I Need Thee, Precious Jesus

This hymn was written by Frederick Whitfield (1827-1904) an Anglican clergyman, and it first appeared in hymn-sheets and leaflets in various languages in 1855, and later in his collection of SACRED POEMS AND PROSE, 1861. (Click on any of the images to enlarge).

Sacred Poems and Prose, 1861
Sacred Poems and Prose, 1861

Frederick Whitfield was born at Threapwood, Shropshire, England on January 7, 1829. He attended Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland in 1859 where he earned his Bachelor of Arts. He was ordained to the ministry in the Church of England in 1860 and from there held several positions in succession including curate of Otley, Vicar of Kirby-Ravensworth in Yorkshire, senior curate of Greenwich, and Vicar of St. John’s, Bexley. In 1875 he was sent to St. Mary-in-the-Castle, Hastings. He married Sophia Butler, third daughter of Charles Salisbury Butler, Esq. She was born on March 24, 1844 and died at Bournemouth on March 27, 1883.

When the hymn, I Need Thee, Precious Jesus was first published the first verse which begins, I need Thee, precious Jesus, for I am full of sin, was omitted without his permission. By the time corrections were made and reprints issued the omitted version had come into common use and accepted as the original.

Rev. Frederick Whitfield was a prolific author with some thirty works to his credit including: Christ Our Life; Gleanings from Scripture; Voices from the Valley, and Well Springs of Life. Several of his poems became hymns including There is a Name I love to Hear; I have a Great High Priest Above; I saw the Cross of Jesus; Jesus, Thou Name of Power Divine; and I Need Thee, Precious Jesus. The Rev. Frederick Whitfield died at South Norwood on September 13, 1904 after a long and fruitful service in the Church of England. He was 77 years of age.

Frederick Whitfield, in Memorials of the Rev. Frederick Whitfield (London: Chas. J. Thynne, 1905)
Sacred Poems and Prose, 1861

The verses found in Catholic hymnals were originally altered by a Sister of Notre Dame and they first appeared in the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK, 1887. This collection of hymns was compiled by the Philadelphia Community of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

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

It was the custom in many religious communities not to give credit to individuals but the whole community and so it is extraordinarily difficult to determine which sister altered the words of this hymn and composed the music. In a previous HYMN OF THE MONTH write-up, 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. Her name was Sister Aloysius Josephine Dorman, S.N.D., (1835-1913).

Sister Aloysius was born in Washington, D.C., and entered the congregation at the pioneer Sixth St. Convent, Cincinnati in 1854. Throughout her active years she was a teacher of music and orchestration, publishing songs and hymns for the schools. She taught at Sixth St. Academy, Mount Notre Dame Academy, Reading, Ohio and for many years at Notre Dame Academy, W. Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. Sister Aloysius Dorman died April 1, 1913 and is buried in the Notre Dame Cemetery in Hamilton, Ohio.

The Melodies

The hymn appeared in American, British, and Irish hymnals from 1887 thru 1954. A complete list can be found in my Hymnal Survey. The text of the hymn in some hymnals has been changed to favor the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For example, I Need Thee, Heart of Jesus, or I Need Thy Heart, Sweet Jesus. Other alterations appear too, the phrase A friend to soothe and pity is often replaced with A friend to soothe and sympathise. I invite you to read the verses found below and note how they changed over the life of the hymn. In addition to the melody by the Sisters of Notre Dame, there are nine other melodies composed for this hymn.

The first melody is identified as an Old French Carol, and it is found in the St. Cecilia Hymn Book, compiled by Aurthur De Meulemeester (1876-1942) and published in 1911. He was the Organist and Choirmaster at the Clonard Monastery of the Redemptorist Order in Belfast, Ireland a position he held for nearly fifty years.

St. Cecilia Hymn Book, 1911
St. Cecilia Hymn Book, 1911

The second melody was composed by Father L. Comire, S.J., and it appears in the American Catholic Hymnal published in 1913 and 1921. A reference to A Voice from The Tabernacle is given as the source for the words in this hymn. A Voice from The Tabernacle was a series of booklets published for children containing reflections and prayers in Honor of the Blessed Sacrament. I could find little or no information on Father Comire, S.J., except that several of his compositions including Close to Thy Heart and All Ye Choirs of Heaven appear in the hymnal.

American Catholic Hymnal, 1913
American Catholic Hymnal, 1913

A third melody was composed by Joseph G. Marcks (ca. 1900). He was a well-known organist, composer, and piano teacher in New York City. One of his students was George August Fischer of J. Fischer & Brother Music Co., The firm J. Fischer & Brother was once recognized as one of the largest publishers of Catholic Music in the world. Joseph Marcks served at the Holy Name of Jesus Church in 1889 and St. Thomas the Apostle’s Church in 1916. The third melody appears in the De La Salle Hymnal compiled by the Brothers of the Christian Schools (The Christian Brothers) of New York. This group of Brothers also compiled The Catholic Youth’s Hymn Book published in 1871 which saw several printings during the late 19th century period.

De La Salle Hymnal, 1913
De La Salle Hymnal, 1913

A fourth melody is found in the St. Gregory Hymnal and Choir Book published in 1920 and later in the 1940s. This hymnal and choir book was compiled by Nicola A. Montani (1880-1948). 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. The fourth melody which appears in the hymnal is taken from the Duchovny Spevnik Katholicky published in 1907, a Slovak Hymnal. The greater number of Slovak melodies that appear in the St. Gregory Hymnal were taken from the Duchovny Spevnik Katholicky collection.

St. Gregory Hymnal and Choir Book, 1920
St. Gregory Hymnal and Choir Book, 1920

The fifth melody is taken from Becker’s gesangbuch published in 1872 (Karl Becker 1804-1877) and is found in the St. Mary’s Hymnal published in 1924. This collection was compiled for the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio by Christian A. Zittel (ca. 1920). The hymnal serves as an anthology of traditional German-American hymnody with numerous melodies from German gesangbuchs of the late nineteenth century including the Cologne, Trier, and St. Gall.

About a dozen of the melodies are from collections by Joseph Mohr and other English sources such as the Roman Hymnal. A talented pupil of John Singenberger, Christian Zittel served as organist for fifty years at the Jesuit church, St. Mary’s, Toledo, Ohio. The St. Mary’s Hymnal was published in the same year that John Singenberger died. Christian Zittel helped to further the reform of church music initiated by Toledo’s Bishop Schrembs in 1915.

St. Marys Manual, 1924
St. Marys Manual, 1924

The sixth melody was found in the Manual of Select Catholic Hymns and Devotions, 1925 edition. This collection of hymns was originally published in 1885 by Father Philip Mary Colonel, C.SS.R, (1843-1925). The organ accompaniment below was provided by Peter Meggison, producer of The Devotional Hymns Project.

The life of Father Colonel is not easily assembled from the records, some of which are still in old German script. His father was French Catholic and his mother Alsatian Lutheran. After the death of his father the family moved to the United States and settled in New York City. The children attended Most Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists’ German ethnic parish on the Lower East Side, while the mother attended Lutheran services. It is not known when he emigrated to the United States, but at age 17, he entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. His brother entered the Redemptorists’ order before him, and his sister become an Ursuline nun. On the day Philip was invested with the Redemptorist habit, his mother became a Catholic. He became a citizen of the United States in 1883.

