My Heart Sings With Joy to the Living God!

Sister Mary Anne Schuman of the Mother of God and of the Holy Spirit March 10, 1922-February 23, 2002

On February 23, 2002, our Sister Mary Anne Schuman played her first concerto in heaven. All along, the community figured that the angels didn't really need another harpist or organist, but simply a gifted pianist, and one that didn't need to practice. But, in a way, Mary Anne practiced all her life for this moment. The call came a little after midnight. With stars over head, four of us scurried off to Clinton, Iowa, to The Alverno Health Care Facility, run by our marvelous friends, the Franciscan Sisters. Clinton is about forty-five minutes from Eldridge. We had been there that afternoon. When we arrived, the light in Mary Anne's room seemed especially bright. Shortly before, our Mary Anne had joined the angels. Mary Anne was always fond of saying that Carmelites get to sing with the Seraphim. Possibly, in her mind, such a privilege was regarded as the Fifth Water of St. Teresa. Quietly, we sang the Regina Coeli and Mary Anne's own My Vows to the Lord I Will Pay.


The oldest of ten children of Anita (Efflandt) and Raymond Schuman, Mary Anne was born on March 10, 1922. Sister's brothers and sisters include Sister Anita, OCD, of the Baltimore Carmel, Alexander and Infant Raymond (both now also in heaven), Geraldine, George, Susan, Zelda (Mrs. Francis Catania), Barbara (Mrs. Jorge Rodriguez) and another brother, Raymond Schuman.


Sister Mary Anne entered the Carmelite Monastery of Bettendorf, Iowa, July 26, 1942, the feast of St. Anne, and received the Carmelite habit on January 30, 1943. For many years, Sister was known as "Sister Anne of the Mother of God and of the Holy Spirit." (Mary Anne always educated people to the fact that her "Anne" was spelled with an "e.") Soon, Anne (Mary Anne), Bernadette (Anita) and our own Sister Catherine Luth came to be known as the A,B,Cs of the novitiate. It's always hard to keep a good note down. Even then, the three of them did their music, with no access to a piano, of course. Mary Anne said she had "given that up." In later years, they liked to tell the story of performing for some important Carmelite guest and having the clock fall off the shelf in the middle of it. Laughter, they could not restrain.


Shortly before Mary Anne entered Carmel, she had promised to finish a musical composition for her mother, something that never really happened "in the world." After entering, Mary Anne resolved to be faithful to her promise. She, who had given it up, "played the piano" on the altar bread table, and, behold, Mary Anne's first composition in Carmel was born. Following this historic moment, Mary Anne was told by the veterans of Carmel that "we are not accustomed to playing the piano on the altar bread table." To no one's surprise, the expression, "we are not accustomed" lived on in Mary Anne's own vocabulary for many years, 59 of them, in fact. The expression was especially helpful during the years she was prioress and formation directress.


Although Mary Anne never regarded herself as someone especially gifted, music, from the beginning, was her path of return to God. Before entering Carmel, Mary Anne was awarded a Music Scholarship from St. Mary of the Woods, Terre Haute, Indiana, where she graduated with a degree in psychology and a minor in piano. Mary Anne was also an accompanist at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. It was the custom at the conservatory to give the accompanists a musical composition and then send them off to a little room to practice. Rather soon, the soloists learned that this was not necessary with Mary Anne. They could give her a score containing zillions of sixteenth and thirty-second notes, (to say nothing of runs and her own flairs at the end), and she would sight read it with ease. Mary Anne lived her life with a flair.


In the wake of Mary Anne's journey into God, the thing that people seemed to remember most about her was her light-heartedness, her zest for life, and her enviable expertise at just plain having fun. She had the philosophy of life that said if someone else was worrying about something, it was taken care of. That meant she didn't need to worry about it. She even did research to find out if sufficient worrying was being carried out.


We could fill volumes with Mary Anne's anecdotes. To the present, we continue to sit around the table and recount them. In many ways, the myth that surrounds one's life is more fascinating than the actual biographical details. Mary Anne's myth carries her wonderful spirit. Here are only some of the stories. Here, at the Eldridge Carmel, we had the custom of not having dessert on Fridays. That was our "Friday penance." One Friday, Mary Anne appeared at table with a huge Hershey bar she had received, nine inches by five. In her usual generous way, she cut it into pieces for all of us to join in the agape. When asked about the Friday custom, she said, "Oh, that's easy. We'll just call it salad." To this day, the monastery has a "salad bar!"


Usually, we have choir practice once a week. Even though Mary Anne made us have it, we ended up enjoying it. Before some of the bigger feasts, one could see her in the art room with pencil and paper in hand. We used to say, "Mary Anne, go in there and compose, and don't come out until you are finished." Walking by the open door, one could see the glow on her face. She seemed to be looking into another world. She would then write down the new antiphons note by note, and very neatly, we might add. Now, this music, written in her own hand, is on our web site. She had unusual strength in those hands and many, many variations on the theme in her music and in her own life.


