Interviewed by Sister Malia Dominica Wong, OP
Hawaii Catholic Herald
There is a unique connection between the artist and the Divine. When we look at the life of St. Francis of Assisi, he was a troubadour. Francis used his musical gifts to serve the Lord. Like him, if there is a need and you have the talents, you must use them. Sometimes gifts can get suppressed, but we must not hide them as in the parable of the steward who buried the talents given him. In the same vein, from the very beginning my mother told me, “When you sing, you must always offer it up to God.” Performance is prayer.
When I was in Syracuse in New York, I was the soloist of the Singing Sisters of Syracuse. We did albums and even cut a gold record. I remember always getting these beautiful floral bouquets after performances and taking them to my room. One day, one of the sisters said to me, “Don’t you want to put your flowers in chapel?” Having already offered up my work to God, I quipped, “No, God gets the singing; I get the flowers.”
Under our choir director, Franciscan Sister Eloise Emm, we used to go all day Saturday rehearsing. She would tell us, “Okay Sisters, let us offer this up for certain people and other special intentions, like the sick. One day, we were all so very tired. As we leaned on the bleachers one sister exclaimed, “Holy smokes, I think we just cured someone of cancer.” But that was what intent was about. You cannot go out and use your gift unless you offer it to God.
I was the first in our religious community to pursue a degree in the performing arts. I moved carefully as it was new territory. I used to put a lot of faith in the song “Climb Every Mountain,” especially when I played the role of Mother Abbess (in “The Sound of Music”) at Diamond Head Theater.
When I started to work with performing arts at the University of Hawaii, I was very often the first nun others had contact with. So, it became a conscious ministry to stay in. When I started to sing with the opera, a lot of the opera members would also seek me out for various reasons. I seemed to be a comfort for them. For example, it was the first time for one girl to play the lead role in the opera Carmen. Every time before she went on stage, she would ask me to stand by her and to just hold her hand.
I had already been doing costuming for the University of Hawaii Music Department and the Hawaii Opera Youth Chorus Hooulu before helping out at Chaminade University of Honolulu. All of a sudden, all of my involvements seemed to be a lot taking a toll on my physical being. In 2013, I stopped doing operas. I still keep my hand in the opera by doing music reading or taking notes, as the performers still look for my presence there. They are looking for something they don’t have otherwise. Definitely it is a mission. With Chaminade students on the other hand, they find it intriguing, but also comforting that I also understand what it is to be a performer. That is a special connection.
Sister Grace Capellas is a Sister of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. She was born in Hakalau, Hawaii. Sister has degrees in music, vocal performance and the performing arts. She resides at St. Francis Convent in Manoa.