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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.

Sister Marie Brendan Harvey

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.

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  1. Avatar Michelle Tesar Barrentine on December 27, 2016 at 11:14 am

    S. Marie Brendan was a wonderful person, teacher, and sister. Her God-given talent was used for His glory in so many ways, for so many decades. She will be missed, but will always be in my heart and my song.

  2. Avatar Peggy Bowling Zitzer on December 27, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    Sr. Marie Brendan –
    Brendan was a wonderful teacher who held her students to the highest standards. As a member of chorale and Madrigals, I was always proud because I knew that we had been taught by the very best! She was an amazing musician and spiritual leader. She will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.

  3. Avatar Julie Harvey Barringer on December 28, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    I will truly miss my wonderful aunt. She was a gift to us all. Regretfully, due to health and distance, my husband and I will probably not be able to make the funeral. However, my thoughts and prayers are with Kathy and all the family as we say goodbye to our last member of that generation of Harveys. Aunt Mary was a very special lady!

  4. Avatar Maureen Carr on December 29, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    In memoriam, Sister Marie Brendan Harvey, S.P.

    As we celebrate the life of Sr. Marie Brendan Harvey, S.P. I am reminded of the times that our paths crossed: first when we were faculty colleagues at St. Mary of the Woods College (1964-66), and a few years later at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1969-70) where she served as coordinator of liturgical music at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center and lastly at the canonization of Mother Theodor Guerin in Rome (2006).

    If there is one word that describes Sr. Marie-Brendan it is “authenticity.” She was true to herself, to her faith, to her family, to her Irish/Scottish heritage, to the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, and to her musicality that she expressed so beautifully with her God-given voice .

    As we revisit her legacy of “authenticity” in the years to come, we will continue to be inspired by her generous spirit.

    Requiescat in pace!

  5. Avatar John Murray on December 30, 2016 at 10:46 am

    My mother, Jean Murray, and Sr. Marie Brendan were first cousins. As a child and teenager in Saltcoats, Scotland, I remember Sr. Marie Brendan visiting, at different times along with her mother, Aunt Peg, her sister, Sr. Brendan, and her brother, Mike. These visits were great occasions and I remember vividly her singing a duet of Bless This House with Adam McGill, my mother`s brother in law, who was a coal miner in the Ayrshire coalfield. This was a highlight of the Murray family gathering prompted by her visit. My wife Margaret and I left Saltcoats in 1978 and we lived in various parts of Scotland before settling in Aberdeen in 1993. Sr. Marie Brendan visited us a number of times over the years and my children look back on these visits with great fondness. The last time we met was in May of this year when she visited Aberdeen along with her friend, Kathy Martin. We had the great pleasure of her company and her wonderful singing; this time it was Scotland the Brave. Sr. Marie Brendan was a star; we were blessed to have known her.
    John Murray

  6. Avatar Timothy F Harvey on December 30, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    My Great Aunt was very special to my family and I. I recall fondly as a little boy visiting Sr. Marie Brendan in Terre Haute at both my Great Grandmother’s house and St. Mary-of the Woods. Those were my first memories of Sr. Marie B. Throughout my life, it was always a joyous occasion to be with her. She always made my children, my wife Liz and I feel loved. She was an extraordinary person and we are blessed to have been a part of her life.

    Timothy Harvey

  7. Avatar Margi Owen Miller on December 30, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    Although I didn’t have classes with Sr. Marie Brendan while at the Woods, one could not help but feel as though you knew her well – because she was always in motion around campus, she generously shared her heavenly voice at all occasions, and mostly because her warm and inclusive nature MADE you feel you knew her well.
    So thankful to have reconnected with her and Kathy Martin over the last several years during our mutual times in Big Sky, MT. Mike and I will miss her joyful – and at times somewhat mischievous – company. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kathy and ALL the extended family of Sr. Marie Brendan. Margi and Mike

  8. Avatar Maureen Philllips on January 1, 2017 at 11:15 am

    “The Voice” of the Woods is silent. Whether it was Danny Boy, Bless this House or as the central voice in the Angel Choir, her bel canto clarity and purity of tone rang true. In chant practice, Chorale and Madrigals, she conducted our songs and blended our many voices into a harmonious whole. We loved her dearly. May she rest in peace.

