O Queen of the Holy Rosary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Melodies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catholic Church Hymnal, 1933
Catholic Church Hymnal, 1933

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

Ave Maria Hymnal, 1936
Ave Maria Hymnal, 1936

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

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

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

Holy Name Hymnal, 1947
Holy Name Hymnal, 1947

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

Mediator Dei Hymnal, 1955
Mediator Dei Hymnal, 1955

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother of Mercy, Day by Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Melodies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail! Virgin of Virgins

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

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

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

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

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

The melodies:

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

Songs for Catholic Schools, 1862

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Mary's Manual, 1924

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine!

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

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

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

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

Sacred Heart Review - 1918

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart - 1888

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

Best-Loved Catholic Hymns
Best-Loved Catholic Hymns

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Basil's Hymnal - 1918

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

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

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

Bring Flowers of the Rarest

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

Laudis Corona 1880
Laudis Corona 1880

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

Wreath of Mary 1883
Wreath of Mary 1883

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

May Chimes Hymnal 1871
Wreath Of Mary Hymnal 1883

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

May Chimes 1871
May Chimes 1871
May Chimes 1871

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

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

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

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

Campaign Polka 1864
Golden Locks 1873
Black Hawk Waltz 1874

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ Is Risen

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday School Hymn Book, 1887

Reflection

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

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

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

Sunday School Hymn Book, 1907

You can play all of the hymns below.

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

Ave Maria, Bright and Pure

In editions of the CATHOLIC CHAPEL HYMNAL there is a reference to a national survey conducted by Extension Magazine in 1947 of the ten most popular Catholic hymns. This is a short story about this survey and the beautiful hymn Ave Maria, Bright and Pure. The CATHOLIC CHAPEL HYMNAL is a unique collection of Catholic hymns approved by 118 Catholic Chaplains in the Armed Forces during World War II and was published by McLaughlin & Reilly from 1944 thru 1968.

The Catholic Chapel Hymnal, 1958
The Catholic Chapel Hymnal, 1958

Adelaide A. Procter (1825-1864) wrote the words to the hymn Ave Maria, Bright and Pure. It appears in her book A CHAPLET OF VERSES, 1862. There is a note by the author in the contents of this collection that indicates some of the poems were written 20 years earlier and only three have been previously published. So, it is possible this poem was written as early as 1842. Adelaide was born in 1825 and was a prolific poet, philanthropist, and a soul of good charity. She labored extensively helping the homeless and unemployed women of 19th century England. Her first poem submitted under the pseudonym of Mary Berwick, was published in a weekly journal Household Words whose principal editor and publisher was Charles Dickens.

Adelaide converted to Catholicism in 1851 and it was this and what she saw around her that heavily influenced her poetry. She was a highly educated woman for her time fluent in German, French and Italian. It is said that she was Queen Victoria’s favorite poet. In 1862, she contracted tuberculosis because of her tireless work on behalf of suffering women. She struggled against this illness for 15 months and died at the early age of thirty-eight. Adelaide was the author of several books of poetry including Legends and Lyrics and a Chaplet of Verses. Many of her poems were composed to hymns like How Pure, How Frail and White and Of All The Queens In Month Of May.

In my search for melodies, I could only find two for Ave Maria, Bright and Pure. A Sister of Notre Dame composed the first melody. It first appeared in MAY CHIMES, 1871, a hymnal compiled by the Sisters of Notre Dame of Cincinnati, and it was captioned Ora Pro Me for duet. It appeared in other Catholic hymnals including PETERS’ SODALITY MANUAL, 1872 and 1914; in MAY BLOSSOMS, 1872, the MANUAL OF SELECT CATHOLIC HYMNS, 1885 and 1925; LAUDIS CORONA, 1880; the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL from 1906 to 1925; ST. JOSEPH’S HYMNAL, 1930, and HYMNS USED BY THE PUPILS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME, 1921 and 1948. All of these hymnals use the melody composed by the Sister of Notre Dame. Since it was a customary practice in many religious communities not to give credit to individuals but the whole community, the identity of this sister remains hidden.

Oscar Weil (1839-1921) composed the second melody, and it was published in Boston by the Arthur P. Schmidt Music Company in the year 1880. It was published as sheet music only and never appeared in any Catholic hymnals. Oscar Weil studied music in Germany and Paris the violin being his instrument of choice. While he was overseas studying, the Civil War broke out in the United States. He returned home and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He rose to the rank of major, decorated twice for bravery and suffered a severe injury to his hand during one of many battle engagements. He retired from the Army, traveled to Germany, and resumed his musical studies earning a teaching degree in music composition. He returned to the United States and settled in San Francisco where he helped to establish the San Francisco Institute of Music. He composed several operas, choral pieces, piano works and was a regular contributor to the San Francisco newspaper Argonaut as a music critic. He died in 1921 having suffered a series of heart attacks.

