“I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me
I am grateful for their vision, for their toiling on this earth.”
– Lyrics from “Standing on the Shoulders” by Joyce Johnson Rouse
The Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon have proudly stood on one another’s shoulders – striving for music excellence – since their earliest days.
Mother Seraphim, an accomplished musician, was instrumental in making sure a music studio was included in the plans for St. Mary’s Institute as early as 1893. Later, she insisted that a suite of music rooms be incorporated into the Motherhouse during its construction in the 1930s. The Sisters carried her vision forward by making sure music rooms were included in the high school construction in 1969 and in the elementary and middle school when it was built in 2011. The Sisters have always made room for music and have worked together to make it thrive for 136 years.
Three Sisters – Sr. M. Juliana Monti, Sr. Denise Klaas, and Sr. M. John Therese Miller – emulate the joy, dedication, and passion of Mother Seraphim, Sister Colette Lorch and many others, as they share stories, laughs, and a few happy tears about the beautiful memories of lessons, ensembles, music tours and, most importantly, the children who found their own love for music.
“Music education was a passion and a necessity for Mother Seraphim,” said Sr. Juliana. “Music and art have always been important ways for us to serve God and tell our story.”
“Fine arts has been a key here from the beginning,” added Sr. Denise. “Our early Sisters expected excellence and worked hard to achieve it. They developed programs, built curriculum, and taught one another; they worked together to build the program.”
Together these three Sisters, pictured gathered around the Wicks pipe organ in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel, have provided nearly 140 years of excellent service to the music school. Their humility is evident when they share stories, rarely about themselves. They prefer to acknowledge the accomplishments of the Sisters who came before them and they literally glow as they talk about the important contributions of the other two Sisters.
Sr. Juliana and Sr. Denise love sharing how Sr. John Therese brought the beauty of the harp to the Valley Catholic Music School. That she established a high school orchestra and string ensemble – which were soon added in the middle and elementary schools as well. They fondly talk about her efforts to start the high school music appreciation class and how she shared her gift of music with so many students.
Sr. Denise and Sr. John Therese beam while sharing how Sr. Juliana made sure children as early as fourth grade could learn and appreciate violin. They lively talk about how she procured handbells through a grant and started the handbell choir. They admire her for adding music theory to the K-12 music curriculum and introducing middle school students to band, choir, and orchestra.
Sr. John Therese and Sr. Juliana are elated to share how Sr. Denise poured herself into building ensembles, including the Marian Singers. They complemented her willingness to give of her free time and how it inspired her students to, in turn, give up their recess so they could learn to play music. The Sisters sincerely appreciated her willingness to take over the elementary school orchestra and how she pursued excellence through each student’s growth.
These Sisters also believed that music instruction did not stop in the classroom. “We got those kids out in the public and made sure they performed,” said Sr. Juliana. The students performed in solo competitions, festivals, school plays, the Valley Catholic Summer Music Camp, even going on tours – performing all over the West Coast from Oregon, Washington and California to Victoria, British Columbia and Hawaii.
“We didn’t show up at a competition to just perform,” stated Sister Denise. Sr. Juliana chimed in saying, “We prepared our students to do their best, and often times that led to winning.”
The Sisters discussed how they literally competed all over. It was important to them to challenge their students, get them a little nervous, and prepare them to thrive. That preparation meant many music school students returned home from competitions with medals, ribbons, and trophies that proud parents could display in their homes.
“If you are going to do it, do it right. That has always been our belief and why we always worked toward improvement,” Sr. Denise acknowledged. “It is such a blessing when a child gets it. The joy and appreciation of music just pours out of both you and them.”
Teamwork between the Sisters has always been key to striving for excellence. These Sisters built a legacy of working together, learning from each other, and preparing others to stand on their shoulders. Because of their dedication, music education and the music school continues to move forward.
“Beckie has done so much to carry the legacy forward,” said Sr. Juliana as she praised the innovative leadership that Beckie Hocker, current Music School Director, has brought to the school. “She has found excellence even through COVID,” she says.
From Beckie Hocker’s perspective, the guidance and trust the Sisters have placed in her drives her to humbly lead the music school’s continued pursuit of excellence.
“I am eternally grateful for the opportunity the Sisters have given me to continue their legacy of music for Valley Catholic students and so many people in the surrounding community,” Beckie said. “Our dedicated instructors and myself will always strive to provide people with the gift of a lifelong love and appreciation of music by staying true to the Sisters legacy of excellence.”
The Sisters marvel at how Beckie and her team of 14 accomplished musicians and educators, which includes Sr. Juliana, have found so many ways to keep music classes going and keep the students performing during the past two years.
As the Sisters reflect on all these accomplishments, they smile at the thought of how pleased Mother Seraphim would be to hear the joyful sounds of music still pouring from her suite of music rooms inside the Motherhouse. With the conversation reaching a crescendo, Sr. John Therese brought everything back to why they have so much passion and energy for music education by quoting Isaiah 38:20 –
“We shall sing to stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the House of the Lord.”
“We strove to prepare them and ourselves for that,” she said.