Sisters of St. Mary of Namur turn musical with ‘A Gift to be Simple’

COLUMBIA — As if it weren’t enough to say yes to a lifetime of ministry, 11 Sisters of St. Mary of Namur finally said yes to a project that had been on the back burner for many years. They produced “A Gift to Be Simple,” a compact disc collection of religious songs.

It was released in the fall of 2003.

The order, based in Buffalo, N.Y., has strong ties to South Carolina; many of its sisters have already touched the lives of Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston through their ministry. Now they can do it through their music.

Sister Patricia Brady knew the group could sing, and if they ever wanted to make a CD, it had to be done while their voices were strong.

The main purpose of the CD was to show the world that their order is alive and well, still working and singing for the Lord. The sisters hope by its distribution they will evangelize, recruit new sisters and perhaps even reduce the debt incurred by building St. Mary Center in Buffalo, near their convent and retirement home.

The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur have been an important part of the diocese’s mission since their arrival in the 1950s.

Sister Kathleen Dougherty, who  worked for many years in Sumter, sang, played keyboards and arranged the music. The other singers who have worked in South Carolina are Sister Carol Ann Kleindinst, who also worked in Sumter and who was principal at Charleston Catholic School; Sister Mary Laura Lesniak, who worked in Laurens and Columbia; and Sister Regina Murphy, who was in Sumter for a time.

In addition to the women religious, Blessed Sacrament parishioner Bill Schlitt of Charleston and his wife Maida Libkin were the producers and musical directors of the CD.

The collection of traditional songs has an international flavor, representing the mission areas that the sisters have served. “Tanina” is a traditional hymn from Africa, and “La Premiere en Chemin” is from Belgium, where the order began.

“The international theme happened quite by accident,” said Sister Dougherty. “When Sister Patricia Brady, Sister Mary Laura and I came up with songs for the CD, this pattern emerged.”

Sister Dougherty said when they discovered the pattern they just went with it.

“The CD turned out better than what I could have ever imagined,” she said.

She initially believed the project was too ambitious for them to do in conjunction with their other full-time responsibilities. After a year of preparation and practice, they surprised themselves with the product and believed the Holy Spirit was behind the effort.

“For me it was a personal highlight to be able to use my music in this special way,” Sister Dougherty said. She had not been able to use her musical talent to this extent as a special education teacher.

According to Sister Dougherty, the CD has been well received. She said that several spiritual directors in Buffalo are using it as part of their spiritual direction and that most people find the music creates a peaceful atmosphere.

In early April the sisters gave a live concert at Mount St. Mary Academy in Buffalo. The event was sponsored by the school’s alumni and attracted a large crowd.

Sister Colie Stokes, who lives in Columbia, sees the CD as a way to stay connected to her friends.

“When I listen to the music I feel connected spiritually and emotion-ally to those far away,” Sister Stokes said.

The CD can be purchased through St. Francis Shop in Columbia, the Daughters of St. Paul in Charleston or through the sisters’ Web site, http://