Sister Gertrude Greathouse, O.S.B.
April 23, 1927 - June 16, 2011
Sister Gertrude Greathouse, OSB, 84, a Benedictine Sister of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kans., died June 16, 2011, at the monastery. The vigil service will be in the monastery chapel on Tuesday, June 21, at 7 p.m., and the Mass of Resurrection will be celebrated there on Wednesday, June 22, at 10:30 a.m.
Sister Gertrude was born April 23, 1927, the daughter of Guy Remington and Mary Elizabeth Young Greathouse of Moberly, Mo. The first ten years of her education were in Moberly schools; she graduated from Mount St. Scholastica Academy in 1944. She earned her bachelor's degree in piano, with a minor in English, from Mount St. Scholastica College, Atchison, entered the Mount Benedictine Sisters in 1948, and made monastic profession in 1949. She continued her music study at DePaul University, Chicago, and earned her master’s degree in music education from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Sister Gertrude was classroom teacher and taught music from 1950-1972 in Kansas City, all three of the Catholic elementary schools in Atchison, and elsewhere in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.
When she returned to the monastery, she became organist and liturgist for the Mount St. Scholastica community. Sister Gertrude composed many of the liturgical melodies used by monastic communities nationwide. She also served as parish organist at St. Benedict's Church in Atchison. She was a member of Sigma Alpha Iota music fraternity, Benedictine Musicians of the Americas, and the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.
Sister Gertrude was preceded in death by her parents and brother Fred (Dorothy). She is survived by the families of niece Linda Stuart and nephew Greg Greathouse, both of Kansas City, and by her monastic family.
Let us remember her gratefully in our prayers.
S. Gertrude's memorial card:
“I will sing and make music to the Lord.”
Sister Gertrude was born in Moberly, Mo., the daughter of Guy Remington and Mary Elizabeth Young Greathouse. After graduating from Loretto Academy and the junior high school in Moberly, she came to Mount St. Scholastica Academy to complete her secondary education. She earned a B.A. in piano from Mount St. Scholastica College and then entered the Mount community in 1948. Making monastic profession in 1949, she celebrated 60 years of vowed life in 2009. She studied music at DePaul University, Chicago, Ill., and earned the master’s degree in music education at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Sister Gertrude taught music in community schools for more than 20 years. She then became organist and community liturgist at the monastery and composed many of the melodies used by Benedictine communities across the country in the Liturgy of the Hours. The love and verve and reverence with which Sister Gertrude composed and shared music was like one playing before God in the world, rejoicing in the beauty of creation. That same joy was evident when she played request numbers at community gatherings with her gifts of hearing pitch, playing by ear, and improvising. She also did fine needlepoint and knitting. Sister Gertrude was a thoughtful, fun-loving friend with a ready laugh. Let us remember her gratefully in our prayer.
Reflection given at the Vigil Service
by Sister Noreen Hurter, OSB
This evening we come together to pray for, with and to Sister Gertrude as we celebrate her arrival in the place prepared for her by the Lord–-the Lord for whom and with whom she served so well through her whole life and especially in the last 63 years as a vowed Benedicine Sister of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery. And we gather here, in this Chapel, where her music has been played, sung and inspired so many listeners through out the years. We know that everyone is given many gifts, gifts that are to be shared and enjoyed by others. Musicians have a priority on this, I think, for music heard once often remains in our minds and we can hear it many times as we remember the beautiful arrangement of notes that musicians have given us.
Tonight we offer our sincere sympathy and prayers to Greg, Sister Gertrude’s nephew, to Renee his wife and their daughter Alex and to Linda, Sister Gertrude’s niece and to her family. She often spoke about you and you were all very special to her. Sympathy too to her classmates in community, Sisters Bettina, DeMontfort and Mary Mel, and to all the community, to her friends and also to Sister Loretta McGuire and the nursing staff at Dooley Center who took such good care of her.
There are many things that could be said about Sister Gertrude and much would revolve around her gift of music, for music was her life and, through it, her prayer and praise of God ascended to Heaven.
As a child, when she began playing the piano, she found that she could play whatever music she heard, exactly as she heard it. But she did not realize that this was rather unique to her for she thought everyone could do what she could do with music. Only as she learned more music and could play both from music and by ear did she realize that this was a special gift she had. Her father too had this gift but not to the degree that she did. As a child, she was always intrigued by the manner of his playing because, she said, he played only on the black keys. Many have heard the story, I’m sure, that the Sister who first taught her piano did not know of her gift of playing by ear and when Mrs. Greathouse asked how little JoAnn was doing, Sister said that she must be practicing very much since her lessons were alway perfect. Mrs. Greathouse responded that she rarely practiced and asked, “do you play the piece for her when she receives a new piece of music?” The answer was “yes” and the teacher realized what was happening. At her next lesson she gave the music to JoAnn to play who said, “aren’t you going to play it for me?” With the answer, “No” the teacher found that, after many lessons, the only music she could read was the note for middle C. Things changed quickly and eventually she became an accomplished musician playing both by music and my ear.