Father Philip Mary Colonel, C.SS.R., (ca. 1870)
Courtesy of the Redemptorists Archives, Philadelphia
Manual of Select Catholic Hymns and Devotions, 1925
Courtesy of The Devotional Hymns Project

He was recognized by his superiors to be a powerful preacher, a fatherly Confessor, a great teacher of the faith who was loved by all especially the children and possessed remarkable musical talents. He served in Redemptorist parishes in Annapolis (St. Mary’s), taught in Ilchester, Maryland, at the Redemptorist house of studies there, and served as well in Baltimore, Philadelphia (St. Peter the Apostle), New York (St. Alphonsus), Boston (Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mission Church), Rochester (St. Joseph’s), Buffalo (St. Mary’s, where he wrote most of his hymnal), and Pittsburgh (St. Philomena).

When Father Colonel died, he had already been at St. Joseph’s Hospital for ten days. His body was transferred to the Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Many came to pay their respects to the oldest member of the Baltimore Province. He had been in the order longer than any other man and was a priest for 56 years and professed religious for 65. His funeral was attended by great crowds including the teaching sisters, altar boys, and everyone from church. Father Colonel’s body was then buried at Holy Redeemer Cemetery in the Redemptorists’ plot on March 4, the same day as Calvin Coolidge’s  inauguration.

The melody was composed by Samuel Richard Gaines (S.R.G., 1869-1945). Samuel Gaines was an organist, choirmaster, conductor, a teacher of singing, a composer of both secular and sacred music and various works for organ and violin.  Many of his compositions and harmonizations are featured in the Cleveland Diocesan hymn books and The Manual of Select Catholic Hymns – 1885 and 1925 editions. Some of his compositions include Come, Sweet Jesus (1885 Manual of Select Catholic Hymns; there may be others in this collection), Sweet, Mother Hear (1928 Cleveland Diocesan Hymnal Part 2 – Devotional Hymns), On This Day, O Beautiful Mother (1928 Cleveland Diocesan Hymnal Part 2 – Devotional Hymns), and few sacred hymns published in 1916 and 1918 respectively, The Holy Land and Hold Thou Me Up. Other works include: The night has a thousand eyes – a part song for mens voices, and Robin Goodfellow – madrigal for mixed voices and two flutes.

The seventh melody is found in the Sursum Corda – A collection of hymns for the use of Catholic Schools published in 1925. This collection was prepared at the request of the Venerable Mother Gerard, Provincial Superior of the Sisters of St. Francis, Stella Niagara, New York. The collection was intended to meet the requirements of the new edition of the prayer book Sursum Corda.

The organ accompaniments were arranged by Father Florian Zettel, O.F.M., (1879-1947). He was an organist at the Church of the Ascension in Portland, Oregon. Father Zettel retained those melodies that he considered suitable and added or supplanted wherever he found a change desirable. When suitable melodies could not be found, he introduced original ones. In the collection, new melodies are marked by a small star and melodies that have been slightly changed are marked by two small stars.  Since no stars are indicated on the music the melody must be original, however, as with many Catholic hymnals of the same period, author and composer names are not given. In the Introductory Remarks at the beginning of the collection references are given to Singenberger’s organ book, Mohr’s Cecilia, the works by Father Peter Griesbacher, and others. The hymn is captioned I Need Thee, #102, with three verses or stanzas indicates that those verses were contained in the prayer book or a singer edition of the hymnal.

Sursum Corda, 1925
Sursum Corda, 1925

The eighth melody was composed by Frederick (Frederic) W. Helmsley (b. ca.1880). He was an organist at St. Wilfrid’s in Harrogate (Yorkshire), England. He was a teacher of music for piano, organ and composition. There is a  characterization of Helmsley by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), which suggests that Frederick Helmsley was not a worthy composer to study under. Gerald Finzi was a well-known British composer who studied under Frederick Helmsley in his early musical career. Several of Frederick Helmsley’s compositions appear in A DAILY HYMN BOOK, published in 1932 and 1948 by Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd.

A Daily Hymn Book, 1932
A Daily Hymn Book, 1932

The ninth melody is found in the Laudate Choir Manual, 1942. This diocesan hymnal was compiled by Father Joseph Hohe at the request of Bishop Thomas L. Lillis of Leavenworth, Kansas in 1904. Bishop Lillis initiated a program of liturgical reform in conformity of the recently promulgated Motu Proprio of Pope Pius X. A melody edition titled Laudate containing English hymns, music for the Mass, and other parish services was published in 1909.

The Laudate continued as the official choir book and in 1942 Bishop Paul Schulte approved the revised edition prepared by Father Herman Koch and Father Andrew Green, O.S.B. Also at this time the copyright was turned over to the McLaughlin and Reilly Company. The last edition was published in 1957. Father Hohe who originally compiled the hymnal died on January 20, 1925.

Laudate Choir Manual, 1942
Laudate Choir Manual, 1942

Reflection

The Choir of St. Mary’s in Akron, Ohio under the direction of Ralph Jordan sang this hymn using two arrangements. That of the Sunday School Hymn Book and from the St. Gregory Hymnal and thus I am familiar with both of these melodies, but my favorite melody is by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

Sunday School Hymnal, 1907
St. Gregory Hymnal and Choir Book, 1920

The verses are very prayerful calling out to Jesus for friendship, I need Thee, gracious Jesus, I need a friend like Thee. How many of us have need of a friend like Jesus? Someone who really understands our needs, a friend to care for me. We petition Jesus to keep us near to Him, Jesus, keep me near to Thee, Close by Thee, all day. The first verse ends with a plea to Jesus to be patient with us, permit me not, e’en though I would, from Thy loved side to stray.

How tender are the words in the second verse, I need Thee, Heart of Jesus, a friend who truly feels each anxious care, and who knows our anxieties and sorrows, and all my sorrows share. He knows our difficulties, he knows the weight of the cross we bare and though I fall ten thousand times, I’ll fear not but confide, what a beautiful allusion to the Sacrament of Confession.

At St. Mary’s the choir would sing this hymn at Offertory, Communion, when there were devotions to the Sacred Heart, or as a prelude and usually to the melody found in the SUNDAY SCHOOL HYMN BOOK.

A special thank you to the Redemptorist Archives, Philadelphia for providing the photos of Father Philip Mary Colonel, C.SS.R., and the biographical details of his life.

Also, a special note of thanks to the Catholic Music Association of America forum members for their assistance in providing links to Frederick Helmsley.

This hymn has been forgotten by all except for a few vintage organists, hymnologist, and choir members like myself. This is a very beautiful hymn to sing especially in these days when we read about and hear of the need to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Ask your organist or choir director to sing this wonderful hymn at your next Mass.

Below are computer generated sound files of the melodies presented 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. Music directors, if you use any of these selections in your Sunday or weekly music programs and you make a recording, contact the author and I may feature it in the What’s New section of the website. 