  9. Avatar Margi Owen Miller on January 1, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Although I did not have classes with Sr. Marie Brendan while at the Woods, I felt as if I knew her well. Because she was always dashing around campus, sharing her heavenly voice at events, and making you feel welcome in her life.

    I’m so thankful to have reconnected with Sr. Marie Brendan and Kathy Martin in recent years when we would share a meal during our visits in Big Sky. Mike and I will miss the joyfilled – and sometimes mischievous – conversations with Sr. Marie Brendan. Our thoughts and prayers are with her extended family. Margi and Mike Miller

  10. Avatar Rosemary Krider Schmid '63 on January 3, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    To hear Sister Marie Brendan sing Bless This House in the Guerin Rotunda when I was a freshman at The Woods was to realize the connection music is between heaven and earth. Others may think of the Epiphany as the Feast of the Three Kings, but my heart connection to “home” springs from each January 6, wherever I am.

    A remarkable woman. May she rest in peace.

  11. Avatar Berny Newland Heitzman on January 3, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Most of my fondest memories of SMWC revolve around Madrigals and Chorale. The thrill of getting a difficult madrigal (“The Nightingale”) or a chorale piece down to her specifications was unmatched. My love of classical choral music and music history – such as the Madrigal Dinners-which was learned through the pieces we sang has been lifelong. The performance opportunities given to us by SMB were immeasurable, and I will be forever grateful to this talented, saintly woman. The angels are rejoicing at regaining one of their own!!!

  12. Avatar Nancy Vandenbergh Kremer on January 6, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    As a non-chorale member of the class of 1977, I thoroughly enjoyed the purchasing of tickets for the December Madrigal Dinners. SMB was always appreciative of my financial support as well my enthusiasm for all musically related events.

    Another fond memory, I will always cherish my calling SMB in Montana
    to ask if she would cantor at my wedding in July of 1984. She was quite dumbfounded and very modest and mentioned that the airfare would my tough on “the budget”.
    My dad quickly took the phone and asked for her address and said he would be sending a check for $500 and if there were further expenses to please call him, noting he would forward an additional funds. Of course, she was speechless and agreed. She then asked what my music selections would be and I mentioned I wanted the music from the Cycle of Psalms sung prior to the ceremony with Our Lady of Providence as the recessional. Again, SMB took a great pause and wondered if my parish organist was prepared to play these unknown music choices, I quickly told her I had been in touch with
    S Cecelia Clare and she was sending me the music for organ accompaniment and felt the organist would be fine accompaniment to SMB. SMB was doubtful and with hesitation agreed, offering she would have more familiar music if the organist wasn’t “up to snuff”. I dare say, the organist and the cantor were old friends by the end of the wedding ceremony and she later commented on his “tremendous ability to read and follow S Cecelia Clare’s every note!” SMB came to the reception with my Woods classmates and when summoned to the microphone sang “If You’re Irish” to thunderous applause in honor of SMB’s and my mother’s heritage…I will miss this friend of many years, especially as my class gathers for our 40th Reunion this summer at SMWC; tho, I am confident she will truly be there in spirit as we sing “Hail to the dear Alma Mater”. May she Rest in Peace, in love and joy in the presence of the Lord

  13. Avatar John Brewer on January 26, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    I came to know Marie Brendan first when my wife Jan Brewer worked in Admissions, next as Director of Information Services in 1977-1979 when she was directing Alumnae Affairs, then as father of a Woodsie, Hope Brewer Lane, 1999-2003. The element of Marie Brendan that stays in memory along with her lilting voice, “Bless This House”, her amazing memory for alumnae is my favorite story of her wit. After one especially busy day in Development I was walking her door and noticed she seem fatigued. “Sister, you look like you could use an Irish coffee.” Suddenly that twinkle was in her eye again when she “yes please, heavy on the Irish, hold the coffee!”
    Having been to The Light four ‘earth minutes’ 20 years ago, I only can imagine the joy on her arrival and the Heavenly Choir ringing more sweetly. We all continue to be blest as we remember her love and dedication.

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