The Dominican Sisters Of Mary Shares The 'True Beauty' Of Christmas With New Album

Dec 16, 2017
Originally published on December 16, 2017 9:54 am

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist established their community more than 20 years ago in Ann Arbor, Mich. where music is a daily part of the Catholic nuns' lives in the Motherhouse. With the holiday season looming, the sisters joined NPR's Scott Simon for an in-studio performance and discussion of their latest album, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary.

"I think that people really do long for God," Sister Joseph Andrew says. "They long for their completion as human beings. I think Christmas in particular makes us more humble, more simple. We have the freedom to look a little deeper in our hearts. ... If we pick up the true beauty of the season, that God became man, the music that reflects that gives us such an interior freedom and a joy. I think people want that, they want the good news."

"By God's goodness" as they say, the sisters' albums are best-sellers on Amazon. Their last two albums, 2013's Mater Eucharistiae and 2014's The Rosary- Mysteries, Meditations & Music, have also earned a loyal following on streaming platforms like Spotify. Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring marks the sisters' third release and first Christmas-themed album.

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary is available now. Listen to the entire interview via the audio link and hear the web-exclusive bonus track "Wake Awake."

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist established their community just more than 20 years ago in Ann Arbor, Mich. Music is a daily part of their lives in the Mother House, but the Sisters have traveled to our studios to celebrate the release of their third album "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary."

Sisters, thank you so much for being with us.

UNIDENTIFIED SISTER #1: Thank you, Scott.

SISTER JOSEPH ANDREW: We appreciate this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS")

DOMINICAN SISTERS OF MARY: (Singing) We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Good tidings we bring to you and your kin. Good tidings for Christmas and a happy New Year. So bring us some figgy pudding. So bring us some figgy pudding. So bring us some figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer. We won't go until we get some. We won't go until we get some. We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here. Good tidings we bring to you and your kin. Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. That was beautiful. Thank you so much. You know, I usually just get a yeah, yeah. Nice to see you, too. We want to introduce everybody. We have Sister Joseph Andrew and Sister Peter Thomas. And you will be speaking with us today. And we're also joined by Sisters Maria Canisius, Miriam, Peter Joseph, Pio Maria, Mary Jordan, Mary Andre, Louis Marie and Rose. Thank you very much, Sisters.

UNIDENTIFIED SISTER #2: Thank you.

SIMON: Sister Joseph Andrew, let me turn to you first. You're, I understand, one of the founders of the convent...

SISTER JOSEPH ANDREW: Yes.

SIMON: ...About 20 years ago and the music director. What were you hoping for when you established this order?

SISTER JOSEPH ANDREW: We were hoping that a lot of women would be, by God's designs, called to enter our community, so that we can teach children, which we do now pre-K through college, all over the country and beyond, to really raise the dignity of the human person to the intellectual and the intellectual realm so that they more perfectly image God, which is what we were created to do.

SIMON: And music's an avenue for that?

SISTER JOSEPH ANDREW: Music is a freeing agency whereby our hearts are able to see God more clearly and really to establish that interior freedom because it leads us closer to God. Music is beautiful.

SIMON: Sister Peter Thomas, do I get this right? You were in the ROTC at Notre Dame.

SISTER PETER THOMAS: That's true. Yes.

SIMON: And then you heard the call.

SISTER PETER THOMAS: Yep. God had something else in mind. I grew up in an Air Force family. That was always the track I was on. And I loved doing it, but he had other plans. I was happy to respond to them. And I still know what I'm going to put on when I get up in the morning. So it's almost like...

(LAUGHTER)

SISTER PETER THOMAS: ...It's almost like being in uniform.

SIMON: The uniforms are a little different, aren't they?

SISTER PETER THOMAS: (Laughter) Just a little.

SIMON: We should explain you've joined us in your habits...

SISTER PETER THOMAS: Yes.

SIMON: ...Which are white with black - I'm going to get the terminology wrong.

SISTER JOSEPH ANDREW: Black veils and the white habit. Yes.

SIMON: Black veils and the white habit. What's it like to hear a call?

