Sister Marie Brendan Harvey
“Sing to the Lord a new song
For he has done wondrous deeds;
God has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
Toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
The salvation by our God
Sing joyfully to the Lord all you lands;
Break into song; sing praise.
Sing praise to the Lord with the harp
With the harp and melodious song
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
Sing joyfully before the King our Lord.”
—- A reading from Psalm 96
We stand today surrounded by the joy and wonder of a great mystery: The miracle of God made man, the unconditional love exemplified by John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and the union of divine and human love revealed in the Holy Family, said Sister Mary Roger Madden in her commentary for Sister Marie Brendan Harvey, who died Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, in Eagle River, Wisconsin. She was 90 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 70 years.
And then today, we, her friends and family, gather to recognize the 91st birthday of Sister Marie Brendan with this prayer service. Again and again these days Mother Church in her liturgy exhorts us to rejoice and to sing. What a coincidence some will say that Sister Marie Brendan was chosen to return to her eternal home at this time and on this day. But we of the family of Providence are not so much believers in coincidence as in the loving sensitivity of a Providential God.
Our electronic world has for the most part lost its appreciation for the presence of ancient music found in the church. From the time of the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux to the present day, homage to God is expressed in the best-loved and most excellent music of every nation and every age, regardless of religious affiliation.
In the nineteenth century, Mother Mary Cleophas, conscious of the tradition of the Congregation, dedicated one entire building of the new college of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the Conservatory of Music, to the teaching and performing of great music, both sacred and secular.
Conscious of the limitations in early American education, she sent some of her more gifted musicians to study at such centers of musical scholarship as Munich and Solesmes. These pioneers were later to teach not only music majors but the entire Congregation the intricate skill of medieval chant. Thus, the predilection for music was carried to the many elementary schools where in every classroom the sister teacher, musically gifted or not, was bound to teach one period of music each day.
This was the culture and these were the women who were Sister Marie Brendan’s teachers and mentors. She may well be one of the last Sisters of Providence who were frequently reminded that heaven is said to be the place where all that is not silence is music, and to sing is to pray twice.
Here, too, we may perhaps find a clue to the person we knew in Sister Marie Brendan. She was in many ways the most modern of women, and in another way, a woman who loved tradition both religious and cultural.
Born Jan. 2, 1926, in Chicago, of John Harvey and Margaret Bresnahan, Mary Therese was the youngest and the only American-born in her family. John, the father, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, while Margaret’s family were from County Cork, Ireland. This blend of the stolid Scotch temperament with the more volatile Irish one makes an interesting reflection on the personality of their youngest child.
Margaret and John had four children, Michael, Patrick, Margaret (whom we know as Sister Brendan) and sister Mary Therese.
The Harveys settled in Saint Angela’s Parish and mary Therese was educated there by the Sisters of Providence. Later, she attended Providence High School and graduated in 1943. In 1946, she was received as a postulant by the Sisters of Providence, her sister Margaret having preceded her by several years.
Gifted with an unusually beautiful singing voice, Mary Therese’s professional career was quickly determined and she was given over to the ministrations of the finest music teachers in the order, including Sister Cecilia Clare and Sister Florence Therese. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she attended Catholic University in Washington, D.C., acquiring there her master’s degree. In later years, her first Alma Mater granted her an honorary Doctor of Letters degree for her contributions to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
We have looked at the formation of the professional religious woman and the influences that were brought to bear her development, but the woman who was baptized Mary Therese and chose to be Marie Brendan is only partially explained by these factors. Her European ancestry, her early education by a Congregation formed in the French School of Spirituality, her exposure to the arduous discipline demanded by the development of a native gift … all of these had their place in the woman we all knew.
The response almost always received at the mention of her name is not only to her gift of music but to the loving nature of her character. This innate charm of her person was refined, no doubt, in the loving supportive family that was the Harvey household. We who were of her generation were well aware of the bond of familial devotion which was never broken, even by death. Now the youngest has joined her parents and her brothers and sister in close proximity where they rest in teh place that was a second home to them.
This attribute is expressed in one of the songs with which she is often identified, “Bless this House.” To many young women who learned the pure joy of music with Marie Brendan, to the teachers she guided through the mysteries of musicology, to the parishioners who grew richer spiritually while worshipping under her leadership, to all of her sisters who valued her friendship through 70 years as a religious family, she speaks today in the words of the song “Bless this House.”
Bless us all, that we may be
Fit, O Lord, to dwell with thee.
Bless us all that one day we
May dwell, O Lord, with thee.
Funeral services for Sister Marie Brendan were on Monday, Jan. 2, and Tuesday, Jan. 3, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Monday, Jan. 2, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial took place at 11 a.m., on Tuesday, Jan. 3.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Marie Brendan in the comment section below.
Donate in her honor
Has this sister made a difference in your life? Help continue the mission.
At this time, our site contains all Sisters of Providence obituaries beginning in 2009.
Looking for a sister?
Find her here! Photos, articles, obituaries of sisters you have known and loved.