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A labor of love: To God Through Music

Sisters Beatrice Hoberg (formerly Sister Mary Canice), Brendan Harvey and Mary Lourdes Mackey (RIP) were the primary creators of the music series “To God Through Music.”

Sister Mary Lourdes Mackey (RIP) understood that children thrive with music. She knew music enriches them.

Embracing that wisdom, Sister Mary Lourdes launched a project that eventually brought national acclaim to the Sisters of Providence.

The music series, “To God Through Music,” came to life in the early 1950s and even today is believed to still be used in some elementary classrooms.

The Criterion quoted Sister Mary Lourdes in a 1962 news story as saying, “Children love music. Even when they cannot perform well, they crave it. It satisfies a spiritual, physical, intellectual, artistic and emotional need.”

Sister Mary Lourdes wrote the master plan for all eight primary grade levels. It focused on ear training, theory, hymns, chants, songs, rhythm, directed listening and creative expression. Sisters Beatrice Hoberg and Brendan Harvey (RIP) were primary contributors, though several other Sisters of Providence prepared the artwork and cover designs and served on an advisory board. Versions of the series were adapted for use in Taiwan and South America. Each grade-level book contained a teacher’s manual.

Sisters Beatrice and Brendan would share ideas.

“We had a lot of fun and excitement in writing that music series and trying it out in the classroom. In those days, we were supposed to keep quiet after 8:30 at night, and here we were, trying to write that music at 11 o’clock. It was a wonderful series,” Sister Brendan said.

Sister Mary Lourdes Mackey talks with children about the “TGTM” series, devoted to songs suitable for each primary grade level. The series debuted in the 1950s.

“That’s true. We often were up late at night,” Sister Beatrice said. In obedience to the Rule, they didn’t talk. They passed notes. “Our superior, Sister Gertrude Marian Bauer, brought us a fan on very hot nights and a pitcher of lemonade.”

Despite the sweat and turmoil of meeting publication deadlines, the series obviously was a labor of love.

“It was one of the best things that could have happened,” Sister Beatrice said. “We still have people telling us it was the best series ever created for Catholic schools.”

Ideas came from everywhere.

Sister Beatrice remembers learning that the publisher wanted a semester’s worth of music “like yesterday. We were lacking a few songs. We were at the train depot in Indianapolis. Two children walked by, a Dutch boy and a Dutch girl. I told Sister Brendan, ‘That’s our next song,’” she recalled.

“But we also had some help from heaven, I’m sure,” she said.

Sister Beatrice said the sisters involved in the project often were called upon to present workshops or seminars to teachers and music educators.

Some of the song titles that may take sisters who used the series for a waltz down musical memory lane include “Dark Pony,” “God Sees Me,” “Snowflake,” “My Snow Suit,” “Big Bass Drum” and “Pumpkin Picking.” Of course, there was the ever-popular ditty about Johnny’s little dog B-I-N-G-O.

The teamwork Sisters Beatrice and Brendan shared is evident through their respect for each other.

“Sister Brendan tested the songs in her classroom. She was one of the finest elementary teachers we had,” Sister Beatrice said.

And, returning the compliment, Sister Brendan said, “Sister Beatrice is a very good musician, and she writes music that children can sing.”

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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  1. Avatar Michael Labay on October 27, 2023 at 7:06 am

    To God Through Music 2.0? Is there an interest for a post-Beatles era version maybe multimedia and family inclusive?

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