Sr. Mary Beth Gray, SND, who for 14 years was the Music Director at St. Colman’s Parish. She had the ability to use the beauty of music to lift the morale and spirit of St. Colman’s. During a recent evening benefit, the community of St. Colman Church honored Sr. Mary Beth, acknowledging their gratitude for her service and ability to help Keep the Doors Open at St. Colman’s.
St. Colman’s parishioner, Terry Allan, wrote the following, highlighting the works and ministry of of Sr. Mary Beth.
The oldest girl in a family of 8 children, Mary Beth Gray was born in Amherst, OH. Family has always been very important to her, which she describes as “her rock”. “My family is very special to me. I have been blessed with amazing siblings, nieces and nephews, and now, another generation! They are very loving and “always there” for each other!” After raising eight children, her mother, Kathleen Margaret Gray, went to college and became a nurse. She had wanted to be a nurse after completing high school in 1934 and after raising a family, finally realized this dream in 1968.
Sister Mary Beth, clearly shares her mother’s commitment to service. Her skilled orchestration of the choir is evidence of her extensive experience and passion as a teacher. It began early on, where, she describes “I played school in a makeshift classroom, our basement. From the time I was very young, I always wanted to be a teacher! I attended St. Joseph Elementary School in Amherst, Notre Dame Academy and – after entering the Sisters of Notre Dame — Notre Dame College.” She taught many grades: 1, 3, 5, 6 in several schools, and served a time as interim principal.
As you might expect, Sister Mary Beth’s musical abilities and aptitude for instruments went hand in hand with her teaching. “At almost every school I organized the Liturgies and played guitar for the school Masses. I loved it!” she said. In the summers, if I wasn’t studying, I directed the chapel music for the Sisters in Chardon. “I loved working with the sisters’ choir, and especially, providing music for the Sisters’ Jubilee celebrations.” Her musical passion led her to pursue and obtain a Masters in Music Education. She then went on to teach music for primary school children at St. Joan of Arc, Chagrin Falls and St. Francis of Assisi, Gates Mills.
It seems inevitable that her path would lead her to St. Colman, as she identified with the “Open Door” mission of the parish. “These were wonderful years” she said, “but I yearned to work in the inner city. I found a place at Metro Catholic School in the Development Office, and also re-ignited the Handbell program there. After a few years directing music at St. Anthony of Padua, Parma, the music position at St. Colman opened up, and I was thrilled to be accepted!”
During these later years, she became deeply aware of social injustices. “I helped re-start the social justice committee for the Sisters of Notre Dame, which led to the Sisters’ participation in the JustFaith program throughout the Cleveland area” she said.
Early on, Sister Mary Beth naturally began to reach out to parishioners at St. Colman. Meeting and involving congregants in the liturgy is part of Sister Mary Beth’s DNA. “She recognized the importance of being a community builder, meeting and involving all facets of the congregation in the liturgy”, said Father Bob Begin, who hired her to lead the music ministry at St. Colman.
The quintessential example of this ideal was observed in Mary Beth Gray’s active engagement of our international member like the African, Central and South American parishioners in the choir and other musical arrangements at our Sunday Masses. She always felt that our newest parishioners need to be welcomed and to be recognized for the important role they play in our diverse parish. Terry Swift, who sang in the choir and is now a Cantor at Sunday Mass, recalls that “during my time in the choir, we’ve sang songs in Spanish, Swahili and Zulu.” This commitment to community building was often demonstrated through her active participation in fundraisers and other events supporting the mission and vitality of St. Colman, reaching out with open arms to the longstanding parishioners and newest members alike. Sister Mary Beth’s influence and impact also crossed the life span in the choir. Terry Swift relates that the oldest member was over 90 and the youngest just 12! “Sister was able to relate equally with all of us” he said, “I’ve worked with many choir directors over my 53 years in the Cleveland area, and I can attest to how remarkable this is.” Through it all, she had a warm smile for everyone she greeted at Mass and during parish events, asking about their family, current events and always offering prayers and parting well wishes.
A great representation of her joy in mentoring was expressed in her work with Jieming Tang, known affectionately as Jimmy, the remarkable young violinist from China. Many of us were fortunate to hear him play at Mass during his brief moments away from his studies here in the United States at Cleveland Metro Catholic, St. Ignatius, the Cleveland Institute of Music and now the prestigious Julliard School in New York City. “Throughout the five years during which I had the honor of sharing my music with the St. Colman community and working with Sr. Mary Beth, her kindness and selfless devotion to music and the community has been a constant inspiration” Jimmy shared. “I still vividly remember that during my fundraiser CD project, she worked tirelessly to make sure everything was accounted for and things went smoothly, sometimes without even taking time for a quick meal. She has also given our family tremendous help and support when we needed it the most, especially during our early days in the U.S. Her mentorship has enabled me to appreciate music and the world in a way that is not taught in schools; I will truly be forever grateful.”
Her commitment to St. Colman was further demonstrated through her attention to continuity and detail in assuring a smooth process upon her retirement. “Largely through the efforts of Sister Mary Beth, the transition to Rose Toth as our pianist and Stella Wagner as our musical director has been a seamless one”, Terry Swift notes. “All of us in the choir want to express our thanks to Sister Mary Beth for all she has done for us and for the parish.”
In her own words, Sister Mary Beth beautifully expresses how blessed she feels to be part of the St. Colman family.
“I think that there are times in our lives when we really feel the hand of God in a decision or a direction. I am so sure that God opened the door and gave me this beautiful parish! Without a doubt, my years at St. Colman have been the happiest and most fulfilling of my life. I’ve absolutely loved being part of this amazing and wonderful community. And I will always, always cherish each and every one of you. Your friendship and your kindness will be forever precious in my heart.”
Rest assured that we all feel the same way, Sister Mary Beth. We are equally blessed to have someone as special as you, forever part of the St. Colman family!