, and Philipanna were school teachers. Besides being an authoress, Eleanor possessed a beautiful contralto voice and served for fifteen years as the leading soloist at St. Augustine’s, St. John the Evangelist’s, and St. Joseph’s choirs in Philadelphia.

As young woman, Eleanor fell under the influence of Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C., who was the first editor of The Ave Maria, a weekly journal devoted to the Honor of the Blessed Virgin which he first published in 1865. Eleanor was a regular contributor to The Ave Maria and helped to enlist other men and women in the field of Catholic literature to contribute. The Ave Maria grew quickly, and by the turn of the twentieth century, it had become the most popular Catholic magazine in the world. The magazine was published on Sundays until 1970. Today The Ave Maria is known as Ave Maria Press.

She also contributed to the success of other Catholic periodicals including: The Messenger of the Sacred Heart; Nova et Vetera, a homiletic magazine for the clergy. She was for a time chief editor of the magazine, Our Lady of Good Counsel, conducted by the Augustinian Fathers. In The Catholic Standard and Times, a Catholic weekly of Philadelphia with which she was connected for some time as associate editor, much of her work appeared, even as late as a month before her death. She was also a very devoted member of the American Catholic Historical Society, and the author of the Memoir of Father Felix J. Barbelin, S.J., founder of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Philadelphia, and the Life of Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul.

She published a collection of hymns in Honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1883 and the again in 1912. In this rare hymnal several other hymns can be found which later became popular: Sacred Heart, In Accents Burning; Hear the Heart of Jesus Pleading; and Like a Strong and Raging Fire. Eleanor Donnelly is one of the very few American Catholic hymn writers besides Father Jeremiah Cummings who published volumes of original hymns.

Hymns of the Sacred Heart, 1883
Hymns of the Sacred Heart, 1883
Hymns of the Sacred Heart, 1883
Hymns of the Sacred Heart, 1883
Hymns of the Sacred Heart, 1883

In addition to her Sacred Heart collection, Eleanor is the author of the following hymns:

  • Behold the Month of Mary – found in the Sacred Wreath, 1863
  • Glorious Mother, from High Heaven – found in the Catholic Youth’s Hymn Book, 1871
  • Mary, Dearest of All Mothers – found the Manual of Select Catholic Hymns and Devotions, 1925
  • O Virgin Mother, Our Lady of Good Counsel – found in Our Lady of Mercy Hymnal, 1899
  • ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother – found in St. Basil’s Hymnal, 1918
  • Vision of the Wounds – found in the Sunday School Hymn Book, 1887

Eleanor died between April 30 and May 1, 1917 during the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, whose name she had taken upon entering the Third Order of St. Dominic (Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic or Lay Dominicans since 1972). She spent her last days in West Chester, Pennsylvania among the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary with whom she was affectionally dedicated to. She was clothed in the Dominican habit and her Requiem Mass was attended by relatives, scores of priests and religious, and thousands of admirers. Before and after the mass her own hymns to the Sacred Heart were sung by the novices of the Community and the boys from St. Aloysius’ Academy.

She published some fifty volumes of poetry and prose most of it from a Catholic perspective. Some thirty volumes were given a place in the British Museum Library. Her poetry influenced the minds and hearts of other great poets such as Longfellow, Wordsworth, and Tennyson. She was often compared to Adelaide ProcterQueen Victoria’s favorite poet, and of her religious poems which could be described as sacred hymns, she stands next to Father Frederick Faber.

It is difficult to encompass the whole spectrum of Eleanor Donnelly’s poetical output. Hopefully, this small tribute to her will be enough to encourage others to explore her many books of poetry and prose, and who knows what gems may be waiting for the Catholic composers pen.

The earliest appearance of the hymn is found in THE CATHOLIC VOCALIST, 1860 compiled by Henry T. Rocholl and captioned Macula non est in te. THE CATHOLIC VOCALIST was a small periodical of sacred music consisting of litanies, anthems, motets, and hymns for churches, schools, and private families. This collection of sacred music highlights Marian hymns from THE SACRED WREATH. The hymn generally appears in hymnal index’s as Daughter of a Mighty Father but has also been found in some hymnals as Macula non est in te or indexed under both titles.

