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Singing Nuns Top Classical Charts

Members of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. (benedictinesofmary.org)

Members of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. (benedictinesofmary.org)

Angels and Saints at Epheseus” has topped Billboard’s classical charts for weeks.

"Angels and Saints at Ephesus"

The album was recorded by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles at their priory in rural Missouri.

The prioress and music arranger for the Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles is Mother Cecilia.

She says the high quality of the nuns’ music comes from singing together eight times a day, which they do to express their love for God.

“The fact that we are singing together so often throughout the day, our voices, our whole heart kind of becomes one in the heart of God,” said Mother Cecilia. “We’re not just some choir that comes together for practice every Tuesday night.”

The success of the album is unimportant to the nuns.

“These CDs are absolutely non-essential to our life, our life of prayer,” she said. “If we hadn’t recorded, or if we don’t record again, it really wouldn’t have any bearing, any effect on our life.”

Hear two tracks from the album:

Video: About the album


  • Mother Cecilia, prioress and music arranger for the Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, whose latest album is “Angels and Saints at Epheseus.”



It's HERE & NOW. And when I think of singing nuns, I think of the 1992 movie "Sister Act." Whoopi Goldberg playing a lounge singer on-the-run hides out in a convent and makes the choir really sing.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Nothing you could say could tear me away from my God, my God. Nothing you could do...

HOBSON: Well, of course, the nuns turned out to be a hit and even performed for the Pope, but that's Hollywood. That could never happen in real life, right? Well, actually, in Missouri right now, there is a group of nuns called the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, and they have surprised the music world with their singing, which has topped Billboard's traditional classical charts for weeks now. This is a cloistered order devoted to prayer, but their CD "Angels and Saints at Epheseus" is currently number two on Amazon's list of music best sellers. Here's a bit of one of the songs called "Christe Sanctorum."


BENEDICTINES OF MARY, QUEEN OF APOSTLES: (Singing in foreign language)

HOBSON: Well, the prioress, Mother Cecilia, arranged all the music and she joins us now. And first of all, congratulations.

MOTHER CECILIA: Well, thank you very much for having me.

HOBSON: Tell us about the piece that we're hearing right now.

CECILIA: "Christe Sanctorum" is a chant that we sing a couple of times a year to celebrate the Feast of the Archangels St. Michael and St. Gabriel and St. Raphael.

HOBSON: And for those who don't know much about the life that you lead about, monastic life, the nuns who perform this album are anonymous. And are these songs all songs that you just perform as part of your religious life?

CECILIA: They are. All the chants that are heard are taken from our Divine Liturgy from the divine office that we sing eight times a day.


CECILIA: And the other pieces, the polyphony and the English hymns, we sing during mass throughout the year.

HOBSON: That seems like a lot of singing?


CECILIA: Well, the cut and dry answer is that we love God, and it's also part of the rule that we live. We are Benedictine. We follow the sixth-century rule of St. Benedict, and we're following his directions to come in and pray together, to thank and praise and adore God eight times a day. St. Augustine said that to sing is the work of a lover, and we love God. And so we want to sing to him all the time.

HOBSON: I want to listen to another piece, "Leta Quies." This piece is chanted at the mass of the Feast of St. Benedict, the founder of the Order of St. Benedict. Let's take a listen to this for a moment.


HOBSON: I think one of the things that may be confusing, interesting and just amazing to people is that you are nuns who come to a monastery because you want to devote yourselves to God and not because you want to be musicians. And yet you've managed to reach a very high level of performance.

CECILIA: It's funny, isn't it?



CECILIA: I mean, who would have thought - I think a lot of that really comes from the fact that we are singing together so often throughout the day. Our voices, our whole heart kind of becomes one in the heart of God, and we're so attuned to each other. I mean, we live together 24 hours a day.


CECILIA: So, you know, we're not just some choir that comes together for practice every Tuesday night. We're together all the time. I think really that's what brings the level that's kind of unexpected for contemplative sisters.

HOBSON: Now, do you ever feel the need for a male singer or are there things that you have to do to the music to make it so that you don't need one?

CECILIA: It's funny you asked. So often I say, if only we had some basses.


CECILIA: That would make life so much easier if we had some basses. No. It does - it makes it a little more difficult to do a couple of the pieces. I have to do a lot of rearranging. For instance, sometimes I'll take a four-part piece for SATBs - soprano, alto, tenor, bass - and try to rearrange it so it sounds decent for all female voices.

HOBSON: Is there an example on the album?

CECILIA: Yes, the "Lorica of St. Patrick."


HOBSON: Now you were a musician. You graduated from Rice's Shepherd School of Music. You played horn with the Columbus Symphony in Ohio. Why did you leave that world to become a nun?

CECILIA: When God is calling you to do something, you can only run away for so long. And I knew since I was a young girl that he wanted something of me when I was introduced in my music classes and by friends in college to sacred music. That music really had a tremendous effect on me and on my soul, and it was the music of heaven.

The Palasciano(ph) , the "Miserere" by Allegri, and I just - it just swept me away. And I heard it and I knew there was a heaven, and I just - I fell in love with this way of adoring God. And I had a wonderful job. I bought a house. I had everything. But he just, through, I think, this means of sacred music, drew me to him.


CECILIA: I'm so happy. I've had peace ever since I left the world, so to speak, and great tranquility and great joy because I know that I'm doing what he has wanted me to do.

HOBSON: The most of the CD is music that's been composed by others, but I do want to listen to one. It's called "A Rose Unpettaled," which was actually written by the Benedictines of Mary. Let's take a quick listen to that.


