On a humid day in March, Rich May wandered into an antique store in Houston. He was seeking literature to help him write a paper for The Immaculata, a Marian magazine. Instead he found, sitting on the worn shelves, a small, copper-colored hymnal dating back to 1841.
He thought of his friend Father Tom Thompson, S.M. ’58, from the University of Dayton whom he would be seeing in May at the conference of the Mariological Society of America, which furthers scholarship and understanding of Mary, the Mother of Christ. May thought Thompson might enjoy receiving as a donation to the University’s Marian Library the book titled Songs of Mary for the Month of May and the Feast of the Blessed Virgin.
“God wanted me to get it for him, not my paper,” May said.
May knew the significance of the hymnal when he saw it. The hymnal originally came from Paris and was approved by the archbishop of Paris in 1841. At that time, Father William Joseph Chaminade was in Bordeaux, France, where he had founded in 1817 the Society of Mary, which in turn would found UD in 1850. Given proximity and the theme of the hymnal, the title would have likely been known to the Marianists in France, Thompson said.
Thompson said he was happy to receive the gift and began flipping through the roughly bound pages and translating the French texts.
“The lyrics are very warm and affective,” Thompson said. “There are hymns to the Virgin Mary reminding us that she was the mother of Christ. While we worship only God, we are devoted to Mary, as she was close to God.”
The songs are traditional to 19th-century France. While songs sung in church at that time were all in Latin, the hymns in French were sung at evening devotionals and in the home. The music includes two-handed full-chord notation for piano.
“Families likely held this hymnal and sang together around the piano,” Thompson said.
The book resides in the Marian Library at Roesch Library. Thompson said the hymnal is surprisingly well-kept for its age. There are no loose pages, and it is still able to be sung out of, though there are no plans to do so any time soon.
“It can be used, but it is more so a part of the history of the hymnody,” Thompson said.