SISTER PETER THOMAS: It's hard to explain because it's mysterious. It's interior. It was hard for me to explain, you know, to other people how I could be sure that this is what he wanted. And in some sense, I couldn't be. I could be pretty sure and then just take the leap of faith, but he has a way of making himself known, you know, and to lead a person by the desires he's put in their hearts, to what he wants for them. And ultimately, he wants us to be happy. So he's going to lead us to what will allow for that.

SIMON: Sounds like you're pretty sure...

SISTER PETER THOMAS: (Laughter) Yes.

SIMON: ...About it now. We have another song, I understand.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAROL OF THE BELLS")

DOMINICAN SISTERS OF MARY: (Singing, playing bells) Ring, Christmas bells. Merrily ring. Tell all the world Jesus is king. Ring Christmas bells. Tell all the earth. Tell all the land of the lord's birth. Ding-dong, ding-dong, that is their song. With joyful ring, all caroling. One seems to hear words of good cheer from everywhere filling the air. Oh, how they pound, raising their sound over hill and dale telling their tale. Gaily they ring while people sing, telling the world Jesus is king. Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas. Ding, ding dong - ding, ding dong. Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas. Listen and hear songs full of cheer. They seem to say Christmas is here. Ring, Christmas bells. Merrily ring. Tell all the world Jesus is king. Ding, dong, ding-dong. That is their song with joyful ring, all caroling. One seems to hear words of good cheer from everywhere filling the air. Oh, how they pound, raising the sound over hill and dale telling the tale. Gaily they ring while people sing telling the world Jesus is here. Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas. Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas. Listen and hear songs full of cheer. They seem to say Christmas is here. Ring, Christmas bells. Merrily ring. Tell all the world Jesus is king. Ding, dong, ding, dong. Dong.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. That's beautiful. "Carol Of The Bells," of course. And your voices sound like bells. Sister Joseph Andrew, I understand you folks are huge best-sellers.

SISTER JOSEPH ANDREW: By God's goodness, we certainly are (laughter).

SIMON: Well, by the goodness of God and the top spot on Billboard and Amazon, we should note.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: What do you think there is about this music that uplifts and touches so many people?

SISTER JOSEPH ANDREW: You know, I think that people really do long for God. They long for their completion as human beings. And so I think Christmas in particular makes us humble and makes us more simple. We have the freedom to be able to look a little deeper in our hearts and everything about it if we pick up the true beauty of the season that God became man. And the music that reflects that gives us such an interior freedom and just a joy. And so I think people want that. They do want the good news. You know, we hear so much negativity. And we're like, but we - inside ourselves, we know we were made for greater.

SIMON: And Sister Joseph Andrew, let me begin with you. Maybe you both have something to say on this, but this is the hardest time of the year often...

SISTER JOSEPH ANDREW: Yes.

SIMON: ...For people who are lonely, people who are anxious, people who are afflicted. I wonder if you have anything in particular in your hearts and your message you'd like to share with them.

SISTER JOSEPH ANDREW: Oh, that's beautiful. You know, I think through our music we really try to say wherever you are in your life, on your journey home to heaven and whatever your life has, look deep inside and find the fact that God loves you so immensely. And grab a hold of that and find comfort in that in a world that many times doesn't understand us or appreciate. But God does because he decided to create each one of us.

SISTER PETER THOMAS: And that message is for everyone. You know, for me, that's one of the joys of making this kind of music. It's not about our take on the world or our reflection. It's our lived experience, but it's a message that transcends us. We're just kind of passing it along or even just rejoicing it in ourselves. And that comes out in song, or it comes out in our prayer life. It comes out in how we are. And so everyone's called to that. You know, everyone - no matter where they are, no matter what they've suffered, whatever their past looks like, they're called to joy and happiness. And it might be in the midst of messiness. But God can reach there, too. And that message is for every single person.

SIMON: Sister Joseph Andrew, Sister Peter Thomas and the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist - their Christmas album, "Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring" is out now.

Thank you so much, everyone, for being with us.

SISTER PETER THOMAS: Thank you for having us.

SISTER JOSEPH ANDREW: Thank you. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JESU, JOY OF MAN’S DESIRING")

DOMINICAN SISTERS OF MARY: (Singing) Jesu, joy of man's desiring. Holy wisdom, love most bright. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.