May Chimes, 1871
Oscar Weil, 1880

In December 2021, I was granted access to archived issues of the Extension Magazine from January 1946 to December 1947 and with the help of the communications coordinator at Catholic Extension Magazine located the Extension Magazine issues related to the contest.

The contest was announced in the November issue 1946 with a deadline for submissions by November 20. The contest rules were simple, name your favorite Catholic hymn and tell in not more than one hundred words, why this hymn is your favorite. If there are several versions of this hymn, you need to specify the composer. The winner wins an all-expense paid trip to Chicago to appear on a cost-to-coast hook-up of the famous radio program HYMNS FOR ALL CHURCHES, heard daily throughout the country through the facilities of the American Broadcast Company. The deadline was extended until December 20 due to the tremendous response of readers.

In the February issue 1947, an announcement was made for the HYMNS OF ALL CHURCHES radio program. Choristers will sing the hymns from the results of the contest scheduled for Feb. 7, 1947, readers should check their local newspapers for radio times. In the April issue 1947, the winner of the hymn contest was announced and a list of the ten hymns voted the most popular. The winner was Mrs. Mary E. Wieland who came from a small town in the heart of Kansas. The Extension judges chose Mrs. Wieland not for her hymn Ave Maria, Bright and Pure, but for her letter explaining why it was her favorite hymn. Mrs. Weiland writes: 

For years I sang alto in our small choir. We had four children: Albert 18, Joe 16, Jackie 11, and Mary 6. They were everything a mother could wish for. Many times, I would wonder why I was so blessed with happiness. One day, Jackie while playing with a penny balloon, inhaled it. After working two hours, we found it useless; Jackie was gone. At his funeral, the choir sang Ave Maria, Bright and Pure. After that day it had a new meaning. I felt that Mary, the Mother of God, surely could understand my mother-heart. So, I tried to imitate her and accept my loss as she would, knowing she would help me. Three and one-half years later, Albert, a test pilot, crashed. Again, as I would hear Ave Maria, I would feel new hope knowing she would care for Jackie and Albert. One and a half years later, Joe, a navigator, was reported missing over Belgium. For six months we still hoped and prayed for his return. During that time, I’d plead to our Blessed Mother to intercede for him. Then the final word came, Joe was with Albert and Jackie. Now as I hear Ave Maria, Bright and Pure, I can vision our Blessed Mother with my three lovely sons, happy in Heaven.

Extension Magazine, December 1946
Extension Magazine, February 1947
Extension Magazine, April 1947

Though Mrs. Wieland chose Ave Maria, Bright and Pure as her favorite hymn, the ten hymns which received the most votes were listed according to their popularity.

  1. Oh Lord I Am Not Worthy
  2. Holy God We Praise Thy Name
  3. Mother Dear, Oh Pray for Me
  4. Good Night, Sweet Jesus
  5. Panis Angelicus
  6. Schubert’s Ave Maria
  7. On This Day, Oh Beautiful Mother
  8. Gounod’s Ave Maria
  9. Silent Night
  10. Mother At Your Feet Is Kneeling

The combined versions of Ave Maria rated highest in the number of votes received but since it was a rule of the contest that, if a hymn had several versions, the composer must be specified, the votes for the various versions of the hymn were tallied individually. The submission ballots and letters from listeners of their favorite hymn(s) do not exist anymore. By 1950, subscriptions for the Extension Magazine had reached more than 600,000.

Reflection

I think you will agree Mrs. Weiland’s letter is quite moving and inspirational even today. The melody by Oscar Weil is a beautiful arrangement that I came across by chance. I often wonder if the Blessed Mother is guiding my hand and would like a certain melody or story to be known again. There is not much I can offer as a reflection for this hymn more then what Mrs. Weiland has already said. She was deeply touched by the verses of this hymn and was nourished by them as she struggled with the loss of her sons. 

This would be a wonderful hymn to sing before mass, during offertory or communion especially on Marian feast days.

Don’t underestimate the providence that can come from hearing these beautiful traditional Catholic hymns. Like the Prodigal son who was lost and is found, these hymns have been lost to us and have been found. 

I would like to extend a special thank you to Catholic Extension for their help in locating the magazine issues featured in this story. Also, to Library of Congress, Music Division for the music by Oscar Weil. 

You can play all of the hymns below.