‘Tis the Month of Our Mother

'Tis The Month Of Our Mother

Eleanor Cecilia Donnelly (1838-1917) is the author of this hymn. This poem that became a hymn was written when she was a young child or perhaps as a young adult. It did not appear in Catholic hymnals until around 1860. The hymn would appear many years later in a collection of her poems Crowned With Stars, published in 1881 by Notre Dame University, Indiana. The poem which became a hymn would go on to become one of the most beloved devotional hymns for the month of May being sung by church choirs, sodality groups, in May processions, home devotions, and schools. (Click on any image to enlarge)

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

Eleanor is also the author of more than thirty volumes of poetry, most of it from a Catholic perspective, and is the author of several works of fiction, as well as a biographer who wrote the memoirs of Father Felix Jospeh Barbelin, S.J, and Sister Mary Gonzaga Grace of The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul.

I have written before about Eleanor Donnelly’s life, so if you would like to learn more about her, please visit the HYMN OF THE MONTH write-up Daughter of a Mighty Father. I will briefly mention a few highlights. Eleanor was an educated woman and along with her sister could translate both French and German. She was known to have a full rich voice trained at its best with clear enunciation and a woman of charm. She was described as the Adelaide Procter of America by Archbishop Ryan of Philadelphia and was honored by two Popes for her sacred poetry, especially to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She published a collection of original hymns to Sacred Heart in 1883 and 1912 and carefully chose the melodies for each of them.

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

Eleanor was born in Philadelphia, the sixth child of Dr. Philip Carroll and Catherine Gavin Donnelly. Her elder brother, Hon. Ignatius Donnelly, ex-Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, was the first to recognize his little sister’s poetic gift. She wrote her first poem when she was eight years old and published a hymn to the Madonna, in a child’s paper, at the age of nine. She was a contributor to several Catholic magazines and newspapers including the Ave Maria. By the turn of the twentieth century, the Ave Maria was the most popular English-language Catholic magazine in the world. The magazine was published on Sundays until 1970.

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 spent her final years among the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart whom she dearly loved and died one April morning on the Feast of St. Catherine Siena, the name she took upon entering the Third Order of St. Dominic. The Sisters honored her by wrapping her in the Dominican habit that she so highly prized. Her contributions to Catholic literature and her publications are too numerous to mention.

Eleanor C. Donnelly, 1907

As indicated above, the earliest appearance of the hymn is found in THE CATHOLIC VOCALIST, 1860 compiled by Henry T. Rocholl. 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 Catholic Vocalist, 1860
The Catholic Vocalist, 1860

THE SACRED WREATH and the first May devotions in the United States.

The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the oldest sodality in the United States as well as May Devotions fostered by members of the Jesuit Order, had a huge impact on religious practices of this country. The first May Devotions held in this country occurred at Georgetown University in 1830. The first American parish Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded in Philadelphia in 1841 by Father Felix J. Barbelin, S.J., (1808-1869). Father Barbelin was beloved by the city of Philadelphia who regarded him as the Apostle of America. It was Father Barbelin who first made the singing of Catholic hymns popular in Philadelphia and also established what would become May Crowning’s and May Processions in this country.

Father Barbelin was born in Luneville, France, and came to the United States where he joined the Jesuit Order in 1831. As a young priest he desired to go west as a missionary to the Indians, but became pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Georgetown, and a professor at Georgetown College. In 1838, he became pastor of St. Joesph’s Church in Philadelphia where he served for twenty-five years. During his pastorship, he founded St. Joseph’s Hospital and in 1852, he was named president of St. Joseph’s College.

Father Felix Barbelin 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. The Sodality gradually developed a collection of hymns. The hymns began as a small private collection that would eventually be published as THE SACRED WREATH in 1844 by Eugene Cummiskey.

Father Felix J. Barbelin, S.J., ca. 1865
Courtesy of Georgetown University Archives
Father Edward J. Sourin, S.J., ca. 1869
Courtesy of Georgetown University Archives

THE SACRED WREATH saw several editions which included an appendix of hymns, these were added by Father Edward Sourin, S.J., in 1863 and 1867. Father Sourin was born in Philadelphia to Irish Catholic parents, both of whom died when he was still quite young. The children were placed in foster care and separated. Edward was the youngest and was adopted by Catholic friends, however his brother was less fortunate and was adopted by a Protestant family, he grew up and became a Methodist minister. Edward faired much better and was sent to St. Mary’s College, Emmittsburg. He excelled in his literary studies, became fluent in Latin, Greek, French, and wrote poetry with ease and grace.

In 1851, Father Sourin become an assistant at St. John the Evangelist Church in Philadelphia. He established a St. Mary’s Sodality in 1852 and became Vicar-General of the diocese. He was then appointed pastor of the Philadelphia Cathedral and joined the Jesuit Order in 1855. In 1859, he was once again pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church when the church was turned over to the Jesuits. Some of his poems became hymns and appeared in the Second Revised Edition of THE SACRED WREATH. These include O blest forever the mother; For all that seek her holy shrine; and possibly As the dewy shades of even. It is not known whether Father Sourin or another rearranged the hymn Mother Dear, O Pray for Me, by Issac Woodbury. 

There is more that I could write about both of these humble priests but that is beyond the scope of this write-up. So, check back often to read my HYMN OF THE MONTH series where I’ll feature more details on these two priests in future hymn write-ups.

No music was provided by the editors of THE SACRED WREATH, but some hymns had their melodies indicated suggesting they could be sung to known airs. The Preface says these were chosen because they would be familiar to singers. The hymn, ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother first appeared in the appendix of the 1863 edition.

The Sacred Wreath, 1844
Courtesy of Georgetown University Archives
The Sacred Wreath, ca.1850s
Courtesy of Villanova Falvey Library
The Sacred Wreath, 1877
Courtesy of Georgetown University Archives

Copies of the 1863 and 1867 editions are extremely rare. A copy of the 1877 third edition is shown above, and the hymn is found in the appendix (see below) captioned Hymn to our Blessed Mother.

The Sacred Wreath, 1877
Courtesy of Georgetown University Archives
The Sacred Wreath, 1877
Courtesy of Georgetown University Archives

Other hymnals:

In addition to the Catholic Vocalist and the Sacred Wreath, the hymn ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother appeared in more than twenty hymnals. The hymn gained its widest use through the St. Basil’s hymnal rather than the original source or any other hymnal. A complete list of the hymnals can be downloaded by clicking on the link provided here. Tis the Month of Our Mother – Hymnal Survey

Melodies

The melody for this hymn, which has become the traditional melody, was composed by Fr. Louis Lambillotte, S.J., (1796-1855) a composer, publisher, and a leader in the restoration of Plain Chant. The melody is based on C’est le mois de Marie, meaning It’s the Month of Mary, a French sacred song to our Blessed Mother and can be found in Fr. Lambillotte’s 1842 and 1867 Choix de Cantiques, a collection of sacred hymns. I also found one other melody in the SURSUM CORDA hymnal prepared at the request of Ven. Mother Gerard, Provincial Superior at Stella Niagra, New York, and published in 1925.

Choix De Cantiques, 1842
Choix De Cantiques, 1842
Choix De Cantiques, 1842
1925 - Sursum Corda - A Collection of Hymns for the use of Catholic Schools

Reflection

This is one of my favorite hymns and St. Mary’s Choir would often sing this hymn during the Marian months of the year and for the parish May Crowning. I was fortunate to be part of a wonderful group of choir members, many of my friends have long since departed for their final reward. In 1982, St. Mary’s Parish in Akron, Ohio held its annual May Crowning. A program was printed up for this special outdoor event which was attended by many parishioners.

