Bringing beauty into the world – the late Sister Cecilia Clare Bocard
Reprinted from the summer 2009 issue of HOPE.
“We are all aware, I am sure, that music, as a fine art, involves the creation of beauty. Now we know that beauty is an attribute of God. … Music then is a part of the very beauty of God. When we, as musicians, bring this beauty to the world, we are bringing God to the world,” said master musician and composer, the late Sister Cecilia Clare Bocard in a 1962 lecture to music majors at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
Often referred to as “the sister with the dancing feet,” Sister Cecilia Clare began taking piano lessons in first grade and organ lessons in third. By the tender age of 9, Sister Cecilia Clare, born Frances Ada, was the New Albany, Ind., parish organist for the weekday and Sunday Masses. Too small to reach the organ’s pedals, little Frances would have to partner with another young girl. One would play the keyboard and the other would play the pedals and later they would switch. Now that was teamwork!
In 1916, Sister Cecilia Clare entered the Congregation at the age of 17. She began her studies at the Bush Conservatory in Chicago in 1917. This talented musician earned her master’s degree from Bush Conservatory with a major in composition and a minor in piano. Over the years Sister Cecilia Clare studied with respected musicians in Europe and the United States.
In addition to her studies, Sister Cecilia Clare taught at the Conservatory of Music at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Her tenure there as a teacher of piano, organ and composition was 47 years.
Sister Cecilia Clare was well aware of the opportunities that were provided to her because she was a Sister of Providence. In an article in a local newspaper in 1990, she said, “‘At home, I could not have possibly afforded the teachers and wonderful education provided here. … It has been a very fulfilling life.’”
With the knowledge and training she received through the years, Sister Cecilia Clare certainly gave back to the Congregation many times over. She played the organ for Mass and other celebrations at the Church of the Immaculate Conception from 1929 until her death in 1994. Her musical compositions are a living tribute to her talent and creativity. During many special liturgies voices unite in the singing of Sister Cecilia Clare’s “Our Lady of Providence.” Brides who are college graduates walk down the aisle of the church to her “The Woods Wedding March.” Indeed, this musical woman was a prolific and award-winning composer of sacred choral works and piano compositions.
One of Sister Cecilia Clare’s most sacred choral works was “A Cycle of Psalms.” It was originally performed in 1956 for the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé, France, and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. In 1965, the Sisters of Providence Choir, celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Congregation, performed the work in front of two sold-out audiences in a commemorative concert at the Chicago Civic Opera House.
When the new Casavant organ in the gallery of the church was installed in 1953, a short organ recital was presented on Dec. 8 to bless the new organ and to officially open the Marian Year. Sister Cecilia Clare played her “Te Deum Laudamus,” which was “dedicated in gratitude to all who have helped to make the new organ a reality.”
The reforms of the Second Vatican Council also fueled Sister Cecilia Clare’s creative spirit. With the opportunity to use the vernacular during Mass, she composed “Propers for the Mass for Sundays and Feast Days.” Once published, this five-volume work was highly sought after by parishes.
Sister Cecilia Clare’s talent can still be felt today in the Church of the Immaculate Conception where Sister Camille Neubauer ministers as the coordinator of liturgical music. Sister Camille studied with Sister Cecilia Clare for four years as a student at the college. When Sister Camille entered the Congregation after graduation she continued her study with this music maestro for five more years. Sister Camille remembers that Sister Cecilia Clare prepared her students as if they were to play at the Kennedy Center.
Sister Cecilia Clare, like so many other Sisters of Providence before and after her, certainly brought great beauty — and God — into this world. And her legacy lives on in the musical notations of her compositions and the voices that make a joyful sound from those notes.