Tribute to a Gifted Presentation Sister – Sr. Patricia Dent
PATRICIA DENT AND CREATIVITY (25-2-14)
Anyone in touch with her spirituality desires to do her part in spreading the kingdom, the kin-dom of God wherever she is. Sister Patricia Dent OAM has done, and fervently continues to do just that now in her retirement at Caloundra Rise Retirement Estate.
Patricia epitomises what the spiritual writer, Tom Stella, suggests is meant by being spiritual:
“an indication that one is growing spiritually is not evidenced by the frequency or intensity of religious experiences, but by the capacity of being smitten by the subtle holiness of life in its everyday simplicity”.
Music has given Patricia frequent and intense religious experiences and throughout her life her spirituality has resulted in her being smitten by life in its everyday simplicity.
Patricia has been blessed with the gift of music. She has developed that talent and become a very successful teacher, a talented performer, a gifted accompanist, and a composer of sacred music.
Baptised as Marie Therese Dent, Patricia was born into a family where music filled the home. When her mother, Mary Magdalen Dent died, the local newspaper, the Northern Star carried the headline, “The Mother of Music in Lismore has died”.
Early in their lives, each of Mary’s six children was introduced to a musical instrument – Patricia had her first piano lesson on her sixth birthday in 1924. This lesson was given by a Presentation Sister, Sister Patricia D’Arcy – the blood sister of the foundress of the Lismore Presentation Congregation, Mother Stanislaus D’Arcy. Patricia is very proud of her connection with the early history of her loved religious congregation.
Patricia the musician became an accomplished performer. She had been thrust into the accompanist role when, at only 16 years of age, her mother requested that she accompany the Lismore Adult Choir at a city concert.
Later, and often only at the request of others who recognized her great talent, she composed a significant number of works which include Masses, motets, hymns and songs for children. In her own words, Patricia believes that composing profoundly affected her life.
She wrote mostly sacred music and she says that during composition, words were always in her mind. She says she is always praying when composing and playing. Her first Mass was composed for Reverend Mother Agnes’ jubilee and was sung in the “new” St Mary’s Convent Chapel in 1953. Mother Berchmans requested something for Holy Year in 1954 and Patricia’s Marian hymn, “You are all beautiful, Mary” resulted. Patricia wrote an organ prelude and a four part version of Psalm 150 for the rededication of the St Carthage’s organ in Lismore.
But perhaps her proudest piece resulted some years ago when the then President of the Presentation Society requested that she write a hymn to the theme of Raphael Consedine’s book “One Pace Beyond”. In 1996, Patricia was asked to write a “simple, singable Mass” for use in parish churches. The result was her “Mass in B Flat” which so impressed the local Anglican vicar that he asked her for a copy.
Patricia’s love of music found expression with students over many, many years. She maintains that the art of being a good teacher was in getting to know and understand her students personally. She believes that only with knowledge and understanding could teacher and student really communicate.
Her one-to- one teaching gave her the opportunity to experience many different personalities, manage difficult students and enjoy passing on her skill and knowledge of music. Students appreciated her interest in them and many have kept in contact with her over the years. In fact one of them recently asked her if she realised that, as a result of her teaching, she had “many music grand-children” – many “spiritual”, musical grand-children.
In a recent interview Patricia mentioned just a few of her students who have been very successful in following their musical careers: one an international conductor; another a Music Professor at Hamburg University in Germany; another became the director of Music in Tamworth and currently there is an ex-student of hers who is the Director of Music at St Lawrence’s College in Brisbane. The careers of these people illustrate Patricia’s belief that learning and performing music “changed students’ personalities – they became more outgoing”.
Sister Patricia, this accomplished, very extroverted personality claims that she “went quietly” to her retirement unit in Caloundra but within twelve months she was accompanying the Estate’s Choir. She met the group when they numbered about thirteen but within four years the Choir has grown to about forty members.
They give six concerts a year and Patricia, now with failing eyesight, says that she has to “practise” to be ready to accompany. Recently after a concert dedicated to sacred music, a lady came up to her at the piano and said, “God was in this place today”. Patricia was smitten by the statement. Tom Stella’s statement that one is growing in spirituality when one is smitten by the subtle holiness of life in its everyday simplicity is evident in Patricia’s interaction with residents and all people she meets.
Patricia Dent fulfils her life’s spiritual desire. She says, “When I play (the piano), I pray”. At the wonderful age of 95 her creative use of her gift of music is so obviously manifesting the divine presence in her everyday life and ministry in Caloundra, Queensland where she is cared for by her friend of many years, Jan.