He Who Sings, Prays Twice

The Texas Story Project.

“As part of the Chapel Choir, I know that I have people who support me both in joyful and difficult times. Love is always bigger than anything else. It also makes me very happy that we share this with the St. Mary’s community since most of our service is done within the Liturgy when we help the congregation pray during the mass.”

Julieta Sanchez comes from the sounds of upbeat guitars, drums, and maracas in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, as a way to express liturgical celebration. She had not discovered her deep love and appreciation for liturgy and music until she came to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. She put her faith in action by joining the St. Mary’s ministry and witnessing how the student’s spiritual growth impacted her over the years. Since St. Mary's is a Hispanic-serving institution with the majority of the student body identifying as Hispanic, Julieta believes the liturgical celebration should be mindful and respond in a way that best fits the needs of the Texas community.

Seven-year-old Julieta moved from a city at the border of Mexico to El Paso, Texas, because her parents envisioned a brighter future for their family. Julieta grew up in the Catholic faith as she remembers attending mass as a young girl with her grandmother and praying to La Virgen de Guadalupe. Once in El Paso, Julieta’s parents enrolled her in a Rite of Christian Initiation for Children. However, the classes were only offered in English, and her faith language had always been Spanish. Julieta viewed this as challenging, but this later became a useful tool as she grew up in Texas. Julieta then joined a youth group that was in Spanish, which allowed her to feel more comfortable when speaking about her faith to others her age. It was at this time where Julieta had officially fallen in love with her faith. “It’s crazy to think that it was really only 12 years ago. My faith continued to be strengthened when I started attending St. Mary’s and became involved with its campus ministry. During my college years is when I really took ownership of my faith. I was proud to express it because I loved it not just because my parents had taught it to me.”

After hearing of St. Mary’s University, Julieta enrolled and completed both an undergraduate degree in Biology and a graduate degree in Theology. “As a student, the University Ministry was my home away from home. I felt welcomed from the beginning, and it played an integral role in my experience at St. Mary’s. It helped me discover skills I didn’t know I had.” Julieta had worked for University Ministry as a student. This position was challenging yet encouraging to her character both personally and professionally. When Julieta was offered a position on the ministry team shortly after she graduated, she wasted no time accepting the offer. “I love the selfless spirit that is felt all throughout campus. The feeling I first felt on the day I first visited the campus is the same feeling I feel now every day when I go to work. Everyone has a happy spirit and is willing to help others when needed."

Julieta laughs at the thought of not knowing why she participated in her middle and high school choir. Little did she know that music would later have an impact on her for the rest of her life. A song, “Alle, Alle” rang in Julieta's ears as she first heard the St. Mary’s Chapel Choir sing at the Academic Convocation Mass. After attending the Chapel Choir retreat, she knew she had found her second home. She began to sing at the masses and attend rehearsals. “I felt welcomed, cared for, and loved. After I graduated, I continued to be part of the Chapel Choir because once you’re in the family, you’re in it forever!”

On the University campus, there are students from all different backgrounds attending the liturgical celebrations and other campus ministry initiatives. With every student who walks into the chapel comes unique stories that blend and influence one another. Many Spanish-speaking students were interested in attending Mass in Spanish every Sunday. Unfortunately, St. Mary’s is only able to have a Spanish Mass once a month. For those students who reside on campus and have no way of attending local parishes, Spanish Mass at St. Mary's is very significant to them. Due to this, the Chapel Choir incorporates English, Spanish, and bilingual songs to allow the congregation to feel welcomed and understand the theme of that specific liturgy in a language that is familiar. Julieta expresses the importance of this response to the faith needs of the Hispanic population on campus because it represents the people within our faith community, and it is considerate of their culture and background.

Julieta explains that “Having Spanish Mass benefits the Texas community because Hispanics are expected to become the largest population group in Texas as soon as 2022,” She continues, “Many of these Hispanics are Spanish speakers, and this is important for the Church not only to be aware but respond to the religious needs of Hispanics in Texas. Faith and culture have a lot to do with this, and providing services that appeal to Texans allows the community to practice inclusivity and diversity.” Julieta wishes to continue to be a part of the Chapel Choir as it helps nurture her faith through music and community. Julieta has recently been involved in working with the Archdiocese of San Antonio to provide liturgical training for various parishes within the region. She is looking forward to a Border Immersion project between the Campus Ministry offices of the three Marianist Universities: St. Mary’s University, Chaminade University in Hawaii, and the University of Dayton in Ohio. The St. Mary’s Chapel Choir forms leaders for the future. Many of these will continue pursuing their education and careers in Texas and contribute to the great community of support that it is today. “We pray with the community together as one voice to God. What St. Augustine said is so true to our identity as a choir, ‘He who sings, prays twice.’”

Alyssa "Ally" Hinojosa is a second-year student at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. She is a first-generation college student who is pursuing an undergraduate degree in English with a minor in Biology. She intends to seek a career in optometry while continuing to enjoy her passion for liturgical singing.

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