I made a recording on a cassette tape of the hymns, and I saved the program which I now share with you. The cassette tape of the May Crowning has seen better days and frankly I am surprised it still plays at all. I extracted the hymn ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother’ and include it in the playlist below. With the exception of a handful of parishioners like myself, the hymns listed in this program will be new to many of the parishioners now attending St. Mary’s.

St. Mary's May Crowning Program, 1982
St. Mary's May Crowning Program, 1982

In the first verse of ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother, the hymn speaks of the blessed and beautiful days, and for St. Mary’s parishioners this is true, we just completed the installation of a brand-new roof for the church, a new school science lab was completed, a Marian meditation garden is about to be installed, and a downstairs bathroom in the church has been renovated, with many more projects and events scheduled to begin. So, indeed we have reasons for our lips and our spirits to glow with love and praise.

I think today we don’t sing hymns to our Blessed Mother as often as we should. I have observed musically speaking, that we pretty much keep to the seasons and if it’s not the season, we tend to forget about her. If the only time you told your own mother that you loved her was on her birthday, or Christmas, or Easter, I don’t think you would have a particularly good relationship with her. When I sang with the choir, we always had a Marian hymn to sing before Mass or during Mass. There was no special occasion or event, we sang the hymns, just because, because we love Our Mother.

Hymns are a most effective way for the congregation to express this love and so we should sing them more often; the verses also teach me about the doctrines of our faith. So, be spontaneous and ask your organist or music director to incorporate more Marian hymns into your Sunday Mass and you’ll see what a wonderful relationship you will have with your Mother and with her Son! Take a moment to reflect on these beautiful verses and look for the blessed and beautiful days in your life.

Be sure to read about the most widely used May Crowning hymn – Bring Flowers of the Rarest

Copies of the Sacred Wreath from 1844 and 1877 and the photographs of Father Barbelin and Father Sourin, I am indebted to the Georgetown University Archivist. Many thanks to the Villanova Falvey University Librarian for helping with an interlibrary loan of the Sacred Wreath Second Edition.  

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

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 ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother. You can download A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants FREE at www.sacredmusiclibrary.com 

Mary! dearest Mother!

Mary! dearest Mother!

Father Frederick Faber (1814-1863) wrote the words to this hymn. It is found in his book of HYMNS that was published in 1861 and captioned A Daily Hymn to Mary (For the Children of St. Philip’s Home). (Click on any image to enlarge)

Hymns, 1861
Hymns, 1861
Hymns, 1861

Father Faber’s journey and conversion to Catholicism cannot be fully explained in this short write-up. I will briefly mention that his journey began when he was attending Oxford University. He was raised a Calvinist, and his religious ideas and views were clearly defined in his mind when he arrived at Oxford in 1832. During this time period a great movement which would become known as the Oxford Movement was underway. I wrote a summary of Father Faber’s journey from Calvinism to Anglicanism and finally to Catholicism in an earlier HYMN OF THE MONTH article over a year ago, if you would like to learn more about his conversion journey and his meeting with the Pope, please follow the link to Mother of Mercy, Day by Day.

I would like to focus just a little on Father Faber’s collection of hymn books. Father Faber authored one-hundred-fifty hymns, many of which were composed to music and several of which we still sing today including:

  • Faith of our fathers, living still
  • Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All
  • Dear Angel Ever at my Side
  • Dear Guardian of Mary
  • Like the Dawning
  • O Come and Mourn With Me Awhile
  • There’s a wideness in God’s Mercy

Father Faber began writing hymns in 1848, a few years after his conversion to Catholicism in 1845. The first two hymns that he wrote took place while on a retreat in Yorkshire in the small sea-side town of Scarborough. The hymns were Mother of Mercy, Day by Day and Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All.

His first hymn book was published in 1849, under the title of JESUS AND MARY. The first edition contained forty-three hymns and was published in England and Ireland. It was very successful with one-thousand copies sold. In 1852, after the success of the first edition, a second edition of his JESUS AND MARY was published which added twenty new hymns. This second edition sold more than ten-thousand copies. This was followed in 1854 by a third edition, called THE ORATORY HYMN BOOK, and containing seventy-seven hymns.

In 1856, a collection called POEMS was published. These are not hymns as such, but are poems written by Father Faber on various subjects, places, things, and persons. Some are poems from his early years at Oxford University.

In 1861, a new collection titled HYMNS, was published with more than fifty new hymns. Father Faber wished his hymn collection to favor the Psalter, thus he chose the number one-hundred-fifty as the limit of his collection. The 1861 edition of HYMNS is where we find all one-hundred-fifty hymns in their original form. It must be pointed out that numerous copies of this collection under various titles including SELECTED HYMNS; HYMNS FROM FABER; FABER’S HYMNS with Illustrations, etc., were sold under the auspices of different publishers in England and America. The compilers of these hymn books have either with permission, or without, altered the language, meter, or choruses of his hymns, sometimes to suit their own taste, or to accommodate them to particular tunes.

In the Author’s Preface found in the 1861 London edition, it is pointed out that some of these compilers even changed the doctrine of the hymns, to which Father Faber was less than sympathetic. These editions can easily be identified by the absence of hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Saints, and Angels. Even so, Father Faber was glad that his compositions should be of any service and refused neither Catholics nor Protestants the free use of them. However, he strictly informed anyone wishing to use his hymns that no direct alterations should be attempted.

As an example, in the collection HYMNS from FABER, published in 1867 by the company Bridgeman and Childs, from Northampton, Massachusetts we can read in the Preface about such exclusions and alterations.

Hymns from Faber, 1867
Hymns from Faber, 1867
Hymns from Faber, 1867

Father Faber’s hymns and poems continue to be reprinted even today. Original copies of some collections can still be found on eBay and other online vintage booksellers. Father Faber also authored of several books including:

  • All For Jesus
  • The Precious Blood;
  • The Foot of the Cross
  • Growth In Holiness
  • The Creator and the Creature
  • The Blessed Sacrament
  • Purgatory

Many of these are available through Amazon, and online Catholic Book publishers. I have read a few of these books and found them to be an excellent source of Catholic teachings and spiritual nourishment.

Father Frederick William Faber
Courtesy of The London Oratory
https://www.bromptonoratory.co.uk/

The hymn Mary! dearest Mother! appeared in several Catholic hymnals among them are ORATORY HYMNS with TUNES, 1878 arranged by William Pitts; THE PAROCHIAL HYMN BOOK, 1881 and 1883; WREATH OF MARY, 1883; the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL from 1888 thru 1925; CONVENT HYMNS with MUSIC, 1891; THE NOTRE DAME HYMN TUNE BOOK, 1905; ST. CECILIA’S HYMN BOOK (Dublin); AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1913 and 1921; the STANDARD CATHOLIC HYMNAL, 1921; the Cleveland DIOCESAN HYMNAL PART 2, 1928; the ORDINARY OF THE MASS AND A COMPLETE MANUAL OF HYMNS, 1935; the ALVERNO HYMNAL, 1953; and a few others. My hymnal survey for Mary Dearest Mother is available for download.