The next appearance of the hymn is found in THE SACRED WREATH, 1863, a collection of hymns for the use of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the oldest sodality in the United States and was first established in Philadelphia in 1841 by Father Felix Barbelin, S.J., he prepared the first Manual for the Sodality. This Manual contained the Office of The Blessed Virgin, the Office for the Dead, the origin and rules of the sodality, and various prayers.

This Sodality gradually developed a collection of hymns, THE SACRED WREATH. The hymns began as a small private collection that was published in the early 1850’s and eventually was followed by a second edition in 1863, and a third in 1881. The third edition contains over three hundred pages of hymns. The hymnal was compiled by Father Edward J. Sorin (1808-1888), and Father Felix Barbelin, S.J., (1808-1869) and published in Philadelphia by Eugene Cummiskey. The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary was originally approved by Pope Gregory XIII in 1584. Copies of THE SACRED WREATH are exceedingly rare today.

The hymn also appeared in the following Catholic hymnals:

The CATHOLIC YOUTH’S HYMN BOOK, 1871 compiled by the Christian Brothers of New York; the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1888 thru 1953, compiled by the Basilian Fathers of Toronto; the MANUAL OF THE SODALITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, 1893 published by H. L. Kilner & Co.; the CATHOLIC SCHOOL AND SODALITY MANUAL, 1900 published by George W. Gibbons of Philadelphia; the CROWN HYMNAL, 1913 compiled by Father L. J. Kavanagh & James McLaughlin and published by Ginn and Co.; the DE LA SALLE HYMNAL, 1913 compiled by the Brothers of the Christian Schools; the 1921 & 1948 HYMNS USED BY THE PUPILS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME; SELECTED HYMNS, 1930 published by Angel Guardian Press; the CATHOLIC SCHOOL HYMNAL, 1930 compiled by Joseph P. Donnelly and published by Emil Ascher Inc.; a CATHOLIC HYMN BOOK, 1932 published by The Paulist Press; a MANUAL OF HYMNS FOR THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL, 1948 published by The Voshardt Press; editions of CATHOLIC CHAPEL HYMNAL, 1944 thru 1968 published by McLaughlin and Reilly; and A CATHOLIC BOOK OF HYMNS, 2020 published by the Sacred Music Library in Kentucky.

Many of the hymnals listed above are available for download at the Corpus Christi Watershed website.

Melodies

The melody traditional to Daughter of a Mighty Father is found in the ENGELSHARFE GESANGBUCH, 1866, hymn No. 411, by the composer Father Georg Schöller for the hymn O Maria, Gnadenvolle (O Mary, Full of Grace). Fr. Schöller was born in 1813 Obernzell, Germany and ordained a Catholic priest in 1836. He never became a pastor, but held small assistant priestly positions, his last post was at Thurnstein Castle near Postmünster in 1854. He remained there until his death in 1863.

Engelsharfe Gesangbuch, 1866

Another melody is featured in the periodical mentioned above, THE CATHOLIC VOCALIST, published by Henry T. Rocholl and is based upon Gaetano Donizetti’s (1797-1848) opera Lucrezia Borgia / Act 1, Maffio Orsini, singnora, son io. The opera, one of about seventy by Donizetti, was written in 1835.

The Catholic Vocalist, 1860
The Catholic Vocalist, 1860
The Catholic Vocalist, 1860

Reflection

In Miss Donnelly’s generation, most Catholics read a good deal of poetry, it was part of their everyday life and part of their early education. Early Catholic hymn writers like Miss Donnelly, were well educated in their Catechism and possessed the gift of poetry so much so that they could present these Catholic beliefs in a poetic way. As a result, hymns became more like prayers rather than just poetry. That’s why today we need good Catholic poets to write hymn lyrics instead of musicians who think they are poets!

I learned to sing this hymn using the arrangement from the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL. This hymnal was one of the most popular and most widely used Catholic hymnals in the United States and Canada. The hymn is a profession of the tenants of Catholic belief regarding Our Lady and her Immaculate Conception. We can see this in the refrain Macula non est in te, which means, there is no stain in thee. The hymn was a favorite among the choir members and parishioners of St. Mary’s. It is a lovely hymn to sing during the month of May or anytime we honor Our Blessed Mother.

