When the sisters of Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles aren't hard at work on the monastery grounds, they're topping the charts with albums of sacred music. The group's Angels and Saints at Ephesus topped the Billboard classical charts, and now it's releasing its latest, Lent at Ephesus. Mother Cecilia, prioress of the abbey in rural Missouri and the group's arranger, tells NPR's Renee Montagne, "We're not fabricating anything; this is just music we're pulling from our life, our everyday life."
"We're hard workers," Mother Cecilia says. "We really follow the rules of St. Benedict very closely — his ora et labora, which is 'pray and work.' And we have a small farm. We have a cow to milk twice a day, rain or shine, whether it's 100 degrees or 20 below. And then, of course, the processing of the milk; we make all sorts of dairy products for our table. And, of course, the recreation and our meal times fill up the day."
Mother Cecilia, 10 years prior, played French horn with the Columbus Symphony.
"God's ways are very mysterious, aren't they?" Mother Cecilia asks. "The poet Francis Thompson has termed God 'The Hound of Heaven' in one of his famous poems, and that's the best way I can describe how he was just after me my whole life, since I was a young girl. And for many years, I didn't even really want to think about it or face it, and I think it came out of dormancy with a couple of very profound episodes. One was my exposure to sacred music. ... It just lifted my spirit to God, and made me think on eternal things, up out of the petty things of life."
The success of the album, the profits from which will be used to pay off the abbey's debt and aid in expanding the monastery grounds, has not distracted the sisters from their ora et labora.
"The CDs are something that God has allowed to happen," Mother Cecilia says. "It's a wonderful thing insofar as it brings souls closer to God, and in the meantime helps us pay our debt, but other than that, life just flows along at the priory just the same way it did before. And that's the way we love it; that's the way we want. No tours, no concerts, you know? Just simple monastic life."