The traditional text of the hymn with its chorus Oh We Pray Thee, loved Mary, fondly we entreat, first appeared in the WREATH OF MARY, compiled by the Sisters of Notre Dame, and published by the Oliver Ditson Company in 1883, with the words attributed to a Sister of Notre Dame. The first and second verses are from Father Faber’s hymn, it is the third verse and the chorus that were written by a Sister of Notre Dame.

Identifying the Sister who composed the words of the third verse and the chorus is extremely difficult because of the custom that in religious orders attribution should be given to the community rather than the individual. It was only after Vatican II that this custom began to change. In many instances the identity was handed down by verbal tradition from one sister to another. In other instances, the identity has been carefully stitched together by hymn researchers.

The Melodies

I found seven different melodies that have been arranged or composed. The first melody considered traditional to this hymn and is found in the WREATH OF MARY, 1883. It is listed as a German Air.

Wreath of Mary, 1883
Wreath of Mary, 1883
Wreath of Mary, 1883

I am aware of a few Sisters of Notre Dame who were hymn writers including Sister Mary Xavier who gave us the hymn Just for Today, plus several other hymns; Sister Mary of St. Philip who gave us the translation for O Come Divine Messiah; and Sister Mary of St. Joseph who gave us the hymn O Infant Jesus, but there is no evidence linking any of them to Mary! dearest Mother! So, the identity of this Sister remains a mystery.

The second melody is found in the ORATORY HYMNS with TUNES, 1878. It was composed by William Pitts (1829-1903), the son of an organ builder. He served as the organist at the Oratory in London for more than fifty years.

Oratory Hymns with Tunes, 1878
Oratory Hymns with Tunes, 1878
Oratory Hymns with Tunes, 1878

A third melody is found in the CONVENT HYMNS and MUSIC used by the Pupils of the Sisters of Notre Dame, published in Liverpool, England in 1891. This hymn collection was widely used in England, Ireland, and perhaps Australia. My copy shipped to me came from Dublin, Ireland. There is no Preface or Introduction to this collection which contains forty-four hymns. A handful are from Father Faber’s HYMNS.

Convent Hymns, 1891
Convent Hymns, 1891

The fourth melody was composed by Arthur De Meulemeester (1876-1942) and appeared in ST. CECILIA’S HYMN BOOK, published in Dublin, Ireland. He was the organist and choirmaster at the Clonard Monastery of the Redemptorist Order in Belfast (Ireland). He founded the St George’s Singing Choir which achieved great success under his leadership. In 1911, he compiled, arranged, and edited the St Cecilia’s Hymn Book, with two hundred sacred songs in English that was widely used. He was a prolific composer of sacred music, several Masses, and motets. He was decorated by Pope Pius X and received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award for his distinguished service to the Catholic Church.

St. Cecilia's Hymn Book, 1911
St Cecilia's Hymn Book, 1911

A fifth melody appears in the AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNAL published by P. J. Kennedy & Sons of New York City in 1913 and again in 1921. This collection of Hymns, Latin Chants, and Sacred Songs for Church, School, and Home was compiled by The Marist Brothers. This hymnal contains more hymns from Catholic periodicals than perhaps any other for its time. About twenty are taken from the Messenger of the Sacred Heart, Ave Maria, Rosary Magazine, Voice, and Sentinel of the Blessed Sacrament.

These periodicals were quite popular during the late 19th and early 20th century periods, and often contained sacred poems that would be composed to music. In the 1913 edition, the composer indicated is M. H., and in the 1921 edition for the same hymn and tune it is listed as a French melody. The 1921 edition also contains a listing of authors, composers, and meters.

American Catholic Hymnal, 1921
American Catholic Hymnal, 1921

A sixth melody was found in the Cleveland, Ohio DIOCESAN HYMNAL PART TWO – DEVOTIONAL HYMNS. The Diocesan Hymnals were compiled by The Most Rev. Joseph Schrembs, D.D., (1911-1945), Bishop of Cleveland. 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.

The melody was composed by Bishop Schrembs and harmonized by Joseph Ignace Müller (1880-1950). He is one of several musicians acknowledged for harmonizations in the Diocesan Hymnals, and he is listed in the Catalog of Copyright Entries of 1942, for a Mass in Honor of St. Benedict. Joseph was an organist at St. John the Baptist Church in the Bronx, NY., in 1918. He died October 2, 1950 around age 70.

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

The last melody I found appeared in the ALVERNO HYMNAL AND CHOIR BOOK PART 3, published in 1953. The Alverno Hymnals were compiled by Sister Mary Cherubim Schaefer, OSF (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 melody was composed by Father Joseph J. Pierron (1875-1949). He is best known for compiling the AVE MARIA HYMNAL in 1936. The AVE MARIA HYMNAL saw several printings with the first edition published in 1929 and the last edition in 1941. The hymnal is a collection of English and older German melodies. Joseph Pierron was ordained a priest in 1905 and studied music in Europe for three years. He held assistant positions in various parishes and pastorship in several prominent churches throughout Wisconsin. In November 1948, he was made director of Music at Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home in Boys’ Town, Nebraska where he served until his death in April 1949. Father Pierron was editor of the Caecilia magazine in 1930, and composed several hymns, hymn collections, mass settings, and authored several articles on music.

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

Reflection

Mary! dearest Mother! is a beautiful collection of daily invocations to the Blessed Mother for her help, her intercession, and her protection. Just as children love and implicitly trust in their mothers so we love and place our trust in her. We humbly seek her help to guide us to our Saviour and leave us at His feet.

Some will say that when we love our Blessed Mother this much that we place her above her Son! What nonsense, how can we love her more than Jesus loves her? As you sing the verses you are drawn into the poetic imagery of Father Faber’s hymn. How many times during our lives do we seem lost in earth’s dark night? How often does some anxiety overwhelms us, some fear because of the words or actions of others and oh! how our mind plays tricks on us when we cannot see, what is past or present, what is yet to be.

And so,

Jesus! hear Thy children

From Thy throne above.

Give us love of Mary,

As Thou wouldst have us love.

The melody I learned to sing is from the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL and is the traditional melody from the WREATH OF MARY.

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 professional voices at St. Peter’s Church in Columbia, South Carolina.

Below are computer generated sound files. The tempo is approximate but should provide the listener with a good sense of what the hymn sounds like. 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 so I can feature it in the What’s New section of the website. 

Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest

Recently, the archivist for the School Sisters of St. Francis sent me a copy of the organ arrangment from the Alverno Hymnal Abridged Edition published by McLaughlin and Reilly Co., in 1963. This collection is the compilation of the three Alverno Hymnals published between 1948-1953. You can read about this wonderful Marian hymn the authors and composers by clicking on the following link: Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest

Alverno Hymnal Abridged Edition, 1963
Alverno Hymnal Abridged Edition, 1963
Alverno Hymnal Abridged Edition, 1963

God of Mercy and Compassion

Father Edmund Vaughan, C.SS.R., wrote the words to this hymn, and it first appeared in the HYMNS FOR THE CONFRATERNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY published by Burns & Lambert of London in 1854. This small and rare collection of Catholic hymns is currently not available.  The next earliest appearance is in THE HOLY FAMILY HYMNS, captioned Act of Contrition, No. 99. This collection of hymns was published in 1860 London by Richardson and Son with the approval of Cardinal Wiseman (1805-1865). The hymn book contained both words and music. (Click on any image to enlarge)

Holy Family Hymns, 1860
Holy Family Hymns, 1860
Holy Family Hymns, 1860
Holy Family Hymns, 1860

It is beyond the scope of this short write-up to do a detailed biography of Father Vaughan. However, with the help of the Australian and English Provincials, the effort of a priest assigned to help, the work of Father Samuel J. Boland, C.SS.R., (1922-2011) who has written of the Redemptorists in Australia, I have put together the bits and pieces in order to present to you the following narrative on the life of Father Vaughan. Photographs were supplied courtesy of St. Mary’s Monastery, London, and those from Father Boland’s book Faith of our Fathers: The Redemptorists in Australia 1882-1982 with permission from the Australian Provincial. The only photographs of Father Vaughan that appear in this write-up are from his time in Australia.

Edmund Vaughan was born at Courtfield, Herefordshire, England in 1827, the son of William Vaughan and his wife Theresa. He was the youngest of nineteen children and while still a young boy, he suffered the loss of both parents. He was brought up in the family of his eldest brother who inherited the Vaughan estate of Courtfield, Herefordshire. Father Vaughan comes from an exceptional Catholic family noteworthy in producing vocations to the church.

Father Edmund Vaughan - courtesy St. Mary's Monastery, London
Father Edmund Vaughan - courtesy St. Mary's Monastery, London

One of his brothers, William became the Bishop of Plymouth, England; and two of his nephews would later become bishops, Herbert who became a Cardinal and Archbishop of Westminster, and Roger Bede, who became the second Archbishop of Sydney. Two of his three sisters became nuns. Father Vaughan was educated at Stonyhurst College, and was a science teacher for a few years at St Mary’s College, Oscott near Birmingham, before preparing for the priesthood. He was twenty-two and in deacon’s orders when he joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known as the Redemptorists, and spent a year of initiation at Saint-Trond near Liège, Belgium. In 1852, he took his religious vows and was ordained a priest becoming one of the first men from England to join the Redemptorists.

Among the early Redemptorists who knew Father Vaughan we have Father Robert Coffin, C.SS.R., (1819-1885) the first superior of the English Redemptorists. Father Thomas Edward Bridgett, C.SS.R., (1829-1899), a convert educated at Cambridge and became a gifted historian. Father John Furniss, C.SS.R., (1809-1865) who is best known for his gift of missions to children, and Father William Plunkett, C.SS.R., (1824-1900) who was the first Irish Redemptorist.

Father Vaughan was an exceptional orator, theologian, musician, and a teacher of science. He quickly devoted himself to missions following in the footsteps of St. Alphonsus Liguori who had founded the Order. Father Vaughan can be characterized as a man of great patience, understanding, and meticulous in details. His concern was not with crowds or criticism but the people. During the missions he had the people pray and he taught them to pray. He instructed them in the most essential truths of the Catholic faith, and in his sermons, he spoke plainly to the people without rhetoric or harshness. His aim was to restore in souls the practices and values of Catholic life. He was a man after the heart of St. Alphonsus Ligouri.

In time, and with experience in the missions, he was chosen to be superior of a foundation to be made in Scotland. In 1867, he established St. Mary’s Monastery in Perth, the first religious house to be established in Scotland since the days of King Henry VIII (1509-1547) and the Reformation.

It was during these early missions that Father Vaughan wrote hymns and he is recognized as the translator of the hymns of St. Alphonsus Ligouri. I have found twenty-two hymns written or translated by Father Vaughan with possibly more to be discovered. These hymns first appeared in English and American Catholic hymnals of the 1850s and 1860s. 

During the early 1800s, Australia was for many in the world an unknown country slowly emerging from its convict days as a penal colony, and for those early pioneering Catholic clergy, traveling the great distances between the settlements made it nearly impossible to provide the pastoral care that was needed. Troubles for the Catholic Church in Australia were increasing too. The discovery of gold in the 1850s brought a rapid increase in more settlements, many of which were scattered to the remotest parts of the outback. Anti-Catholicism was on the rise, and the Education Acts of 1870s deprived Catholic schools of government aid. The isolation of settlements in the outback meant that for many Catholics there was no Mass, no Sacraments, or Catholic education for many years.

Between 1848 and 1867, Archbishop John Polding (1794-1877), Bishop James O’Quin (1819-1881), and Father Patrick Dunne (1818–1900) traveled to Europe and Ireland seeking Redemptorists foundations for Australia, and even though the Redemptorists had spread throughout Europe, the United States, and the West Indies, they were for the most part staffed by only a handful of priests. The possibility of such and undertaking for a land so far away and still virtually unknown was something the Superior General in Rome could not foresee happening anytime soon. Undaunted, the bishops continued to make several trips to Europe to appeal for help.

In 1880, Bishop James Murray (1828-1909) of Maitland was visiting and old friend in Ireland, Bishop Patrick Francis Moran (1830-1911) of Ossory who in a few short years would become Cardinal and Archbishop of Sydney. Bishop Murray had been in Ireland twelve years earlier when he observed the church filled with men twice each week for confraternity devotions. During this visit, he made a personal commitment to bring the Redemptorists back with him to Australia. From Ireland, Bishop Murray traveled to Rome with Bishop Moran when they met with Father Nicolas Mauron (1818-1893) the Superior General. They brought to his attention of the need for a foundation in Australia. This time, a consensus was reached, and the Superior General approvingly referred them to Father Coffin, who was the superior of the English Redemptorists. Bishop Murray satisfied that he now had approval returned home, for it was late in the year and his duties as bishop did not allow him to winter in Europe.

In 1881, Bishop Murray was back in England and wasted no time in approaching Father Coffin with a proposal that the Fathers take charge of a parish. Redemptorists often shy away from parish duties so that they can be free for missions, nevertheless, after some rather lengthy discussions and concessions it was agreed that the Fathers would take over a parish just for a time until a permanent monastery could be established. Bishop Murray made several parish suggestions but the one he felt would be most suitable was Singleton. Bishop Murray became a friend to the Redemptorists and was one of their most trusted advisers and supporters for as long as he lived.

Fathe Mauron, the Superior General was most agreeable to this new venture and in November of 1881 he called Father Coffin to Rome to discuss which Fathers would form the foundation in Australia. After careful consideration, Father Edmund Vaughan was chosen to be superior for the new foundation. Three other Redemptorists priests and two brothers were chosen to accompany Father Vaughan. They were Father Thomas O’Farrell (1898-1907), Father James Hegarty, Father Henry Halson, Brother Daniel Gleeson, and Brother Lawrence Watters.

from Faith of Our Fathers by Fr. Samuel Boland, C.SS.R. - with permission

The journey to Australia took several weeks, the pioneering group of Redemptorists left England on or about February 9 and traveled aboard the Orient steamer Sorata arriving in Sydney Harbor on March 31, 1882. The missioners brought with them a small picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that had been blessed by Pope Leo XIII. In this new land, the Fathers made the Mother of Perpetual Help their patron and her picture is found in Catholic churches throughout Australia and New Zealand.