Sister Gertrude graduated from the Mount Academy and then went on to College, graduating in 1948 when she entered the community. Her Father was not too happy about that decision but it had been something that her mother had thought she herself might like to have done when she was young. Gertrude and her Father were very close and she told me how grateful she was to him for many things but especially because he wrote to her every week until in his last years he was blind and could no longer do that.
Her ministry for a number of years had been as an elementary school teacher in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska and always, whether on mission or at home, she was a musician. Her gift of music through playing, writing and the gift of perfect pitch were shared in many ways. Her students, in addition to learning their music as a subject also, at times, learned their other subjects in a unique manner when she set information to be learned or memorized to music making it simpler to remember and enjoyable to recite. For community, in addition to playing to accompany us at the Liturgy of the Hours and at Mass, she began, in the 1980's writing her own modes for the singing of the psalms and their accompanying
antiphons. Often times the Scriptural passages she chose for these antiphons and the melodies that accompany them remained in our minds, keeping the message of the liturgy with us throughout the day. The melodies were such that having sung or heard them, even only once, they became part of our memory and remained with us. For this reason, I’m sure, that the familiar music of Sister Gertrude’s modes is often heard being sung sung at Vespers or Laudes in many monasteries throughout the country and this is also true of the writings of our other musicians.
Sister Gertrude had a deep but simple spirituality. Simple in the fact that it was the love of God and His presence in her and her gratitude for His gifts that was the source of her joy and the soul of her music. Openness to God’s will in all things could easily be seen reflected in these last weeks of her illness. We visited every day and there was never a negative word about this illness. She was not happy when she could not do some things, but that would soon pass and there was something more positive that would come into her mind. Before her illness she did like to come to work in the library. And many mornings I would receive a call about 9:30 or 10:00 from one of the nurses saying that Sister Gertrude wanted to know if there was any work for her to do. I would say “yes” and in a short time she would be at the door. Her last day of work was the day before she had her heart attack, not quite two months ago.
On this past Saturday morning we sang an invitatory which I thought spoke so much of Gertrude. The words were, “Ever on my lips the praises of the Lord, ever in my mouth God’s music. Through the dark of night in morning’s golden light, God’s praises I will sing.” She may have said, “Ever in my fingers,” and “ever in my heart” is God’s music–for so it was. And this evening the readings from Scripture speak so directly to us as community, as family, as individual and especially at this time of reflection on her life, and gifts, her illness, suffering and death, they speak of Sister Gertrude. The words of the letter to the Romans remind us that we have many members but not all with the same function. We have seen, from lived experience, that we who are many are one body in Christ and we, individually, are members one of another–these days especially have witnessed to that.
And the directives of these words are clear. They tell us to be generous, compassionate, cheerful, to hold fast to what is good, outdo one another in showing honor, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer, help meet the needs of others and let love be genuine. Her gifts in life Sister Gertrude shared most generously, and in death she shared the gift of her open acceptance of pain, suffering and waiting. She heard the voice of the Lord, knew her winter was over and gone, that the flowers had appeared all around her and her time of singing was coming but until that right moment she could not rise to go with Him. But by Thursday, in earth time, Gertrude’s place had been prepared. She now heard the call and knew it was time to go and the Lord took her to Himself and the words of Scritpure came to life within her as she entered her new life. It was appropiate that as she entered this new life Sisters Judith and Gemina were singing the Marian Antiphon in Swahili–symbolic and reflective, I think, of the universal appeal of her music in her lifetime to so many.
Sister Gertrude brought many special moments into our lives through her own presence with us, through the music she gave us and as many have said, through her smile. About each we can remember much. So now I say simply, Thank you Gertrude for all your gifts to us as you used the gifts given to you. They were experienced by each of us in different ways perhaps but with a grace and presence unique to you that we did recognize and will remember. There is one of your gifts, a gift from your heart, words you had chosen, that we often find with us in prayer. We could say it is a directional statement given us by the Lord, enlarged upon by St. Benedict in his Rule, and brought by you into our Liturgy to be sung and lived and to remind us of the future you now enjoy. And so we now pray those words, “Let us prefer nothing to the love of Christ and may He bring us all to everlasting life.”