When this exhibit began, we knew many Maryknollers around the world have strong connections to music. With this in mind, we reached out to these missioners and gave them the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and memories of music.

Here we share their reflections about music and its impact on their mission work and their personal lives.

Reflections on Prayer

I’ve always been a firm believer that ‘She who sings prays twice’!

Sister Ann Hayden

Music uplifts the spirits of all. There is a saying that goes like this: Singing once is like praying twice.

Father Michael Snyder

The Jewish saying is that those who sing pray twice. That is how I feel. Music is raw emotion for me. It connects me to my deepest self, the hidden self beyond thought. And I think that is where God is most accessible to us.

Vicki Armour-Hileman, former Lay Missioner

Music brings joy, rhythm, balance, and healing to my life. I feel and have always felt connected to Church and God through music. Sometimes I pray just singing a song.

Anita Klueg, former Lay Missioner

Former Lay Missioner Anita Klueg (with guitar) and other Maryknollers

Reflections on Spirituality

Sister Silvia Pacheco

The beauty of music, the beauty of nature, speaks to me of the beauty of God.

Maryknoll Affiliate Bob Short (former Lay Missioner)

Like so many of the most important things, feeling connected to God via music is something I know intuitively more than analytically. I feel an increased connection and I know God’s presence through music.

Heidi Cerneka, Lay Missioner

Music is a huge part of my grounding. Songs and music take me deeper and focus me far better than words.

Music As Language

In Bolivia and in Chile, music was and still is important for understanding the different cultural expressions of the people.

Music is a common language that helps bridge the gap when people speak different languages.

Music During the Pandemic

I have worked with music especially during the pandemic. Beethoven always connects me to God. My spirituality is nourished, enhanced by playing the piano. I love to play at our liturgies, it makes the Eucharist fuller!

During my time in Haiti, especially for the first few months of COVID-19, I would often walk to the tree nursery with Abby, another missioner who lived with me, and we would sing church songs we knew together. It was a really nice bonding experience for me.

Music in Mission

Everything was about music while I was at mission in Guatemala – marimba, guitar, and singing. Singing songs in Spanish and Q’eqchi” helped me learn the languages.  Everything began with music – las Mananitas for birthdays and special events, Las Posadas at Christmas, and health promoter classes.  Celebrations of the Word were full of music when we were visiting villages for clinics with the health promoters. Mostly, the health promoters would play guitar when we started each day’s class with the day’s scripture reading, reflection, and a song.  However, with the Health Promoter Coordinator group, I taught them “Un Millon de Amigos” and that became their special song as a group.

Jane Redig, former Lay Missioner

Former Lay Missioner Jane Redig in Guatemala, 1992
Former Lay Missioner Barbara Pavelka in Korea

[My coworker] Byung-Gu and I started a choir made up of staff and patients [at the Korean National Leprosarium] and I played piano while he directed. At the time the island was segregated with patients living on one side and staff living on the other and we usually only crossed over for work. Byung-Gu and I wanted to try and find a way to bring everyone together in a different kind of way. The choir proceeded to sing at various community events and even sang for Pope John Paul II when he visited the island… I think of all the times where we were involved in music-making of one sort or another helped us reach each other, to see each other better, and to delight in the joy of it all, as well as be comforted and find peace when it was needed during often-difficult times in life.

Barbara Pavelka, former Lay Missioner

“Many Spanish church hymns in the 1970s and 1980s connected closely to the issues of justice and peace, during a time of war in [Guatemala]. They were revolutionary, inspiring, and meaningful.”

Sister Bernice Kita

“While in Dar es Salaam I joined a couple of choirs (one a church choir, another a community choir) and these choirs brought so many people of so many different backgrounds and interests together.  Music was the vehicle for making life-long friendships.”

Sister Darlene Jacobs

“I actually joined a choir in Brazil – that was a serious community choir and it was making art, making music and building community with people that had nothing to do with my ministry. I did my best to learn Brazilian music too.”

Heidi Cerneka, Lay Missioner

Alex was 11 when I met him [in El Salvador]. Like so many kids in La Esperanza, he was bored out of his mind. But the day I showed up at his house with a wheelbarrow full of books from our mobile library and a guitar on top, he perked up. We practiced a few chords and he asked if he could keep the guitar. “It’s like a book. You can keep if for up to six months as long as you’re still practicing.” We practiced and now he’s playing a few songs. His favorite is Madre de los Pobres. He has become a member of the church choir and often travels to religious events in San Salvador.

Rick Dixon, former Lay Missioner

Former Lay Missioner Rick Dixon with Alex, playing guitar in La Esperanza
Lay Missioner Sami Scott in Venezuela

In Venezuela, my main ministry was a community grocerty store but a secondary ministry was music. I learned the local instruments and culture and then helped teach them to children in the community…  

[T]he highlight of the classes was playing Aguinaldos in the community. This is similar to our tradition of caroling but we don’t play for the homeowner, but to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene at the house. It didn’t matter how humble or extravagant the display, we would sing to Jesus. I loved it.

Sami Scott, Lay Missioner