December 5, 2012
By Maeana Cragg
My sister, Martina Snell, grew up with me in Potsdam. She was baptized at St. Mary’s and confirmed at the Newman Center. A gifted musician, she sang and played French horn at an All-State level through high school. Although she graduated valedictorian from high school, she knew that music was her true calling.
Martina followed that call to the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, TX where she majored in Orchestral Studies. From there, she almost immediately got a job with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Ohio.
She was just 22, and her life was incredible. She had a job most musicians only dream of. She had her own house by a pretty little park with a sweet white dog and a little gray bunny.
There, she made many friends, from the musicians she worked with, to the neighbors down the street, to the wonderful people she met at Holy Family, the church she attended in Columbus. Though she had been to Latin Masses before, it was there that she truly fell in love with the Extraordinary Form.
Through all of this, there was a gentle tugging, a nudging, a knowing that this was not exactly the life that God wanted for her. She knew, without a doubt, that music would always be part of it, but her true vocation was to something different.
What seemed sudden to the rest of the world had been on her heart for a long time. When she shared that she was entering a little contemplative traditional Benedictine convent in the tiny town of Starrucca, PA, most people were shocked.
How could someone so gifted toss it all away to become a nun?
If they had seen the joy on her face as she entered, the contentment I saw when I visited her, there wouldn’t have been a question. Of course, there were struggles, but struggling within the vocation God had called her to was different than the discontent she had felt in her previous life.
She had not left her music behind, either. With the Benedictines, she sang at least eight times a day, every day. She was also writing arrangements and original pieces for the sisters to sing.
Within a few years, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles were invited by Bishop Finn to go to Kansas City, MO. Suddenly, my sister (now Sister Cecilia) would be going from an easy half-day drive away to traveling half-way across the country. If this was where God wanted her to be, it would work out just the way it should and so it has.
In the six years the Benedictines have been in Missouri, they moved from a temporary convent in the middle of Kansas City, to the beginnings of a monastery in the beautiful farmland of Gower, just north of the city. Things have also changed quite a bit for my sister. She is now Mother Cecilia, the prioress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.
Mother Cecilia is still very much a practicing musician. If anything, her music, done now completely for the glory of God, is more widespread than when she was a professional orchestral musician.
A very talented friend had helped them to record a few CDs through the years. All were lovely, but the audience was limited to those the sisters were able to reach through family, friends, and a few mailings.
Then, just a few months ago, my sister shared very exciting news with me. The Benedictines of Mary had been approached by DeMontfort Music. These producers wanted to encourage more truly Catholic music, and brought the sisters’ music to a few major production companies. Within a month, the Benedictines of Mary had been signed by Decca. They could share their music with the world. Even better, they could remain contemplative and focus on prayer while the production company took care of marketing and sales.
The result of this partnership is “Advent at Ephesus,” available at Amazon.com and Ignatius Press, among others. However, if you want more of your money to go directly to the sisters, you can order it on their website, benedictinesofmary.org. This website is also a good place to go if you want to find out more about the Benedictines of Mary, a young and rapidly growing order.
My sister made the best decision of her life in choosing to follow her vocation. I only hope that her story might encourage others to do the same.
Mother Cecilia Snell, Potsdam native and Benedictine nun, is pictured on the front of a new CD “Advent at Ephesus.”