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 Even though other crowning hymns were composed, this hymn was never superseded.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 Fr. 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.