CBS Highlights Cloistered Nuns as ‘Heavenly’ Rock Stars

CBS Easter segment focuses on nuns’ rise to fame through singing.

Although the nets usually secularize Easter, one CBS “Sunday Morning” story defied the norm by reporting on nuns who sing for souls – and doing it with respect and care.

Correspondent Tracy Smith traveled to the farmlands north of Kansas City to explore “Heavenly Songs from Classical Music’s Unlikely Rock Stars.” Smith visited the priory of The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, which houses a group of cloistered nuns who recently rose to fame for their voices. Beating even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the sisters reached number one on the Billboard traditional classical music chart last year, and earned Billboard’s recognition as “classical artists of the year” in 2012 and 2013.

Although Smith described their singing as a “perfect four-part harmony” in her report, 36-year-old Mother Cecilia Snell tried to convince Smith, “We’re not great singers.” She attributed the sisters’ success to singing five hours a day – with some help from heaven. “I’m a firm believer that the angels help us on these recordings,” Mother Cecilia explained.

While she didn’t clarify the other sisters’ pasts, Smith noted that Mother Cecilia holds a musical background as a graduate of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice and a former French horn player in Ohio’s Columbus Symphony Orchestra.

Calling their story “miraculous,” Smith told how record producer discovered the sisters at a time when they faced two million dollars in debt due to their priory purchased in 2010. “That’s how God works,” Mother Cecilia clarified. After almost 150,000 copies sold of their three albums, the sisters have only $100,000 left to pay.

But “Do the sisters here know that these albums have topped the charts?” Smith inquired. Mother Cecilia responded, “It comes up in conversation once in a while. But the thing is, even if they do know or did know, it just doesn’t affect us.” She later stressed, “We don’t care about the charts, we don’t care about popularity. We care about souls.”

For the sisters, “this music is our life.” Mother Cecilia said, “I think people hear that and it inspires them, reminds them there’s something more to this life than what I see with my eyes. Because beauty touches the soul and the heart and it reminds people: I have a soul. I have heart.”

When they aren’t singing, the unassuming sisters, mostly in 20s and 30s, perform manual labor, from milking cows to sowing priestly vestments. They live without mirrors, television, and speaking (except for one hour in the evening).

Smith noticed the sisters’ “pure joy” in their way of life. Mother Cecilia acknowledged, “Some people will look at us and say ‘Oh, what a shame. What a shame. Those sisters, those young women, they just close themselves up.’” She insisted otherwise: “We are the happiest people on the face of this earth” and concluded “we would not exchange this life for anything.”

— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.