When Father Vaughan arrived in Australia, he was already 54 years of age. The parish church in Singleton was small but adequate and nearby was a convent of the Sisters of Mercy with a school for girls. The presbytery or the home for the Fathers which had been built recently, was only large enough to accommodate two priest making living conditions somewhat challenging for the Fathers. The Fathers also quickly learned that the small parish entrusted to them was in debt, in need of repairs, and was serving as a school for boys during the week.

Within the first year of the Fathers arrival at Singleton and from some of their first meetings with the Australian Catholics, one thing stood out more than all the others. It was observed that there was a certain aridity in church services. It was determined that what was missing was music and singing. Father Vaughan set out to rectify the situation. He established a Society of St. Cecilia for the adults whose purpose it was to promote a reverent and beautiful celebration of the Liturgy. He also compiled the first Catholic hymn book in Australia which became THE AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC HYMN BOOK with first edition published in 1884. The collection contained some of the most popular English hymns, a few of his own compositions, and a number of his beautiful translations from St. Alphonsus. For the children’s Masses, he taught them to sing the hymns of Father Furniss. The hymn book was published in both Australia and New Zealand until 1944.

New Zealand Tablet - Feb 18, 1898

Within the first five years the missions had expanded into New Zealand and in the summer of 1886 the Fathers crossed into Southern Australian. Also during the first five years the number of Fathers increased to include five additional priests and one brother. The house in Singleton, originally built for two priest was no longer a suitable home for so many. Land was purchased in Waratah, New South Whales just outside of New Castle and about fifty miles southeast of Singleton. A new home was erected and built at a place known as Harbottle Hill which Father Vaughan would later rename Mount St. Alphonsus. By 1887, the Fathers had moved from the small house in Singleton to their new home.

The Community at Waratah - courtesy of St. Mary's Monastery, London

Father Vaughan remained in Australia for twelve years and was affectionately known to his companions as the grand old chief. He was recalled to England in 1894 and was appointed Provincial Superior of the Redemptorist houses of both England and Ireland. He died in 1908 after many years of faithful service.

Freeman's Journal - November 17,1894
Singleton Argus - August 4, 1908

There is so much more that could be written regarding the Redemptorists in Australia and of Father Vaughan’s role in those early pioneering days. I will revisit the Australian missions in future write-ups, so look for them in the months ahead. Much of what I have written could not have been possible without the work of Father Samuel J. Boland, which I mentioned at the beginning of this write-up. I found his book on the Redemptorists in Australia to be a wonderful source of spiritual nourishment and enlightenment during the first part of this 2024 Lenten season.

The Melodies

The hymn God of Mercy and Compassion has appeared in nearly fifty Catholic hymnals including those from America, England, Ireland, and Scotland. As of this writing, it is not known if the hymn appeared in the Australian Catholic Hymn Book. Rather than list the nearly fifty hymnals, I have provided a list that you can download. God of Mercy and Compassion – Hymnal Survey

In his Handbook for American Catholic Hymnals, J. Vincent Higginson (aka Cyr de Brant), identified six melodies which includes the traditional French melody Au Sang Qu’un Dieu. In addition to these six melodies, I have found ten more for a total of sixteen melodies. This is perhaps the greatest number of melodies for any one hymn that I know of or have written about.

Some of the melodies not listed by Mr. Higginson were composed or arranged by Nicola Montani; Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly, R.S.M.; Bishop Schrembs/Alfred Kalnins; a Marist Brother – Brother M. J. (B.M.J.) a pseudonym for Brother Zephiriny; Bernhard Molique; Henri F. Hemy, and several others yet to be identified.

The following section on the melodies is quite lengthy. I grouped them by time period (ex. 1860s, 1900s, etc.) and kept the details as brief as possible although there are a few exceptions. In a few instances, I only have melody editions of the hymnals and I cannot provide accompaniments. To facilitate an easier layout and for readability, I used pages from later period hymnals rather than the organ manuals. (Click on any of the images to enlarge)

The traditional French melody Au Sang Qu’un Dieu is from an opera by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736), he is credited with adapting/ harmonizing the tune for one of his operas. The melody appears to have been adopted quite early in Catholic hymnals as evidenced in the HOLY FAMILY HYMNS, 1860 shown at the beginning of this write-up. It is the most widely used melody appearing in a third of all the hymnals I surveyed for God of Mercy and Compassion.

During the 1860s and into the early 1900s three melodies appeared in Catholic hymnals. One of the melodies that appeared early on was composed by Henri F. Hemy (1818-1888) and appeared in his CROWN OF JESUS MUSIC. This collection was published in four parts but also as one volume in 1864. The melody also appeared in the CROWN HYMNAL compiled by Father Leslie J. Kavanagh who was the Superintendent of Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and James M. McLaughlin who was the organist at St. Mary’s Church in Boston, Massachusetts. The hymnal was published in 1912 in both the United States and England. Father Kavanagh was elevated to Monsignor in 1919. The melody later appeared in the LAUDATE CHOIR MANUAL, 1942.

The second melody to appear in the 1860s was composed by Bernhard Molique (1802-1869) and is found in the POPULAR HYMN AND TUNE BOOK compiled by Frederick Westlake. This hymnal was published in 1868 London by Burns and Oates, and in New York by the Catholic Publication Society.

Crown of Jesus music, 1864
Crown Hymnal, 1912
Popular Hymn and Tune Book, 1868

The third melody appeared in the American hymnal the CANTICA SACRA or Hymns for Children of Catholic Schools. The first edition of this hymnal was published in Boston in 1865 and was compiled by the Bishop of Boston, Rt. Rev. John B. Fitzpatrick (1812-1866). This collection contains hymns by Cummings, Faber, Caswall, and the translated hymns of St. Alphonsus Ligouri. A third edition was published in 1880. The music for this third tune appears to be a variation of traditional French melody and written for Hymn to the Holy Trinity.

Cantica Sacra, 1880

Four melodies appeared in the early 1900s. The first is from the ARUNDEL HYMNS published in 1905. One of the editors was Henry, Duke of Norfolk who sent a copy of the hymn book to Pope Leo XIII for which he received a letter of approbation. The Arundel Hymnal was the first major English collection of the twentieth century. It is also one of the first hymnals to have author and composer details. This particular melody does not indicate a composer.

The second melody appears in the American Catholic Hymnal compiled by The Marist Brothers and published by J. P. Kennedy of New York in 1913 and later in 1921. Many of the hymns in this collection were taken from Catholic periodicals including the Messenger of Sacred Heart, Ave Maria, the Rosary Magazine, and others. Authors and composers are also various and include Miss Isabel Williams of Boston. She contributed several Holy Communion hymns which appear for the first time. There was also M. S. Pine, a pseudonym for a Sister of the Visitation – Sr. Mary Paulina Finn. Several of the melodies are by one of the Marist Brothers, B.M. or B.M.J., a pseudonym for Brother Zephiriny. He was the compiler and editor for the hymnal. Brother Zephiriny was one of the outstanding leaders in the U.S. province from 1892 until his death in 1928.

