Sisters make joyful holiday sound

St. Augustine is credited with coining the proverb, “He who sings prays twice.” If sublimity of musical expression further multiplies prayer, the Dominican Sisters of Mary pray hundreds of times on their latest CD.

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, have been on quite a roll over the years. In addition to booming numbers of vocations, an appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show and other accomplishments, the sisters have now released their third CD, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas with the Dominican Sisters of Mary.”

The album, released on Oct. 13 to honor the centenary of the Fatima apparitions, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Charts and No. 3 on the overall Holiday Charts, performing better than such veterans as Josh Groban and Celine Dion.

Selections range from the classic “Carol of the Bells” to “Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying” and original compositions by the sisters.

Dominican Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz is one of the four foundresses of the Dominican Sisters of Mary. She also served as music director on the new CD.

Sister Bogdanowicz said that the community has been looking back on the hand of God throughout their 20-year history.

“We were canonically established in 1997 and have joyfully tried to respond to God’s call to help bring the Faith to the modern world through education, television and music,” she said.

The sisters teach in preschool up through college all over the United States and serve as the librarians at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

There is a joy that exudes from the sisters in all of the work that they do, so it seems fitting that this Christmas recording should have a title reflecting that joy, as well.

Sister Bogdanowicz may have been the music director for this new recording, but it was a collaborative effort, to be sure. “As in anything with the sisters, we work together as a group,” she said. “Oftentimes it is impossible to delineate where one starts and the other ends. Then you add in the choir of angels who certainly seem to heighten our earthly choral efforts, and you have a dream team!”

As music director, Sister Bogdanowicz worked to bring the many moving parts of music selection, arrangements and accompaniment together and work with the sisters throughout the recording process.

The album puts the listener right there with the sisters in the chapel at their motherhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “This recording was merely a reflection of that which is already happening in our chapel during Christmas,” she said. “This is documenting those special days of singing these songs in honor of Our Lord’s birth.”

Over the years, the sisters had been asked many times to record an album to share their Christmas songs. This past June, the sisters were gathered at the motherhouse in Ann Arbor and were able to make time for rehearsing and recording the album.

The sisters were approached by DeMontfort/Sony Classical about recording their Christmas music in 2016, but they did not feel they had the time for such an undertaking. However, in light of the community’s 20th anniversary, they decided to engage in some special initiatives that would be “to Jesus through Mary,” according to Sister Bogdanowicz, “and this CD was the way we wanted to top off our special year.”

As Dominicans, the sisters recently celebrated another landmark anniversary: December 2016 marked 800 years since the Dominican order was founded. Such momentous commemorations encouraged the community to do something special.

The first recording the community did was called “Mater Eucharistiae,” and the second was “The Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations and Music.” As “Jesu” was the sisters’ third recording, the whole process was like a well-oiled machine. The entire recording was completed in two days — a pretty remarkable feat, especially for a group of non-professional recording artists.

“We wanted to be sure to record repertoire that we sing during the Christmas season that is very special to us and spans the globe,” Sister Bogdanowicz said. “It also covers a broad spectrum of centuries from ancient to now.” The music on the recording represents 10 countries.

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On various tracks, the sisters are accompanied by the organ, flute, violin and guitar, “and the choir of angels!” added Sister Bogdanowicz. The sisters themselves are the musicians as well as the singers.

When considering whether or not the community will continue to make recordings in the future, she said, “Only God knows in his infinite wisdom! But we have so many young sisters joining our community who have so many musical treasures to bring to us. We remain always open to God’s will!”

Paul Senz writes from Oregon.