Looking back over my long tenure in the choir and the last several years of studying about Catholic hymns, the authors, and composers, I’ve come realize how important it is to have hymn lyrics that profess our Catholic beliefs and how important it is that they present those beliefs in a meaningful way. Hymns like Daughter of a Might Father help to remind me of my Catholic faith and the teachings of the Catholic Church. For example, in St. Mary’s above the High Altar there is a beautiful painted fresco of the Assumption of Our Lady surrounded by angels. I can see this in the phrase, Angel forms around thee gather.

A weekly infusion of devotional hymns during Mass will help to erode away the alarming statistics that there is a failure of Catechism in our Catholic Church. Even though these devotional hymns are from a different time and a different generation, they can still be used in a very efficacious way to instruct children, young adults, men, and women of all ages about our Catholic faith. Take a moment to read the verses and I think you will agree.

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

A special thank you to Peter Meggison, producer of The Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to link to a recording of Daughter of a Mighty Father by the Seraphim Singers at Holy Name Church, Boston.

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 Daughter of a Mighty Father

A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020
A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020
A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020
A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants, 2020

Below are recordings from The Devotional Hymns Project website featuring the Seraphim Singers, a recording from A Catholic Book of Hymns, and a computer generated sound file of the melody from The Catholic Vocalist. 

Regina Coeli

This beautiful Eastertide anthem of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is sung from Easter Sunday until Trinity Sunday, is thought to have originated when, according to legend, St. Gregory the Great (d. 604 A.D.) heard the first three lines chanted by angels on a certain Easter morning in Rome while he walked barefoot in a great religious procession and that the saint thereupon added the fourth line: Ora pro nobis Deum. Alleluia.

The Regina Coeli ranks among the other great Marian antiphons Alma Redemptoris Mater, Ave Regina Caelorum, and the Salve Regina.  A translation of the Latin text is given below.

Regina coeli laetare, Alleluia,
Quia quem meruisti portare. Alleluia,
Resurrexit, Sicut dixit, Alleluia,
Ora pro nobis Deum. Alleluia.

Queen of Heaven rejoice, Alleluia,
For He whom thou didst merit to bear. Alleluia,
Has risen, as He said, Alleluia,
Pray for us to God. Alleluia.

Of all the melodies composed for this anthem including the great Gregorian melody there is one that stands out from all the rest that was used by St. Mary’s Choir in Akron, Ohio. It was a melody composed by Anthony Werner (1816-1866).

Anthony Werner was the Organist and Director of the Choir of the Cathedral of The Holy Cross, Boston, in the 1850s and 1860s. He was born in Bavaria, Germany, on October 9, 1816, to parents Domonic and Eve. He married Catherine Habnich (Hobnich) around 1847. She was born in Prussia, Germany, in 1823. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States on October 16, 1848. Anthony and Catherine had four children.

  • Julius D. Werner (ca.1847 – 1903) died from heart disease, occupation a trader
  • Cecilia M. H. Werner (ca. 1852 -1873) died from pulmonary tuberculosis (phthisis)
  • Louis A. Werner (1853-1905) died from cancer, occupation a musician
  • Catherine Louisa Werner (1861-1861) she was only twenty-four days old.

Anthony Werner died December 21, 1866, in Boston at the age of 50. He was still married to Catherine when he died.

The first appearance of his melody for Regina Coeli is found in THE MEMORARE, so named in honor of the Memorare prayer of St. Bernard. It is a collection of Catholic Music for Morning and Evening Services and for Daily or Private Devotions. It was compiled by Anthony Werner and published by the Oliver Ditson Company of Boston in 1857.  The MEMORARE contains eight other compositions by Anthony Werner including an Asperges Me, Ave Maria, Ave Regina, a Mass in C, an O Salutaris, O Salutaris / Haec Dies, and two settings for Veni Creator. The MEMORARE saw later printings in 1885 and 1896 with contributions by Albert H. RoSewig, Director of the Choir of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Philadelphia.