Sometimes, when Mary Anne presented the community with new music, the group would spontaneously go up when the music went down. Mary Anne would then change the music, feeling that this was the way the music was meant to be. One Christmas choir practice featured a yellow duck, the kind one winds up to help it quack. With a tease in her eyes and a big smile on her face, Mary Anne played Deck the Halls to the tempo of the quack.Can the reader see why the community loved her and misses her?


Our newer people, who now are no longer new, enjoy telling about their first visit to the monastery. Mary Anne usually met them at the airport, and was usually late. One visitor from New York was advised to wear a Mickey Mouse cap from Disney World so that Mary Anne would be able to identify her. (The visitor did wear the cap but removed the ears!) Being accustomed to La Guardia Airport, and not even dreaming what the Quad City Airport might be like, the inquirer asked how she would be able to identify Mary Anne. "Oh, you'll know," Mary Anne answered. And so it happened. On the return trip to the monastery, Mary Anne had our guest go with her to K-Mart to pick out new dining room chairs. This involved having the new person go up on an elevated platform and try out the chairs. Only later, did Mary Anne learn that this prospective member was starving and was desperately pining inwardly for food. It was 3 o'clock. On another like venture, Mary Anne asked the new person to help her find the monastery car. Fortunately, Mary Anne knew the color and the make of the car.


For several years before Mary Anne went to the Health Care Facility, the Sisters at the monastery took care of her needs. She was a super patient, a joy to care for. There was a nightly ceremony at bedtime, often involving as many as four people. "Good night, Mary Anne," we would say. "God bless you. May the angels attend you and may you sleep in the Heart of God. May you awaken in the morning filled with much joy. Mary Anne, if you wake up in the middle of the night, whom are you going to pray for?" Mary Anne would then mention her brothers and sisters and all those wonderful cousins.


During one of Mary Anne's few visits to the hospital, the neurologist was not able to get to her room until ten o'clock in the evening. Checking her acuity, the doctor asked her, "Mary Anne, do you know where you are?" Mary Anne looked out the big window at all the city lights and said, "I am in one of the finest hotels in the world." Understandably, the doctor attributed Mary Anne's response to fever or to dehydration. When we learned of it later, we knew that it could be fever, or it could be just Mary Anne being Mary Anne. Mary Anne always felt that any honest question deserved some kind of respectable answer. Furthermore, her thinking was: if you don't know the answer, make it up!


One evening, it seemed important to speak to Mary Anne about the fact that one does not live forever, enjoyable though life might be. We thought we had found a way of doing this without using the word, death. Holding her hand, the attending Sister said, "Mary Anne, do you ever think about heaven? What do you think it will be like?" There was a long pause. (As a result of a series of mini strokes, it had become increasingly more difficult for Mary Anne to form sentences.) "Heaven," she said, "is when you are holding my hand."


A few days before Mary Anne went to God, we sang Sunday Vespers and had the Anointing of the Sick in her room at The Alverno. The music, of course, was hers. During the course of the anointing, each Sister laid hands on her and spoke of her life here and of her life to come. It was all very moving, of course.


Later in the visit, just to keep the conversation going, we shared past stories of Carmel and of her family. Although Mary Anne was very weak and frail and in some pain, there was a sense that she was aware of what was happening. Eventually, the discussion got into the topic of an Ave Maria Mary Anne had composed many years ago. We asked Sister Anita to sing it for us, which she did very beautifully, very likely the way she sang it the first time. The expression on Mary Anne's face changed as Anita sang. The Sister holding Mary Anne's hand said, "Mary Anne, that's not the Seraphim. It's just Anita." Mary Anne chuckled that wonderful last chuckle.


How can we possibly close a story like this, a story that continues to live? Like St.Therese, all the world came to love her. We wondered if we should volunteer to set Mary Anne's hair for the Vigil and Funeral. The undertaker said he would take care of it. "Make her hair free and wind blown," he told the hairdresser. "That's the way she always wore it." And, we add, "That's the way she lived!"


Dear Mary Anne, spelled with an "e", the wind has taken you from us. We miss you terribly. But, we know you live. Every time we sing your music, you are here among us. Although we miss your music, we miss you even more. Bless our community. Pray for your family, for all those cousins and for your many friends. Pray for peace in our world. Wherever you are, send back your three-fold gift of prayer, your light-heartedness and your music. You loved life. Until we join you, dear friend and Sister of ours, we ask you to spend your heaven here among us - we, who came to love you so much.

I found the One Whom my heart loves !