One Baltimore: A 125th anniversary celebration of unity

By Sister Kathleen Feeley, S.S.N.D.

Special to the Review

The event shouted it; the children exhibited it; the music trumpeted it; the audience illustrated it: One Baltimore.

Three groups spoke the word “unity” with one voice Nov. 7, at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, as the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart celebrated the 125th anniversary of their Foundation. Their celebration was a benefit performance of and for the BSO OrchKids and the Catonsville High School Steel Band.

At the conclusion of the program, Sister Loretta Cornell, president of the Mission Helpers, in the name of all the Mission Helpers who attended and those far away, presented each group with a check for $5,000 as the sisters’ salute to the talented young people of Baltimore participating in two acclaimed musical ensembles.

The program began with the youngest OrchKids. Spread across the stage behind the buckets that announced the group’s name, they showed the audience what “I’ve got rhythm” really means, with full measure of precision and aplomb.

Members of the BSO OrchKids perform Nov. 7 at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson. (Courtesy photo)

Using sticks and buckets to make music, they were all sound and motion as they beat out a myriad of rhythmic themes. Their whole persons reflected the joy in their hearts as each played an individual section, with the full attention and support of the entire group.

The older OrchKids were joined by teachers and mentors to form a full orchestra. Each piece in the performance highlighted some individual players, and it was heartwarming to see the unspoken encouragement and appreciation that the other members of the group gave them. Among the selections that they played was “One Baltimore,” an original piece celebrating Baltimore’s potential for unity

The closing section of the program united the OrchKids and the Steel Band, with Dan Trahey and Jim Wharton directing their groups in perfect symmetry to create a fusion of steel and strings, of band music and symphony music, in their performance of “Amazing Grace,” in tribute to the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart. The audience listened in awe as variations of the melody line of this historic hymn followed one another with increasing harmony.

During intermission, everyone mingled together in the dining room of Notre Dame Prep School. They enjoyed punch and cookies as they talked together, and personally congratulated the Mission Helpers on 125 years of service to the Baltimore community and far beyond it.

Each member of the audience received a copy of the anniversary edition of The Mission Helper magazine. Its historical review recounts the story of Mary Francis Cunningham, a young woman in St. Martin’s Parish in West Baltimore who worked with poor black children and their families. She felt called to found a religious congregation of women who would work to educate black children. She overcame the dissent of her local pastor by enlisting the help of James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore. The congregation that she founded in 1890 soon widened its mission to include people of all races.

The Mission Helpers extended their ministry to other states, to Puerto Rico, to Guam, and, more recently, to Venezuela, a troubled country where they are still present. Not traditional school teachers, they specialized in creating materials and a method of teaching to provide religious education for Catholic children who attended public schools across the United States.

The gathering of supporters of the Mission Helpers, together with parents and friends of the performers, exemplified One Baltimore. The obvious delight of the players when the spotlight shone on an individual performer (some players even crouched down when the performer was behind him or her, so the audience would have full view of the player) spoke volumes about mutual support: One Baltimore.

That the Mission Helpers celebrated 125 years by a benefit, not for themselves but for two organizations that are dedicated to the musical growth of Baltimore children, makes a strong statement about their belief that “One Baltimore” can become a reality, and illustrates their readiness to foster that unity.

School Sister of Notre Dame Kathleen Feeley is president emerita of Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore.

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