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

Dear Guardian of Mary

Of all the hymns I would sing at St. Mary’s for the Feast of St. Joseph, Dear Guardian of Mary was my favorite. The choir and congregation also liked it. Father Frederick William Faber (1814-1863) wrote the words of this beautiful hymn, and it first appeared in his hymnal JESUS AND MARY published in 1849. Fr. Faber began writing hymns in 1848 and wrote his first two hymns while on a retreat in Yorkshire. Fr. Faber was a convert to Catholicism and joined the church in 1846. He wrote more than ninety hymns, authored several books, and was declared Doctor of Divinity in the Catholic Church.

In my survey of hymns to St. Joseph which consisted of over one-hundred Catholic public domain hymnals from the late 19th and early 20th century period, I found over sixteen different melodies, four of these melodies were widely used. You can learn more about these melodies in A COLLECTION OF CATHOLIC DEVOTIONAL HYMNS TO ST. JOSEPH, 2021.

Brother Bonitus, FSC (Brothers of the Christian Schools) composed the most widely used melody found in the hymnals I surveyed. He also composed many musical compositions and hymns. Many of Brother Bonitus compositions can be found in the CATHOLIC YOUTH’S HYMN BOOK, 1871 and DE LA SALLE HYMNAL, 1913.

The CATHOLIC YOUTH’S HYMN BOOK was compiled in 1871 by Brother Luke of Mary, FSC (Nicolas Lauer, 1838-1900), assisted by Brother Bonitus, and Brother Bardomian, FCS (George Labrecque, 1836-1901).

The DE LA SALLE HYMNAL was compiled in 1910 by Brothers Chrysostom John, FCS (Joseph J. Conlan, 1863-1917), Camillus Joseph, FSC (Charles J. Merkling, 1852-1921), Theodorus of Milan and Attalus Jerome.

The attributions of Bn., Bro. B., B. Bs, and Bonitus, are all his. Providence led me to an article in the May issue of the DE LA SALLE MONTHY published in May of 1872. The article was an obituary notice for Brother Bonitus. Here is a brief account from that article.

Jesus and Mary, 1849
De La Salle Monthly, May 1872

Brother Bonitus was born Jean, or possibly John Schiesser in 1819 and educated in Germany devoting most of his studies to all branches of music. He arrived in America in 1845 and took the post of organist and teacher at St. James Church, Baltimore. He had an enterprising disposition and was engaged in various pursuits. In the early 1850s he traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to further some of his projects. After spending some time there, he traveled to Detroit where he called to see Father Schaeffler, who was then the Superior of the Redemptorists in that city and a close friend. Fr. Schaeffler conceived the idea of encouraging his friend to employ his many talents to a more worthy cause than in service of the world.

This was not an easy task but finally after several attempts and a spiritual retreat, in November of 1852, John Schiesser entered the Novitiate of the Christian Brothers of Montreal. He taught in the schools run by the Brothers of Montreal for about four years. He was then sent to Marseilles, France to teach English and remained there for fourteen years and directed music at the large college in that city which was run by the Brothers. He returned to America by 1870 and was employed in the music department of Manhattan College. After Christmas of that year he was transferred to the New York novitiate then assigned to Classon Point near the village of Westchester. He remained there for about a year as Inspector of the nearby Protectory schools when he was appointed Director of a small community in West Troy, New York. He quickly won the kind esteem and affection of the students, teachers, parents, and anyone who came to know him. On the morning of April 12, 1872, Brother Bonitus died suddenly from a stroke.

Reflection

The verses of the hymn remind me of St. Joseph’s role in protecting and providing for Jesus and Mary. I am reminded of the flight to Egypt and the sands that the Holy Family saw as they traveled, Bleak sands are all round us, no home can we see. Consider the desert sands that surround you in your own life, how bleak they might be, how weary and wild, especially today. St. Joseph was chosen by God, as father and guide, to Jesus and Mary, who felt safe at his side. Turn to St. Joseph and ask for his guidance and protection. Many souls have come to Christ through the intercession of St. Joseph, and many have found comfort in the verses of this hymn. 

The arrangement I sang in St. Mary’s Choir was from the Revised Edition of the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1918.

I want to thank Peter Meggison, producer of The Devotional Hymns Project for granting permission to link to a newly commissioned recording by the Singers from St. Joseph Cathedral, Manchester, New Hampshire. Click on the link to hear this beautiful recording. Dear Guardian of Mary

I want to thank Brother Joseph L. Grabenstein, FSC, Archivist, Legacy Baltimore District, Co-Archivist, District of Eastern North America, De La Salle Christian Brothers who identified Brother Bonitus for me after I provided him with my research.