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A reflection for the Feast of St. Cecilia

Note: Today is the Feast Day for St. Cecilia. Sister Carol Nolan has written a blog regarding the importance of St. Cecilia to our Congregation.

It seems there are a number of legends about St. Cecilia, one of the early martyrs of the Church. Our version goes like this: An antiphon in Vespers says, “While wedding music played nearby, Cecilia sang in her heart to God.” She convinced her husband to respect her virginity, and the two of them went out at night to retrieve the bodies of those who had been martyred during the day. Eventually, they were found out and martyred.

A statue of St. Cecilia, donated to the Congregation in 2016 to honor the music ministry of the Sisters of Providence, rests outside of the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

They lived in a house in the Roman section of Trastevere. In 1971, Sister Joan Klega, SP, and I spent some weeks at the University of Vienna German language summer school. Afterward, we visited Rome. We made a point of visiting the house in Trastevere. When we walked there, we discovered that it was considered a “seedy” section of the city. All right to go in the daytime …

The house is now a church. The legend says that Cecilia was put to death with a sword. Roman law ordered that the person be struck only three times. When she did not die, the soldier ran away, and she lay for three days on the pavement of her house before dying.

In 1599, her body was found incorrupt under an altar. The sculptor Maderno sculpted it in the position it was found: Lying on the right side, the head and face turned to the ground, three fingers extended to honor the Trinity. St. Cecilia is buried in the Catacomb of St. Sixtus. At the site of her burial in the catacomb is the statue by Maderno. When Joan and I took the tour of the catacomb, my camera flash wasn’t working. I tried to catch the picture when all the other tourists were taking, but I was not successful.

In Honor

Joan and I were both music teachers, and our religious names were in honor of St. Cecilia. Joan was Sister Ruth Cecile and mine was Sister Mary Sheila, an Irish form of Cecilia. Of course, a good many music teachers took the name Cecilia: Sister Annette Cecile Holmes, Sister Cecilia Ann Miller, Sister Cecilia Clare Bocard, Sister Mary Cecile Grojean, just to name a few.

In the old configuration of our Church of the Immaculate Conception, Cecilia was one of three women virgin saints (with Agnes and Agatha) on the left side altar. The other side featured three men virgin saints, Jesuits Aloysius Gonzaga, John Berchmanns and Stanislaus Kostka.

Important to the Community

I was unsuccessful in finding out the origin of her statue on the outside wall of the church. Someone said the original statue was made of wood. But clearly, she was considered an important figure in the Community.

During our sesquicentennial in 1990, we performed “A Cycle of Psalms” by Sister Cecilia Clare. This is truly a prodigious work! Our General Superior at the time, Sister Nancy Nolan, SP, had never heard it and she was amazed! Later, Sister Laurette Bellamy, SP, who speaks French, was spending time with the Sisters from France, who were here for the occasion. She mentioned that of course Mother Theodore had brought our emphasis on music from France, and they said, “Oh, no! We never did anything remotely like this!”

I guess it’s pretty amazing that from Mother Theodore’s remark about the necessity of having students who can make a noise on the piano if you want to have a school, the music department developed as it did.

Sister Mary Lourdes Mackey, SP, who directed the Conservatory at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College for many years, said: “Music is God’s gift to (man); the only art of heaven given to earth; the only art of earth we take to heaven.”

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Sister Carol Nolan

Sister Carol Nolan

Sister Carol Nolan recently retired from ministering at Providence in the Desert in Coachella, California, a ministry she founded in 2002. She currently lives and volunteers at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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  1. Avatar Paula Modaff on November 22, 2022 at 9:20 am

    Thanks, Carol. You included some good community history in your personal reflection on the significance of St. Cecilia in our congregation.

  2. Avatar Ken Siarkiewicz MAPT '91 on November 22, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    Thank you for this reflection and notes about the link between St. Mary-of-the-Woods and St. Cecilia. I have been singing in our parish choir for nearly 25 years and have known about St. Cecilia. While I was at the Woods obtaining my MAPT degree, I must have walked past and seen this statue tens of times. Now it has all come together. Thank you and God bless all the members of the Congregation. Happy Thanksgiving.

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