In the Shadow of the Capitol

Sister Mary Schroer teaches chorus to the students of St. Mary's Catholic School. Her own path to becoming a singer was a long one.

Hers is the celestial voice rising from the choir loft on Sunday mornings at St. Mary's Church.

The hymns roll past the rose window, cross over the railing and then fall like soft grace on the congregants gathered for mass across K Street from the Capitol.

Sister Mary Schroer explains her last name should be spoken as a crescendo, gradually rising. SchrO-ER.

She describes herself with a grin as a church lady, her life and singing centered squarely at St. Mary's, as organist, choir director and teacher of the children at the school next door.

It took years for her to learn to sing on pitch, she says, even though that's all she desperately wanted to do. 

"My mother was tone deaf. My dad was kind of a singer. He sang on the radio in a barbershop quartet." 

She wanted so much to learn to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," begging her dad, "Teach me, please." But she couldn't stay on pitch, and her dad was about to give up.

One more try. Her parents bought an aging upright piano and started her on lessons. Maybe that could help her ear to recognize, and her voice to repeat, the correct notes. 

She learned the piano so well that by high school she was accompanying singers. Then in college, she earned a master's degree in organ.

Still, she yearned to sing. So she joined the Nebraska Choral Arts Society, quickly learning she wasn't a soprano, but an alto. The singer the little girl had prayed to be was emerging. 

At age 74, Schroer is using her musical gift to teach children at St. Mary's School to sing. 
She glows about those students.  
"Since they're not rich kids, they're not caught up in a bunch of electronic devices," she says. "It's like one big family. It's awesome. I have pictures of them hugging me. It's like heaven. They're beautiful kids. I wouldn't trade them for the world." 
Schroer, a Sister of Mercy, was herself an only child, who took care of her father in his last years. Then after his death, she looked after his long-lived cat. 
"(The cat) would sleep with me, and I would pray the rosary on his toes at night," she said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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