Sister Catherine Duenne’s love for music began as a small child. In 7th grade, she joined her school band where she learned the basics of playing music and how to play the French horn. From there, her love for the craft bloomed into a lifelong passion. She went home and started teaching herself how to play the piano.
“It wasn’t easy, but I really wanted to learn, so I practiced quite a bit. I could play the notes, but with no one to teach me, I developed many bad habits,” she said. “Now, I realize that even though I was playing the notes, I wasn’t truly making music.” At that time, she knew nothing about musicality: the dynamics, phrasing, and other aspects that really bring the music to life.
All of that changed when she entered the monastery and found that the community had many gifted musicians who could teach her any form of music she liked. She unhesitatingly responded, “I’d like to take piano lessons.” And one sister said, “Ask Sister Theresita [Schenk] because she’s the best.”
Sister Teresita began teaching her immediately, setting out to correct the bad habits Sister Catherine had formed in her youth. Estimating rhythms was no longer an option and Sister Catherine Duenne quickly learned scales, finger exercises, and chord progressions, progressing up to playing pieces she bought in high school with the hopes of one day being able to play them. That “one day” had finally come. To Sister Catherine it was a dream come true.
After a few months of piano lessons, Sister Catherine began organ lessons as well. Within a few months, she was playing for prayer and Mass at the monastery. “I was extremely scared,” she said, “but Sister Theresita was right by my side at the beginning. One time after I played for Evening Prayer, Sister Helen Mauer told me I had done a good job. She then added that I should play a little louder. My response was, ‘But people will hear me!’
“Though she was scared, Sister Catherine Duenne eased into playing more and more with the community’s support. At times, she would accompany the music she was able to play and Sister Theresita would accompany the rest. “I would tell the sisters, ‘No matter what happens, just keep singing.’”Eventually, she began playing entire services for the monastery, letting Sister Theresita sit downstairs in the church, leaving her alone at the organ.
“I wanted to have some kind of emergency cue when I was alone at the organ.” Sister Catherine said. “I told her, ‘Sister Theresita, if I play a G Minor chord that means come up immediately.’” But she didn’t let her nerves get the best of her.
After 3 years of organ and piano lessons, Sister Catherine became a music teacher at Notre Dame Academy in Louisville, Kentucky. She loved teaching Pre-K through 8th graders in a wonderful school that fostered creativity and community. With 8 years of experience under her belt, she began working as the Music Director at 3 local parishes around Ferdinand.
Currently, Sister Catherine is finishing a 4-year Bachelor of Music degree in Organ Performance at the University of Evansville. In August, with the support of the community, she will continue her education at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota for two years working on a Masters of Arts degree in Sacred Music.
Sister Catherine earned a scholarship through a two-day process of auditions playing the organ, sight-reading music, and singing. She also took a written Music History and Music Theory test.
“My undergraduate work at the University of Evansville prepared me well for the audition process.” She added, “Sister Mary Louise Uebelhor has worked with me extensively since I entered community, primarily with Music Theory and ear training. I thank her, Sister Theresita, and all of my sisters for their love and support.”
Sister Catherine is very excited to start her new program. “Since I have been given so many blessings and opportunities, I want to share the gifts I have and the gift of music with others,” she said. “This will ensure that organ music will continue to be a part of our monastic life.”
Studying organ isn’t very common, and organists are becoming rarer; many parishes struggle to find accompanists. Sister Catherine already plays for 4 services every weekend in the Ferdinand area, and she hopes to continue this ministry of music after she returns from her program.
“Music touches people in ways that words cannot. It helps bring expression to emotions that may be difficult or overwhelming, whether that be profound joy or those of grief and deep sorrow,” she said. “I like the image from Psalm 141 of our prayer rising before God like incense. That’s how I see the music when I play, especially when we’re all singing together and allowing the music to touch us and bring us closer to God.”
In completion of her bachelor’s degree at the University of Evansville, Sister Catherine will perform her Senior music recital at First Presbyterian Church in Evansville at 1 p.m. CDT on Sunday, June 9th. Join the community in supporting our sister on her journey as she brings the music of God’s love to the community.