May 10, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Sunday afternoons and classical concerts seem to go together so well – and thanks to Sister Magdalena Ezoe, OP, the Sisters at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse enjoy this beautiful and uplifting combination once every month.
Since 2011, Sister Magdalena has offered a concert in St. Catherine Chapel at 1:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month – with the exception of April 2018, when she “let Easter and April Fool’s Day take precedence” and rescheduled her concert for Sunday, April 8.
The idea for the First Sunday concert series grew out of Sister Magdalena’s more than 30 years as Professor of Music at Siena Heights University in Adrian. “At Siena I offered the First Sunday series from 1985 to 1995,” she recalled. Her concerts involved samples of classical works, which she used to teach a lesson about music. “One student asked why I never played the entire piece,” she recalled. “He inspired me to do a complete concert.”
She began the monthly program at the Motherhouse with a series called “Do you Hear What I Hear,” offered from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Fridays. “I started teaching the Sisters on campus,” she said. “Music is a structure,” which tells the musician the tempo, how loudly or softly to play, as well as the notes to be played, Sister Magdalena explained. In that series, she taught musical concepts such as two-part music, in which one theme, A, is contrasted with another theme, B. “When A is repeated, you call it three-part form,” she explained. “Very satisfying because when A is repeated, people recognize that they have heard it before.”
Sister Magdalena hopes her current concert series will help the Sisters to appreciate and enjoy classical music. “American culture doesn’t know classical music,” she said. People need to hear a particular musical piece often before they can even judge whether they like it, she explained. “You can’t tell until you’ve heard it several times. The reason people like Beethoven’s work is that people hear it so often.”
Her concert ministry involves more than showing up at the chapel at 1:30 p.m. on the first Sundays of the month. Sister Magdalena selects the music and theme for each concert and devotes hours to practicing for it.
Sister Magdalena grew up in her native Japan during World War II, enduring the bombs and other hardships of life during war. As a child, she was surrounded by music in a musical family; one uncle ran a music conservatory, and Sister Magdalena herself was a pianist for the Yoyogi American School in Japan.
Sister Magdalena also inherited from her family a love for travel. Her grandfather, Ezoe Renzo, used his English skills in 1876 to serve as the interpreter for a Japanese porcelain company taking part in the Philadelphia Expo. He returned to the United States to study commerce in New York, and in 1908 sent his son, Sister Magdalena’s father, to a military school in Manlius, New York, near Syracuse.
Sister Magdalena in turn traveled to Miami, Florida, at the age of 20, to study at Barry College, now University, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “A year later, I took the next step in my adventure and entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation,” she said.
As an Adrian Dominican Sister, she taught music for 11 years at Dominican High School in Detroit and for a short time at St. Dominic College in St. Charles, Illinois. Her next stop was Siena Heights, where she taught for 37 years.
Through the years, Sister Magdalena has also composed Mass parts, responsorial psalms, and hymns, as well as chamber music and music for the organ and the piano.
Sister Magdalena’s talents as a musician and a composer have not gone unnoticed. In 2012, the Dominican Institute for the Arts bestowed on her the Fra Angelico Award for her gifts as a musician and composer. The highest honor that the DIA can bestow on a member, the award is named for the great Dominican artist.
Sister Magdalena’s hope for her current ministry is that the Sisters will continue to enjoy and appreciate the music that she offers them on the First Sundays of each month.
February 19, 2016, San Jose Nueva Ecjia, Philippines – The challenges to family life that Sister Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, encounters in her ministry as counselor and her work on the diocesan Commission on Family Life are familiar to many Americans: poverty, drug addiction, absent parents, domestic abuse, and same-sex attraction. But Sister Bless ministers half a world away from people in the United States.
Sister Bless, a certified counselor, has been ministering since January 2015 on the Commission on Family Life in the Diocese of San Jose Nueva Ecjia – a five-mile journey from many of the other Sisters in Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, who are based primarily in the region of Pampanga, the Philippines.
“With so many problems affecting family life today, it’s really a big challenge for the Commission to help families cope with their struggles,” Sister Bless explained. She pointed to poverty as a major factor in many of these problems.
One of the major consequences of this poverty, Sister Bless explained, is that one of the parents finds work in another country to support the family. The children of these Overseas Filipino Workers show their stress by their behavior at school. “They do crazy things – such as fighting or stealing – just to catch the attention” that they don’t have from their absent parents, she explained. In many cases, parents try to make up for the lack of physical closeness by buying materials and technology, which only distract the children, particularly in the classroom setting. Children who are separated from their parents are also often angry, often showing the anger through fighting or other unruly behavior, she added.
Sister Bless noted other problems that many Filipino families face: the rampant presence of drugs in the Philippines, leading to addiction and, in some cases, the need to steal to pay for the drugs; isolated cases of incest and sexual abuse; the influence of the media, which can undermine family values; and lack of faith formation, sometimes leading families to skip Mass on Sundays and instead go to the mall.
Sister Bless noted good points and positive practices in family life in her diocese, but added that the morality of family life is being degraded because of some media influences. “We all believe that family life is basic,” she said. “We believe that problems in the society are found in family life. That’s why we’re going into the formation of families.”
One of Sister Bless approaches in this matter is to offer individual, marriage, and family counseling. She gave the example of a married couple who are facing problems in their marriage. To help preserve the marriage and the family, she provides counseling to the husband and wife, helping them to face their own personal issues so that they can better function as a couple. “It’s easier to separate because it does not touch the personal issues,” she said. “But if you love your vocation and you want to grow as a person, that means you will have the courage to go into personal processing.”
In addition to her counseling, Sister Bless and the Commission on Family Life are offering a one-year formation program for families within the 22 parishes of the diocese. The program was launched in November, the beginning of the diocese’s Year of the Family.
The formation program has been designed to focus each month on a different issue that families face. Focuses could be, for example, on families of an Overseas Filipino Worker, families of farmers, and families of prisoners. Sister Bless offers these programs through the work of a core group of five couples – and through parish coordinators who offer the monthly program in their own parish. In addition to this program, Sister Bless continues to offer her services as a counselor to those who need the extra psychological support.
Sister Bless acknowledged the tremendous challenge of trying to form families in the Catholic faith in the face of so much cultural influence that runs counter to the Gospel. “But I still feel that this is the least we can do for the mission of Jesus,” she said. “This might be a big work, but this is still nothing compared with the call to do mission for the Church today.”