Sister Joachim Holthaus, OSB 

March 6, 1922 - August 27, 2015

Sister Joachim Holthaus OSBSister Joachim Holthaus, OSB, 93, a Benedictine sister of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kans., died Thursday, August 27, 2015, at the monastery. The vigil service will be Sunday, August 30 at 7:00 p.m. in the monastery chapel, and the Mass of Resurrection will be celebrated there on Monday, August 31, at 10:30 a.m.

Born in Seneca, Kansas, she entered the Mount community in 1941 after graduating from Sts. Peter and Paul High School there. She earned an M.A. in music from the Chicago Musical College and a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Southern California. She also did advance studies in music at the University of Salzburg Austria, Loyola University - New Orleans, and Columbia University. For five summers she taught Gregorian Chant at the Saratoga Potsdam Choral Institute. 

A distinguished musician and teacher, Sister Joachim taught music at Mount St. Scholastica College, continuing at Benedictine College, from 1951 until 1989, chairing the department from 1961 to 1981. In 1990, she founded the Mount Conservatory of Music, where she continued to teach organ, piano, and harp until the age of 90. Sister Joachim also served as monastery schola (choir) director and organist, chair of the liturgy team, vice-president of the community senate, and was twice a delegate to the general chapter of the Federation of St. Scholastica. She was vice-president of the Atchison Community Concerts Association, a member of the American Benedictine Academy and Benedictine Musicians of America, the American Musicological Society, American Harp Society and Sigma Alpha Iota, and was the first female Rotary International member in Kansas. Named “Educator of the Year” at Benedictine College in 1985, she also performed concerts in several states and composed music used in Benedictine monasteries throughout the country.

Sister Joachim was preceded in death by her parents F. Joseph and Centa Bernreiter Holthaus, by her brothers John and Leonard Holthaus and by her sisters Regina Runnebaum, Clara Nicholson and Alma Runnebaum. She is survived by her brothers Joseph (Fran) and William (Salie) Holthaus, both of Omaha, Neb., a sister, Melanie Schmiedeler of Kansas City, Mo., nieces, nephews, and her monastic family. Becker-Dyer-Stanton Funeral Home (www.beckerdyer.com) is in charge of arrangements. Memorials may be sent to Mount St. Scholastica or made online.

Reflection for the Vigil Service for Sister Joachim Holthaus, OSB

August 30, 2015

By Sister Therese Elias, OSB

Readings: Sirach 2:1-11, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, John 11:17-27

On behalf of the community I extend condolences to Sr. Joachim’s sister, Melanie; her brothers, Joseph and William; her many nieces and nephews; her relatives; her good friend, Fr. Blaine; her classmate, Sr. Paula; her former students; colleagues and many friends.

Tonight’s first reading begins, “Listen, my child, when you come to serve the Lord.” And, listen, Sr. Joachim did, to a deeply grounded intuition, the call of beauty. Manifesting and celebrating beauty seemed to be at the heart of her life. The elegance with which she carried herself, the magnitude of her musical genius, and the excellence she required of those she guided, disclosed her deep dedication to beauty. 

In his mystical poem, The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo, Gerard Manley Hopkins ponders the question that haunts all of our hearts, but perhaps most especially, the heart of the artist. Hopkins asks, “How to  keep – is there any any, is there none such, nowhere known some  . . . catch or key to keep back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty . . . from vanishing away?” Given her deep sensitivity, this must have been Sr. Joachim’s wonder too: How do we hold onto beauty?

Hopkins’ poem goes on with the divine response heard interiorly by the artist immersed in a life of faith, a response well evidenced in Sr. Joachim‘s life. Hopkins calls this inner awareness the Golden Echo: “Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.”  “Deliver it, early now, long before death . . .”  Hopkins’ mystical poem assures us that beauty will vanish, will not last if we hold onto it, try to possess it, try to keep it to ourselves. It is of the eternal, of the Divine that is given us, and can be kept only by surrendering it.  This was, I think, the inner sense that stirred Sr. Joachim from very early. She seems to have intuited this at a young age, that the beauty she was given was not for her alone, but was to be relinquished to others, and ultimately, to God.

Tended by parents who recognized her giftedness, Sr. Joachim was given every opportunity for her talent to flourish. To them we are ever grateful. When she entered this community in 1941, she came on the cusp of an era of our awakening to the richness of the monastic liturgical tradition. Our leadership could foresee the role she would play in the deepening of our monastic prayer and saw that she was given a pre-eminent education in the field of music and liturgy.  We are grateful to Sr. Gertrude Winter, her mentor at Mount St. Scholastica College, to Mother Lucy Dooley and Mother Alfred Schroll, who recognized her potential.  For more than 70 years she has helped to shape this rich legacy of praise that is ours through her choir direction, her compositions, and her playing of organ, piano, and harp.  She will go on being servant of our prayer for years to come, morning after morning, day after day. Our prayer books are filled with Sr. Joachim’s psalm tones and original compositions. This monastery is known for the beauty of our liturgy, due in no small part to her commitment to “Give beauty back.” So much beauty has come to us through her mediation. 

The hauntingly beautiful tones of this Vigil service, composed by Sr. Joachim, have ushered many of us into eternity. I think every sister in this chapel envisions being prayed into heaven with this service. And tonight, how fitting it is that we lift up Sr. Joachim and rejoice over her life and her entrance into glory with her own creation. I wonder how often she herself, as she prayed and sang this service for other sisters, anticipated the time when it would be in her memory. How poignantly this must have touched her heart.

Sr. Joachim’s legacy stretches across the world in the hosts of students she has touched, through music lessons and classes, from her years at Guardian Angels School to the College, through her beloved conservatory and in the many places – foreign and domestic – where her learning and artistry led her to share. She taught young people, she taught us all, to listen to that inner urging to “Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God.”

Those of us who have been her students or members of her choirs, know how jealously she guarded excellence. She called forth the best in us. Precision of rhythm, accuracy of pitch, correct diction … She was firm in her intent that we offer the best that we could in our praise of God. Her expectations of us were but a faint shadow of the expectations which she held for herself. She knew the value of discipline as servant of the beautiful. Perhaps this was behind her choice of the first reading tonight from the Book of Sirach.

To the end of her life, this inner summoning that urged her on could be seen in her steeled resolve to sing the Divine Office in the choir chapel for as long as she was able. We were in awe, with not a small amount of concern, as we observed her twice-daily trek down the long hallway between Dooley Center and the Choir Chapel. Her faltering steps, the pain and struggle she endured, were no deterrent to her intent to “give beauty back.’

“Where does the beauty that is given back go?” Gerard Manley Hopkins pondered. He received a response to his query: “Yonder – we follow, now we follow. – Yonder, yes yonder, yonder, Yonder.”  When the veil that separated Sr. Joachim from the eternal Yonder lifted on Thursday morning, all that she had hoped for poured over her, as she met, up close, the God in whom she trusted, who does not disappoint us. Martha’s faith, expressed in tonight’s Gospel, was hers: “I believe that you are the Resurrection and the Life.”

The great mystic, Julian of Norwich, says that the praise of God we offer on earth does not dissipate, but continues on and will rise up to accompany us into eternity. Surely, she whose lifetime of service to the worship of God in her work and in her prayer, was welcomed home with much singing and celebration.  Perhaps she was met with the sound of harp, followed by a swelling organ, and then, the heavenly schola singing her own songs of praise. We know that, if they did, they sang with a bit more attention to precision and excellence.