HOBSON: How does this all feel? I mean, your CD has topped, as we said, Billboard's traditional classical charts. That must be just amazing.

CECILIA: It's neat. You know, the sisters don't really know about it. I'm the only one who has any contact.

HOBSON: Really?

CECILIA: And - yeah. It's - I mean, they know we're selling CDs, but they don't know that we're on the top of the charts or anything like that. And that's the way we want to keep it because, I mean, the thing is these CDs are absolutely non-essential to our life, our life of prayer. And if we hadn't recorded or if we don't record again, it really wouldn't have any bearing or any affect on our life. It's nice. It brings joy to hear stories of how it touches souls out in the world. And, for instance, many parents of autistic children write and tell us how it calms their children and nothing else will.

HOBSON: Well, keep making music.

CECILIA: We'll see.


HOBSON: Mother Cecilia is the prioress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Their latest CD is "Angels and Saints at Ephesus." Mother Cecilia, thank you so much.

CECILIA: Thank you for having me. God bless you.


HOBSON: And you can hear full songs or find more information about "Angels and Saints at Ephesus" at hereandnow.org.


So we come to the end of an hour, something we've been doing here at HERE & NOW for years. But today, Jeremy, we have many new listeners.

HOBSON: Indeed.

YOUNG: Hello.

HOBSON: Indeed, we do. And you, if you're a new listener or an old listener, you can reach out to us at hereandnow.org. or at facebook.com/hereandnowradio.

YOUNG: We really appreciate you being there, and we'd love your feedback on Twitter, @hereandnowrobin.

HOBSON: Or @jeremyhobson.

YOUNG: This is HERE & NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Robin Young.

HOBSON: And I'm Jeremy Hobson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Looperp

    The “Singing Nuns of Missouri” … REALLY?  This is the best you can do in your very first effort to replace the highly esteemed “Talk of the Nation?”  In your hyperbolic ads I seem to recall your stated goal was to provide more of a “hard news”, less “talk,” format: what a sad joke!

    • Vecoll03

      Are you for real? Maybe your new to Hear & Now, but I would suggest giving it a little more time. Neil didn’t always hit everyone’s sweet spot 100% of the time, but who could.
      I also liked live discussions & I’ll miss that, but I’ll take this any day or night over the likes of Rush, Stern or any other shock jock out there.

  • M Dolan42

    Great show! Looperp – maybe you should tune into Rush Limbaugh you seem a little high energy for Hear and Now – but perfect for the Rush audience. I love the art aspect of the first show – and the balance and flow of the program – keep it up! Looperp – maybe get a public access show and continue on with your army of one rants

  • Looperp

    How inane:  because I mourn the replacement of Talk of the Nation with what, so far, has been, in my estimation, frivolous, you think I am A Rush Limbaugh listener.  Grow up.

    • Grammarian23

      How inane: That is an improper use of semicolon Looperp. When using a semicolon you want to use it to connect a list. Here, you did not. The sentence seemed to self destruct from there. 
      …with what, so far, has been, in my estimation, frivolous, ….

      • Looperp

        Wow, what a handle, Grammarian23.  BTW… “:” is called a colon.

        • Grammarian23

          Let’s try and use it correctly then Looperv!

          • Looperp

            What, are you queen of grammar for NPR?  Unbecoming.

          • Ashadieeyah_zurrawt

            First and foremost, great story. Downloaded this music today and it was absolutely incredible. Second, this was a solid first show and I was not disappointed at all.I am unsure of what Looperp was waiting for; maybe the Mark Levine show might be more your style. Lastly, my friend Looperp, “Unbecoming?”  Who uses that word? Loosen up the ascot. Life is too short. BTW, Drudge report called and they are missing their village grammarian.

          • M_dolan23

            Call Rush Limbaugh I think Looperv the grammatically incorrect is causing problems again over here in innocent National Public Radio world. Misusing a colon is totally acceptable over there. NOT HERE Looperv – not here!

  • Elenapezzuto

    Thank you and God bless all of us

  • Jeff

    The most wonderful music of God!  It speaks to me at the deepest hearts core

  • Billmore

    That was a good segment. I just have to figure out whether it will be a daily listen like TOTN was …. will give it more time

  • MBM

    Thank you for this story. This music is what I have been looking for emptionally. This news story was life changing for my family and myself. Bless you.

    • MBM

      *emotionally :D

  • OLoving

    A very well-rounded first show…coming at things from a different angle than the same ol same ol…think it’s gonna be a winner…to go from the difficult news to the sweet or beautiful in a genuine way by reporting the facts only serves to heighten the truth about the news presented..thank you for assuming we are big boys and girls and trusting us to form our own opinions!!!! Finally something that actually IS balanced

  • Bill Hartman

    Dear Brothers, We must remember that the radio show, Here and Now, posted this story on Monday because of the surprise status that these nuns and this collection of musical hymns. They have reached the very top of the billboard chart for ‘classical music’ in about 6 weeks. In the radio interview, the nuns told us they love making this sound every day (8times a day). They are not worried if someone doesn’t value or appreciate the sound. And so if one of our NPR brothers is bored or repelled by their sound, then they might need to listen more intently or jump on their harley and head over to ‘clear channel’ to a more base and raging hour of sound… 

  • Joe C.


  • Docscholl

    Also noteworthy but not on the Billboard chart:
    “To Pray in Beauty” – sung by the Cistercian nuns of Wrentham, Mass. (Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey).

  • Nechial

    I got this CD and it is just beautiful. I love to hear them sing, I do hope they can do a Christmas CD. Thank you for touching our lives.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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