\"On this day, O Beautiful Mother\"

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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"On This Day, O Beautiful Mother" was one of my favorite May hymns when I was a child. At Guardian Angel in the early '50s, we sang the first stanza only.

We sang the first two stanzas of "'Tis the Month of Our Mother." I loved the chorus: All hail! to dear Mary, the guardian of our way, To the fairest of Queens, Be the fairest of seasons, sweet May!

Sweet May was the fairest month. The school picnic at Fairyland Park. The spring operetta. May altars in the classrooms with vases of lilacs and spirea. The May crowning.

The most important hymn at May crownings was "Bring Flowers of the Rarest". We sang only the first stanza and the chorus. It was during the chorus that the May Queen placed the wreath of flowers on the head of the statue of the Queen of the May: O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

"Mother Dear, O Pray for Me" and "Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest" were no longer sung at my church or schools in the '50s. Too old-fashioned. Too sentimental. But they could still be heard on Tuesday nights at novena at Redemptorist. The crowd sang all stanzas, including my favorite, the fourth stanza of "Mother Dearest": Lady, help the wounded soldier, Set the pining captive free, Help the sailor in mid-ocean, Help those in their agony.

The first song to the Virgin Mary that I learned was "To Our Lady", by Mary Dixon Thayer. My fellow second graders and I sang "Veni Domine Jesu" before approaching the Communion rail for the first time, and at the end of Mass on that long-ago Mother's Day, we sang: Lovely Lady, dressed in blue--Teach me how to pray! God was just your little Boy, Tell me what to say!

(The melody we learned was: G A G E, C1 A G--G A G E D! G A G E C1 A G, D1 B A G C1! Virtual keyboard. )

Some sellers of religious items now print Mary Dixon Thayer's poem on holy cards, but fail to give her credit. And there are some supporters of canonization of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen who claim he wrote it. Others do not go so far as to claim Sheen wrote the poem, but they insist he "popularized" it.

Actually, "To Our Lady", which was included in Thayer's The Child On His Knees, Macmillan, 1926, was popular long before Bishop Sheen read it on his t.v. show. And, when he did, he gave Mary Dixon Thayer credit.

http://www.google.com/search?q=Mary+Dixon+Thayer&btnG=Search+Books&tbm=bks&tbo=1>Her poems appeared in many publications in the early twentieth century, including The Commonweal, Ladies' Home Journal,The Catholic World, Saturday Evening Post, etc.

In the 1920s, Mary Dixon (Molly) Thayer was a tennis champion in addition to being a popular poet. In 1937 she was elected a vice-president of the Catholic Poetry Society of America: among the others were Sr. M. Madaleva and Theodore Maynard. The president was Katherine Brégy. Fr. Leonard Feeney was the chaplain.

Many Catholics first read "To Our Lady" in the great third grade Faith and Freedom reader, This is Our Town, Ginn and Company.

Mary Dixon Thayer's granddaughter, Dixie Coskie, in her book, Unthinkable: A Mother's Tragedy, Terror, and Triumph Through A Child's Traumatic Brain Injury, Wyatt-MacKenzie, 2010, tells of the horrible day when her son was struck by a car while riding his bike. In the emergency room, she was "paralyzed by the fear of Paul dying. I was alone in my terror. I was told my husband was racing through traffic. The priest abruptly grasped my hand and said, 'Let’s pray.'"

"Death was real. As I slumped into my chair, an image of my father appeared; he was smiling gently. He did not look sick, just peaceful. I wanted to hold tight to his likeness, for he had died two years earlier from cancer. I wanted to hug him close, to hear him reassure me that the angel’s wings did make a noise. It comforted me in an odd way, to know if Paul died, my father would be the first to greet him; he would bring his grandson to a place where the angels played. As a child, I sat on my father’s lap, mesmerized by his eloquent words. He often read to me from the Bible. I was not sure if the characters in that book were real or fictional. Yet, I had been fascinated and awed, especially when he spoke of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I had always wanted to be like her, a simple mother, doing God’s will. Sometimes, to bring meaning and purpose to my days, I would pray to her, as if she was sitting beside me. Often I asked her to guide me to her Son. To His secrets. To understand the world around me.

"Every night, my Dad finished his stories by reading a poem written by his mother, Mary Dixon Thayer. Without thinking, I started to mumble and to recite the prayer."

To Our Lady

Lovely Lady dressed in blue --
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
Tell me what to say!

Did you lift Him up, sometimes,
Gently on your knee?
Did you sing to Him the way
Mother does to me?

Did you hold His hand at night?
Did you ever try
Telling stories of the world?
O! And did He cry?

Do you really think He cares
If I tell Him things --
Little things that happen? And
Do the Angels' wings

Make a noise? And can He hear
Me if I speak low?
Does He understand me now?
Tell me -- for you know.

Lovely Lady dressed in blue --
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
And you know the way.

--Mary Dixon Thayer

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