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10/25/2012 11:09:00 AM
St. Kateri hymn contest concludes
“Hymn for Saint Kateri”
Lyrics by Philip Spaeth
(tune: "Simple Gifts")

1. O Father, creator of all peoples on earth,
You who make all souls to know their holy worth,
You called from the longhouse one of virtue and grace
To proclaim your truth and reveal your face.

Glory to you, O Trinity, O source of all beauty and purity,
For Kateri, that flower fair, your servant in love and prayer.

2. O Christ, Son of Mary Virgin Mother all pure,
You who give the suff'ring hope that will endure,
This maid, by her patience in affliction and loss
Did embody you who embraced your cross.

3. O Spirit most holy who inspire Christian hearts,
Well assured in faith, your lily did impart
That all should take courage in your promise of life,
Undeterred by trial or by threat of strife.

4. To love us in heaven she went forth unto you,
Faithful servant to her Lord and Savior true.
For us interceding she with you does acquaint,
She of humble birth now reborn as saint.


After much deliberating, the Diocesan Liturgical Commission has announced the winner of a hymn competition to honor St. Kateri Tekakwitha's canonization.

Submitted lyrics had to be set to the tune of "Simple Gifts," an 1848 Shakers song by Elder Joseph Brackett. The winning entry will be used at a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrating the canonization, to be held Nov. 4, 3 p.m., at Albany's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and will be made available to parishes and groups.

The winning hymn, chosen from about 20 entries, was "wonderfully crafted with a solid Trinitarian emphasis" and "some very beautiful turns of phrase," noted the nine-member selection committee of area music ministers and priests. It was "musically interesting" and "singable."

Philip Spaeth, music director at St. Peter's parish in Saratoga Springs for 11 years, submitted the lyrics.

"I'm just thrilled and honored," he said. "Initially, I wasn't going to enter, primarily because I don't really think of myself as a text writer."

But Mr. Spaeth prayed about it and realized St. Kateri has been important to him lately: His daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2009 (read a previous story at www.evangelist.org), and St. Kateri was orphaned at the same age, struggling with smallpox scars and illness her whole life.

"Over the past few years, I've talked to our local saint quite a few times," Mr. Spaeth said. "It just sort of seemed a fitting person to be praying to."

Mr. Spaeth was baptized in Gloversville, grew up in Northville and went on a confirmation retreat in Auriesville. St. Kateri "has always kind of been in the atmosphere, but I really didn't know that much about her biographically," he said.

To prepare for the competition, he read about the saint on the internet, in addition to reading prayers and Liturgy of the Hours.

"I found her to be completely amazing," he said. "Her courage and her strength and her zeal, all at such a young age, [were] just remarkable."

Mr. Spaeth said the first three verses of his hymn are directed to members of the Trinity; the fourth is directed to God. The committee appreciated that "sense of God," said Elizabeth Simcoe, diocesan chancellor for pastoral services and director of the diocesan Office of Prayer and Worship.

Mrs. Simcoe said the purpose of the hymn is to "bring us into the spirituality of Kateri and to bring us into her relationship with God, which was the primary aspect of her life. It's not so much about Kateri as it is in union with her."

Mr. Spaeth agreed: "The goal with any hymn for me is to lift hearts and minds to God. With any saint, they should inspire us as Christians that we all have the Holy Spirit within us to help us live holy lives. It's not just a few people who are able to do incredible things."

Mr. Spaeth said his parish's music-loving congregation, cantors, pastors and choir inspired his work. "I always have the sound of our parish singing in my head."

Some of the inspiration was also divine: He was often stuck on certain lines and felt "like there was something else there" when the words came to him.

The Nov. 4 liturgy, open to all, will include members of a Native American prayer group from Fonda, a smudging ritual during the penitential rite and a song in the Mohawk language. (Call 463-4447.)

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