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Pianos and Dina

Dina Bato’s face graces the cover of the summer 2009 issue of HOPE.

Dina Bato has quite a handshake. One wouldn’t expect it from the friendly, quick to smile 32-year-old, but with one shake of that right hand, there is no doubt that this woman does not need help opening jars.

Her impressive hand strength is no fluke. When Dina was 3 years old, a serious car accident caused her to lose much of the strength in her right hand. To counteract this loss, she began classical piano lessons at age 10 and has been playing ever since. From performing duets with her sister at youth recitals to learning jazz improvisation skills at summer camp, Dina and pianos have forged quite a friendship.

In fact, the challenge now is keeping Dina away from them! Put her in a room, chapel or cathedral with a piano and soon enough, like a moth to flame, she’ll be sitting at it, filling the space with inspired renditions of old favorites, hymns and original compositions. Dina laughs when she recalls her first trip to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Her spiritual director at that time, Sister Carolyn Bouchard, brought her to the Woods, and Dina found herself near the piano in the Owens Hall Chapel.

“Sister, may I?” she asked.

Sister Carolyn, who knew Dina loved and studied music but had never heard her strike a note, was blown away by Dina’s ability and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! I knew you played, but I didn’t know you played!”

An accountant by training, Dina has consistently felt this pull to music. A particular experience made quite an impression on her. One night, while attempting to study for the CPA exam but wishing she could be playing music instead, Dina opened a textbook to find that she had a very difficult time focusing and literally couldn’t read it.

“God doesn’t have to talk to you through words,” she says, remembering this night. She scrapped her studying and turned to music for the evening, playing nonstop for about two hours.

Also skilled at guitar, Dina has been able to share her talents with many people by providing music for a wide range of events such as retreats, various liturgies and faith-sharing gatherings. In fact, her love of music used in these ways is one of the main points that drew Dina to the Sisters of Providence.

“Music’s pretty big here,” she says. “It seems like there’s always access to a piano, and nothing beats playing the real thing.”

Through Sister Carolyn, Dina met more Sisters of Providence. Attending Sister Susan Paweski’s final vows in 2005, Dina remembers thinking to herself, “These Masses totally rock!”

A few years later, after attending Come & See and Fall Discernment weekends and being drawn by the “diversity in thought, but oneness in heart” of the community, Dina made the decision to apply for entrance into the postulancy program for the Sisters of Providence. In May of 2008, her application was accepted, but prior to entering, she began musically participating in Congregation celebrations, providing musical accompaniment for the jubilee and final vow celebrations that summer. Then on Sept. 22, 2008, Dina officially became a postulant.

Fewer than two weeks later, Sister Ann Michele Kiefer died, and Sister Carolyn, a good friend of Sister Ann Michele, asked Dina to play at her wake service. More specifically, the piece Dina was asked to play was one of her original compositions titled “Dreams.”

When she talks about her original music, Dina’s enthusiasm is nearly palpable. Her hands stay on the piano even as she talks, playing little riffs or running through parts of the composition to illustrate her points.

“‘Dreams’ doesn’t have much of a resolution,” she explains. “The story’s not over yet. You fall into the story and then make it your own.”

Wisely, the Sisters of Providence have recognized Dina’s talent and have put it to work, at least for now. So far, Dina has spent some time giving service in the Liturgy Office, where she has been able to reconnect with some of the technical aspects of piano, such as sight-reading and accompanying a congregation.

Dina doesn’t know what the future holds for her or what her ministry will be, but she’s excited about the possibilities of furthering her education in music. She’s also excited about other opportunities open to her with the Sisters of Providence, who dedicate their lives to breaking boundaries and creating hope.

She smiles. “Music helps you transcend the boundaries of what you know.”

(Reprinted from the summer 2009 issue of HOPE.)

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Christina Blust

Christina worked as the digital media and website manager for Sisters of Providence for 9 years and now serves as the website's designer and consultant through her company, Blustery Day Design. She's a musician, reader, writer and generally curious person.

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