Music Memories

In conjunction with the 2011 Museum Exhibit Resounding Joy: Oteaching piano S Gregor.jpgur Music Heritage, we asked Oblates and friends to share stories of their music experience with the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict.

Many told stories of individual lessons, parish school choirs and particularly, the stellar music department at the College of Saint Benedict that shaped so many music graduates. The students who learned to play instruments and sing from the Sisters have gone on to become directors, professional musicians, scholars and liturgists. We are so proud of this legacy, that has spread a love of music and the musical heritage of the church far and wide.

The stories are arranged by author and title. We hope you will delight in them as much as we have!

photo: Sister Gregor Bergerson with piano student

Training for a Lifetime Singing in the Pews
Charles Pfannenstein
, St. Joseph Parish School Class of 1946

I grew up in St. Joseph, went to the Catholic school, served Mass at Saint Benedict's Monastery and the St. Joseph parish church and always felt like a part of the Benedictine community. I was one of five boys in this Pfannenstein family and the nuns often had us serve at the Sunday afternoon Vespers. They knew our mother would make us leave our ballgame and go to the Sisters' convent to serve. So, I grew up hearing the Sisters sing. I have never joined a choir, but I enjoy singing from the pews. Read More

The Sisters' Conspiracy
Martha Otto Honer,
St. Boniface Grade School Class of 1954

I believe there was a conspiracy in the Cold Spring Benedictine convent, as the women recommended students for further nurturing in music. Sister Philothea Hondl, my third grade teacher in 1950-51, allowed me to leave class and walk to the large red brick convent on the hill during school hours for a piano lesson with Sister Audrée Hardgrove. I was even allowed to go to the convent kitchen afterward for a piece of cake. Read More


Using One's Talents
Mary Anne Noehring Boos, OblSB

I took music lessons from Sisters all my life. I began taking lessons in grade school with Sister Jean Marie Schreier at St. Mary’s in St. Cloud. Some of the things I remember are playing duets for the students as they left school for lunch and then again after school. Read More


The Piano Competition
Shirley Scholz Boeser, OblSB

I remember Sister Patrice Donohue, Sister Berthel Duepner, Sister Odilia Goeden and Sister Renee LaBelle, all Benedictines, but most of all I remember S. Renee. She was a tough teacher and demanded a lot. I think that I was in seventh grade when she told my mother that she wanted to enter me in a music competition. She told mother that I wouldn’t win, but that it would be a good experience for me. Read More


How to Become Brilliant
Patricia (Pat) Pickett, OblSB
, formerly Sister Vincent

As an eleven year old at St. John Cantius Elementary School, I met Sister Bede Backes who was to be my music teacher. I thrust my dollar into her hand and said, "This is to make me brilliant." I don't remember her smiling, but I do remember her answer. "Patty, you will have to work very, VERY hard to be brilliant." Read More


Joining the Schola
Carol (Deml) Sisterman, OblSB
, formerly Sister Carol

As a novice and first-year junior sister (1959-1961), I had the privilege of being in the Schola under the direction of Sister Urban Gertken. Because I could carry a tune--not by note, but by ear--she put me next to Sister Dominica Freund, who was a voice major at the time and has a beautiful soprano voice. There I was able to happily "limp along" at my own pace. During those years I learned about punctums and all those other wonderful Latin terms from the Liber Usualis.

From Wadena to Saint Benedict's
Mickey (Mary Jackels) Spychala, OblSB

When I was a little girl I always wanted to be a "Singing Sister." Of course, my mom and dad thought that was pretty special. When I was in the third grade in Wadena, Minn., Sister Ubalda Burfield asked me to join the choir. It was an honor to be picked for the choir; not everyone got to be in it. We sang on weekdays and on some Sundays. In the summer we went to Itasca State Park for a choir picnic. Then in 1949, we moved to Sauk Rapids and I again joined the choir with Sister Mary Conrad Buttweiler and belonged until I married and moved to St Cloud. During this time, from sixth to eighth grade, S. Mary Conrad gave me piano lessons. My lessons were one dollar and I had to get a babysitting job on the weekends to earn a dollar for my lesson. In 1952, I went to St. Benedict’s High School and there Sister Ancille Vertin was our music teacher. I was in concert choir and we would perform for events, such as Mother/Daughter Tea and for December 8, when Rev. Mother Richarda Peters would come to the Scholasticate. She was a great teacher and also the assistant to S. Mary Anthony Wagner for the aspirants, so we spent a lot of time with her. I have so many fond memories of music with the Sisters.

Making Way for Music
Eileen (Stepan) Farrell
(CSB '68)

My class arrived at St. Ben's the year the Benedicta Arts Center was opened. What a happy place! The music wing was filled with joy; happy sounds wafting from Sister Ellen Cotone's and Sister Maranatha Renner's studios. One could usually see Sister Cecile Urban bustling about, her habit flying behind her! Read More


Instruction Beyond Instruments
Barbara (Plantenberg) Stender

When I arrived at the College of Saint Benedict in 1962, my heart set on being an elementary teacher, I noticed the sign up for women’s choir. My background was as bass clarinetist in the Cathedral High School band and organist in my dad’s dance band. Most people liked it when I quit singing, but I decided to audition. My friends and I were standing in the hall listening to another student audition in Sister Dolores Super’s office. It was then that I decided to save myself the embarrassment and bolt while there was still time. I was halfway out the door when S. Dolores, Nathan at the time, poked her head out of her office and called my name. I was (thankfully) caught. Read More


Gertken Incorporated
Mark Gould, OblSB

 “ONE, two, three…ONE, two, three…do you hear that beat?” growled Sister Cecile Gertken as we walked through a liturgical music practice in Sacred Heart Chapel. “That’s the beat of dance music!” she added, as she waltzed around in a whirlwind, near fury. “THAT is not the music of prayer. Chant is the music of prayer. Chant is prayer!” Read More