Vol. XX, No.7
With Love from the Church Mice
by Lucy E. Carroll
Helen Hull Hitchcock was a woman of many talents. Her understanding of liturgy was unsurpassed. Her skills as both writer and editor were outstanding. Her tact and concern in dealing with reports of liturgical abuse were commendable in her kindness. She always gently quoted the correct regulation; I would have written “you people are doing what?”
Helen was also a fine artist. Her beautiful drawings graced the pages of The Adoremus Bulletin. In the 1980s, she did illustrations for The New Oxford Review. I have some of her cards with her own designs, particularly a lovely Christmas illustration.
This is why Churchmouse Squeaks almost didn’t get to Adoremus. I was too hesitant to show my little scratchings to such an artist. Allow me to backtrack.
A dozen years ago we ordered red choir robes for our monastery choir. We’d never had robes because we never had a resident choir before.
I was at the mechanic, waiting for my old Caprice to be resuscitated. It was taking much time, and the television in the waiting room had dreadful daytime fare. I hadn’t brought my knitting, so to keep myself sane, I began to draw little mice (the one thing I can draw that is recognizable) in red choir robes. I assigned each of them some odd comment made recently by a real choir member. Soon the scrawlings turned into little cartoons. I showed them to the choir at the next rehearsal, and they approved. The following week, they looked for more, and the mice became a kind of journal of our choir.
Eventually, I showed them to our nuns at Carmel, apologizing for my poor drawing skills. Our sub-prioress loved them and said, “ you must send them to Helen!” I demurred. How could I send these little primitive critters to such a gifted artist? And besides, the Adoremus Bulletin was so very dignified and professional.
I did send Helen a packet of drawings, telling her it was not a submission, that I just wanted to give her a laugh or smile. Within days, she called and said, “Can you send me one every month?” I was flustered. “I’m a musician, not an artist,” I apologized. “Nonsense,” she said. “This is just what we need.”
And so in the December 2002 issue, the first little mice appeared, with one standing on tiptoe to reach the high notes in “O Holy Night.” Helen named the feature Churchmouse Squeaks.
I was always impressed that this gifted woman could be so nurturing to my attempts, encouraging my odd sense of humor and amateur drawing. Helen was right, of course, the little mice did fit in to this dignified and professional journal even though they were comic relief. I’ve received e-mails and notes from all over the country about them, with lots of requests to reprint them for choir rooms and church bulletins. Yes, Helen knew we could make a point with gentle laughter even if it came from little red-robed rodents.
In the past twelve years, the mice have grown rounder and fuller but they continued to comment on choir and liturgy. I’ve had so much fun drawing them.
Thank you Helen, for your kindness in encouraging me. Thank you for your gentleness and your own artistic work. Thank you for all you did for the people of God and the Holy Catholic Church and her liturgy.
The real church mice (my monastery choir) sang a Mass for you at the monastery on November 16, 2014. They — and all of us — will miss you terribly.
Requiescat in pace.
Lucy Carroll, organist and choir director at the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia, teaches at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. She frequently contributes essays on Catholic music to AB, and is the creator of the “Churchmouse Squeaks” cartoons regularly featured in these pages.