The third melody is found in the MANUAL OF CATHOLIC HYMNS for Schools, Choirs, and Congregational Singing. This collection of hymns and Mass settings which include funeral services, vespers, benediction services, and various litanies was compiled by Father Barnabas Dieringer (1863-1943), Professor of Music as St. Francis Seminary in Wisconsin and Father Joseph Pierron (1875-1945), pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, Lodi, Wisconsin. The hymnal was published by the Benziger Brothers of New York City with offices in Cincinnati and Chicago. The same melody appeared in the AVE MARIA HYMNAL published in 1936 and indicates the following source: Geisti. Lustwäldl, 1690.

The fourth melody appears in the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL of 1906 published by the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, Canada. The composer for the melody is not given. There is also a significant number of text changes including the hymn title Lord of Mercy and Compassion. In the first verse we see look with pity down on me, and ‘Tis thy child returned to Thee. What is typically the fourth verse is now the second verse. In the chorus the phrase that normally reads All my sins – I now detest them, was changed to For pardon for my sins and grace. The hymn continued to appear in the St. Basil’s hymnal until 1918 and was removed in later editions. The same melody was used for another hymn found in the St. Basil’s hymnal, O Turn To Jesus, Mother, Turn a hymn written by Father Frederick Faber for the Holy Souls.

Arundel Hymns, 1905
American Catholic Hymnal, 1913
Manual of Catholic Hymns, 1916
St. Basil's Hymnal, 1918

During the 1920s and 1930s, six melodies appeared in Catholic hymnals. The first is the CATHOLIC HYMNAL compiled by Father John G. Hacker, S. J., (1877-1946) of Canisius College, Buffalo, New York. It was published by Schwartz, Kirwin & Fauss of New York City in 1920. The melody used here is a German tune found in Tochter Sion, compiled by Dr. Heinrich Lindenborn (1712–1750) and published in 1741. The melody also appeared in the SURSUM CORDA, 1925.

The second melody was composed by Nicola Montani (1880-1948). This melody appeared in the ST. GREGORY HYMNAL AND CHOIR BOOK compiled by Nicola Montani and published by the St. Gregory Guild of Philadelphia in 1920. He was a conductor, composer, arranger, and publisher of sacred music.

The third melody appeared in the ST. MARY’S HYMNAL – Chants and Hymns compiled by Christian A. Zittel and published by the Catholic Book Publishing Co., of New York in 1924. This collection of hymns continued to be published until 1946. The melody is a German tune taken from Wilhelm Becker’s Gebet-und Gesangbüchlein of 1872.

A fourth melody is found in the PSALLITE hymnal compiled by Father Alexander Roesler, S.J., (1875-1904) with the first edition published in 1901. When Father Roesler died, Father Ludwig Bonvin, S.J., (1850-1930) became the editor, he altered various hymn texts, added some new tunes, and issued a revised collection as HOSANNA, 1910. The PSALLITE continued to be published as a separate collection until the twelfth edition in 1925. Father Bonvin was a teacher at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, and is credited with 450 separate compositions including Masses, chorals, hymns, and one symphony. His musical talents were an important contribution to the Catholic Church worldwide. The same melody reappeared in the MEDIATOR DEI hymnal in 1955 that was compiled by Cyr de Brant, a pseudonym for J. Vincent Higginson.

Catholic Hymnal, 1920
St. Gregory Hymnal, 1920
St. Mary's Manual, 1924
Mediator Dei, 1955

A fifth melody was composed by Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly, R.S.M. (1857-1936), from the Providence, R. I., community. Her name and contributions have been forgotten in the history of Catholic musicians. She was a close friend of James A. Reilly, president of the Catholic Music Publishing Company, later McLaughlin & Reilly Company, one of the major publishers and distributor of Catholic music in America. She compiled three hymnals, THE HOLY FACE HYMNAL in 1891, OUR LADY OF MERCY HYMNAL in 1899, and OUR LADY OF MERCY HYMNAL VOL. II., in 1927. Many of her compositions were featured in a series of hymn pamphlets which proved to be an enormous success for McLaughlin & Reilly and were sold continually during the company’s existence.

A sixth melody was composed by Bishop Joseph Schrembs of Cleveland, Ohio and harmonized by Alfred Kalnins. Bishop Schrembs compiled and published three hymnals including, THE DIOCESAN HYMNAL PART 1 which was published in 1926 consisting of Communion and Confirmation Hymns. THE DIOCESAN HYMNAL PART 2 consisting of Devotional Hymns, and a third, THE EUCHARISTIC HYMNAL published in 1935, which embodied hymns taken from Part 1 & Part 2.

He was elevated to the office of Archbishop in 1935 and was the Promoter of the Seventh National Eucharistic Congress and Protector of the Priests’ Eucharistic League in the United States. 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.

Our Lady of Mercy Vol. II, 1927
Eucharistic Hymnal, 1935

In the 1950s, two melodies appeared. The first is found in the PAROCHIAL HYMNAL compiled by Father Carlo Rossini (1890-1975) and published by J. Fischer & Bro., of New York in 1936 and 1951.  The second melody was composed by Louis Bourgeois (1510-1561) and appears in CATHOLIC HYMNS compiled by Father John C. Selner (1904-1992) and published by the Gregorian Institute of America in 1954.

Parochial Hymnal, 1951
Catholic Hymns, 1954

Reflection

When I meditate on the verses, I see a personal plea to God from a sinful soul for mercy and compassion. Father Vaughan must have written this hymn as a teaching aid for the Catholics he encountered in his missions, teaching them to recognize that through sin, they have forfeited all rights and claim of heaven where the saints rejoice forever.

I can also see an allusion to the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32) in the phrase, Father, let me call Thee Father: ‘Tis thy child returns to Thee. The penitent soul, realizing that their sins have nailed Him to the cross, Yet He bleeds and dies for me, encourages the soul to ask for mercy, detesting all their sins, never to sin again. The verses remind me of the Act of Contrition that we all say in confession after the good priest gives us absolution.

This hymn was written for Missions, Lent, and Passiontide, but it could be used throughout the year. We all need to be reminded to ask for God’s mercy and compassion. Take a moment to reflect on these verses and I am sure you will find some phrase that fits your situation. Each person who reflects on these verses will see something different or nothing at all. What can you see?

A special thank you to Peter Meggison producer of the Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to link to recordings of the Schola Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in London which recorded the traditional French melody and the Chorus of Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Massachusetts who recorded the melody composed by Sister Mary Alexis Donnelly, R.S.M.

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 God of Mercy and Compassion. You can download A Catholic Book of Hymns & Chants FREE at www.sacredmusiclibrary.com

A Catholic Book of Hymns and Chants now has a Facebook User Group offering advice and encouragement on adopting this hymnal and exploring the editions that match up with your parish needs. So be sure to visit and see how this wonderful hymn book is being used by fellow musicians. 

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

Below are computer generated sound files of the melodies discussed in this write-up. The tempo is approximate but should provide the listener with a good sense of what the hymn sounds like. 

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

Recently, the archivist for the School Sisters of St. Francis sent me a copy of the organ arrangment from the Alverno Hymnal Abridged Edition published by McLaughlin and Reilly Co., in 1963. This collection is the compilation of the three Alverno Hymnals published between 1948-1953.

Alverno Hymnal Abridged Edition, 1963
Alverno Hymnal Abridged Edition, 1963
Alverno Hymnal Abridged Edition, 1963

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.