The Memorare, 1857
Regina Coeli by Anthony Werner, 1857
The Memorare - 1896
The Memorare - 1896

The MEMORARE is unique in that it contains no Gregorian music and special care was taken by Anthony Werner to make sure that the music could be sung by the average church choir. Here is an excerpt from the Preface found in the MEMORARE that explains his reasoning behind the exclusion of Gregorian music.

Excerpt from The Memorare Preface, 1857
Excerpt from The Memorare Preface, 1857

Werner’s Regina Coeli was also published as a separate choral piece in 1885 by Oliver Ditson Co., with copyrights held by Mrs. A. Werner.

Werner's Regina Coeli, 1885
Werner's Regina Coeli, 1885

Later it was published by McLaughlin and Reilly Co., of Boston in 1922 were it was revised by James A. Reilly and again in 1952 were it was arranged for two voices by Edward Grey, a pseudonym for Father Joseph Portelance (1900-1979).

Werner's Regina Coeli - 1922
Werner's Regina Coeli - 1952

It was approved by the Society of St. Gregory and appeared in their White List of 1932. It was also used in Easter music programs of the 1930s. 

Caecilia Magazine – July-August 1932, pg. 218
Caecilia Magazine – June 1933, pg. 222

Other publications by Anthony Werner include THE CANTATE. This was sold in two volumes beginning in 1862 and 1863. Also, Werner’s EIGHT EASY PIECES of Sacred Music for four voices – Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass with Accompaniment for the Organ.

The Cantate, 1862
The Cantate Volume 2, 1863
Eight Easy Pieces - Dwights Journal of Music, 1862

Anthony Werner’s most significant contribution to Catholic hymnody is his Benediction hymn O Salutaris Hostia / O Saving Victim which has become traditional and is found in most Catholic hymn books and some of today’s missalettes. By the 1970s, the English translation by Father Edward Caswall (1814-1878) was added. 

Laudis Corona, 1880
Lyra Catholica, 1849

Reflection

The Regina Coeli by Anthony Werner was regular Easter favorite of St. Mary’s Choir from 1977 through 2005 under the direction of organists Ralph Jordan and later Mary Leary. The choir sang the 1885 edition mentioned above. However, it wasn’t the only Regina Coeli the choir sang.  I remember singing the following choral arrangements:

I have often referred to St. Mary’s Choir in my hymn write ups and so I thought I might share a short anecdote on the organist Ralph J. Jordan (1916-1996). Mr. Jordan began playing the Austin organ at St. Mary’s on Christmas Eve for the Children’s Mass in 1929, he was only thirteen years old at the time. Of course, I didn’t meet Mr. Jordan (Ralph) until many years later in my Sophomore year of high school in 1977.

You see, the Howe family sat a few pews behind the organ near the front of the church on Mary’s side. I had good tenor voice and was not shy about singing. Anyway, Mr. Jordan was looking for new members for his choir and asked if I would like to join. I said, I would have to check with my Mom and Dad and see if they would approve. My brothers and sister didn’t do anything without Mom and Dad’s approval. Well they approved and I joined the choir in the fall of 1977. Practice was on Wednesday nights at 6:30 in the evening.

Mr. Jordan sang Bass, and he was a great musician and really knew how to make the Austin organ sing. I sang many solos under his direction including The Christ Child, one of my favorite Christmas anthems.

Below is a newspaper article from 1996 that appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal. It is wonderful tribute to a great man and a good friend.

Tribute to Ralph Jordan, Organist of St. Mary’s
Tribute to Ralph Jordan, Organist of St. Mary’s

I would like to thank Peter Meggison producer of The Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to link to two new recordings of the Regina Coeli. The first is a recording of Anthony Werner’s Regina Coeli sung by a quartet of vocalists from Blessed Sacrament Church in Providence, Rhode Island. The second recording of the Regina Coeli was composed by M. A. Melvil and arranged by Eduardo Marzo. It was sung by the Advent Choir from The Church of the Advent, located in Boston’s Beacon Hill section. Take a few minutes to listen to these beautiful recordings by clicking on the links above.