January 28, 2005

2005 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Filipino teacher instills love for music
in students at St. Susanna School

By Mary Ann Wyand

A former concert pianist in the Philippines, Agnes Magnaye now shares her love for music with students as a teacher at St. Susanna School in Plainfield.

In addition to teaching music classes and conducting the children’s choir, Magnaye also shares her love for God with parishioners and visitors as the liturgical music director at the Indianapolis West Deanery parish.

“The kids are fun to work with,” Magnaye said during a recent telephone interview. “They’re very cooperative and they listen well to what I tell them. I love working here. I love the kids. The parents at St. Susanna are so supportive of all our [choir] activities.”

Her musical gifts, dedication to ministry and enthusiastic service to others have made a dramatic difference in parish and school life, said Patricia Whitaker, the principal of St. Susanna School.

“She is wonderfully talented,” Whitaker said during a telephone interview last month, “and she gets wonderful sounds from our children.”

As a liturgical musician, Whitaker said, Magnaye promotes love and reverence for worship through joyful music during Masses.

“She grew up Catholic in the Philippines and her faith is such an important part of her,” Whitaker said. “You understand from her bearing, from her being, that music is her gift back to God. She has garnered the respect and admiration and affection of parishioners.”

Her “perpetual energy” has invigorated St. Susanna’s music program, the principal said, and students in kindergarten through seventh-grade enjoy participating in her classes.

When Magnaye was hired five years ago, she started a children’s choir—with about four to six students—to sing during Masses, funerals and parish programs.

Now, about 40 students sing in the choir, which sounds so professional that Magnaye and the children were asked to sing for several archdiocesan liturgies and programs.

St. Susanna’s children’s choir sang at the 2004 Celebrating Catholic School Values dinner last November in downtown Indianapolis as well as during a confirmation Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral last year. The choir also sang for the rededication of St. Elizabeth and Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services’ renovated facilities on Jan. 15 in Indianapolis.

“When the archbishop came here for St. Susanna’s 50th anniversary [liturgy in 2003], she melded the children’s choir with the adult choir,” Whitaker said. “It was absolutely phenomenal. At Christmas, she initiated a [combined] children’s and adult choir concert that also was magnificent.”

Magnaye also began a tone chime choir for the children, the principal said, and has made music education interesting and fun for all of the students.

Her music ministry at St. Susanna Parish resulted from a conversation that her brother had with Father Kevin Morris, the pastor, about the parish’s need for a liturgical music director and music teacher five years ago.

Trained as a classical pianist at a music conservatory, Magnaye performed concerts and recitals in the Philippines.

She was visiting her brother in Plainfield when the music position was advertised at the parish, and was able to acquire a temporary visa to stay in the United States and work at St. Susanna Parish.

“This is my home now,” Magnaye said. “I’ve decided to stay. We’re working on my permanent visa.”

Magnaye’s parents and a younger sister still live in the Philippines, where her mother is a principal and her father also works in a school. Another sister lives in Los Angeles.

“My mom wanted me to be a concert pianist so I worked hard,” she said. “All I did was practice playing the piano all day. But when I started working with kids [at St. Susanna School], I just loved it and I told my mom, ‘I just want to teach. I want to work with kids.’ I love what I do right now.”

Magnaye said she is happy that the children’s choir has continued to grow and the parishioners enjoy singing during Masses.

“I tell the kids that singing is praying,” she said, “and when you sing in a choir at church it’s not a performance. It’s a service. We want to lead the congregation in singing. … We help everybody to worship.”

She also shares Filipino traditions with her students and has taught them a few words in Tagalog, the primary language in the Philippines.

“I try to teach them some Tagalog words, but we haven’t sung any songs in Tagalog yet,” Magnaye said. “I want them to know [about] how life [is] and how faith is practiced in other parts of the world.”

Sixth-grader Katie Copeland said St. Susanna’s music teacher is “fun” and has helped her learn to sing better and to enjoy serving others as a member of the parish choir.

Fifth-grader Anna Marie Legge has been a member of the children’s choir for five years and said she loves music classes.

“She’s really fun,” Anna Marie said of her music teacher, “and she makes things exciting.”

Fourth-grader Anna Emmick also has sung with the children’s choir for five years.

“She’s my favorite teacher,” Anna said, “because she’s nice.”

(Criterion reporters Sean Gallagher and Brandon A. Evans contributed to this story.)


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