Building community through liturgy
This article is reprinted from the summer 2009 issue of HOPE.
Sister Lisa Stallings’ official title is director of worship at the Cathedral of the Assumption, Louisville, Ky. However, she thinks of herself as a “utility infielder.” Whether she and the pastoral staff are collaborating on episcopal events officiated by the Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville, or planning weddings, confirmations, ordinations and other events, no two days are alike. The cathedral is the host home of every Catholic in the archdiocese.
Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s quote “We are not called upon to do all the good possible, but only that which we can do” encourages Sister Lisa. She coordinates the worship and music staff for a parish of 1,300 households representing 67 zip codes. Many of her parishioners drive 30 to 40 minutes to worship on Sunday. They are an “intentional community, not necessarily a neighborhood community” because the cathedral is situated in a downtown business district.
Sister Lisa has been a Sister of Providence for 33 years. She was taught by the sisters in high school and at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) where she was impressed by the sisters’ “leadership and groundedness.” Young Lisa enjoyed singing in the SMWC Chorale and Madrigals under the direction of Sister Marie Brendan Harvey while earning her bachelor’s degree in English. She and two other college students, Sue Pietrus (RIP) and Dawn Tomaszewski, became quick friends because of their love of music and admiration for the sisters.
After college, Lisa was teaching in Evansville, Ind., when Sue and Dawn contacted her and told her they were going to become Sisters of Providence. They invited her to join them. “We didn’t want to be old ladies who still wondered what would have happened if we had tried it. We also wondered how long it would take for the sisters to figure out we weren’t suitable,” said Sister Lisa. Sisters Lisa and Dawn are still serving in ministry today. Sister Dawn is director of advancement at Guerin College Preparatory High School in River Grove, Ill. Sister Sue Pietrus died last September while serving as a member of the SMWC faculty.
Sister Lisa earned a master’s degree from St. Joseph College, Rensselaer, Ind., in church music and liturgy, with an emphasis in choir conducting. She studied piano, voice and organ and continued to study the organ privately after graduation.
“It’s a mystery to me that the same mouth that can eat mashed potatoes and yell at basketball games can also sing and be uplifting. With the same hands, you can bake bread and play an organ sonata,” added Sister Lisa. She points out that there are many levels of creativity in playing an organ but also levels of creativity in music composition and in the creation of the instrument itself. “As a musician, you want to be able to play the instrument to let the sounds out and express the soul of the music.”
In her current role as director of worship at the Cathedral of the Assumption, Sister Lisa’s goal is to “do all I can do to facilitate prayer and worship and then get out of the way.” To her, the administrative part is important and she’s learned over the past 10 years to prepare for everything possible. However, while during the liturgy she wants to be transparent to allow for the Holy Spirit and worship, she also feels that a pastoral musician and liturgist should be present in people’s lives.
“It’s not a desk job,” said Sister Lisa. “You can’t plan an effective liturgy for people in the abstract. You have to be aware of who’s sick and who’s having a baby. You have to be in the center of parish life.”
Liturgy speaks to Catholics today and she has noticed an increase in attendance. “People can have a relationship with God individually but there is some way that the community mediates the presence of God that doesn’t happen individually,” said Sister Lisa. “When the community is gathered in prayer, there is a different quality to God’s presence that speaks to people,” she added.
Sister Lisa feels that the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist play important roles in people’s lives. “Hearing the Gospel explicated feeds people and gives them something that they can hold on to; they can grow personally because of what they have heard,” said Sister Lisa.
The charism of Providence has been active in Sister Lisa’s life. “Things have always happened in such a way that if I’d have been on my own, I would have screwed it up. There has been a direction in my life that has led me places that I wouldn’t have gone on my own. This direction has been God at work in my life. For me, Providence has been working in my life for good, always providing for what I lack. God has allowed me to take my personal disposition and attributes and my professional training and put them at the service of people.”