Personal witness: choral studies director reflects on spiritual influences

Dyersville parish had an impact on woman’s journey

By Aimee Beckmann-Collier

Special to The Witness

Although I was introduced at a recent concert as a Dyersville native, I’m not.  But I could probably masquerade as one, since I spent so much time there as a child, adolescent and young adult. Now that I’m nearing retirement, I am reflecting on the influences that have shaped my life on both personal and professional levels.  Those reflections have reaffirmed my gratitude for the foundation of faith that is the result of my time spent in Dyersville and my interactions with family and friends there.

I am a musician and teacher, and, as I tell my students at Drake University, I believe those of us with artistic gifts are morally obliged to create something beautiful, truthful and good each day. My own faith is deeply rooted in such pursuits.  Recently, as I led the Drake Choir and Chamber Choir in a rehearsal and performance at the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, I realized that the church and community there were foundational elements of my faith experience. The beauty of the building itself, both visually and acoustically, has always been a source of joy and a “way in” to appreciating the unfathomable beauty and goodness of God. The dedication of the founders of the church, who were willing to mortgage their own precious land in order to provide a gathering space for the body of Christ, has always resonated with me. And the dignity and continuity of the Christian commitment, as it has existed in Dyersville for more than 150 years, is a model of the fidelity that is central to all purposeful living.

Eight years ago I became a Benedictine oblate of Saint John’s Abbey (located in Collegeville, Minnesota).  Saint John’s is the largest monastic community in the world and was one of the leading voices for the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.  The community provides worldwide leadership in ecumenical dialogue, is deeply invested in research in and preservation of cultural documents in the arts, sciences, history and theology, and is a model of stewardship of the natural world, as well as the importance of the creation of human-made beauty, in addition to its central mission of educating young people at Saint John’s University and the Saint John’s Preparatory School.  Oblates are lay women and men, both Catholics and members of many other faith traditions, who live the Benedictine ethos of seeking God in community in a life of prayer and work by associating themselves with the monastic community and applying its values and prayer forms as is possible in their own lives in the secular world.  I was drawn to Benedictine spirituality because of its emphasis on community, the centrality of artistic beauty as a way of knowing God, and the model it provides of a life balanced between work and prayer.

As I entered the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier to welcome my students to the church and to prepare them for our concert there, I was reminded of the foundational influence of the building itself, as well as the faith community for which it serves as a gathering space.  I am grateful for my lifelong affiliation with the basilica and its people and acknowledge it as a seminal influence in my own journey of faith.

Aimee Beckmann-Collier is director of choral studies at Drake University. Her parents were Dyersville natives, and she taught choral music at Beckman High School in 1976-77. She recently returned to St. Francis Xavier Basilica March 7 to lead her students in a performance.