Mary Elizabeth Bagnell
January 10, 1921 – July 15, 2003
January 10, 1921 – July 15, 2003
Mary Elizabeth Bagnell, respected and beloved throughout New England and New York for her many years of music ministry in the Roman Catholic Church, died Tuesday, July 15, 2003, at Catholic Medical Center, Manchester, after a year-long illness. She was 82.
She retired in 2002 as the director of music for the Diocese of Manchester and as organist and choir director at Saint Joseph Cathedral, Manchester. That same year she received an honorary doctor of music degree from Saint Anselm College in Goffstown during annual commencement exercises.
Composer, organist, choir organizer and director, lecturer and teacher, she was born Jan. 10, 1921, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the youngest of five children of Mary (Healy) and Edward Bagnell. During the Depression, with her brother James, Miss Bagnell developed a vaudeville act, complete with tap dancing and song, for downtown New York City venues. She later received an invitation to join New York’s Radio City Rockettes. An accomplished swimmer and figure skater, she performed on the ice at Rockefeller Center.
Miss Bagnell was a 1957 graduate of Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, Purchase, N.Y., where she received a bachelor of music degree. In 1966, she received a bachelor of sacred music degree, also from at Manhattanville. Later, in 1976, she was awarded a master of music degree in music education from Boston University’s School for the Arts, and she subsequently pursued doctoral studies in music at Boston University.
Following some 30 years with the Religious Sisters of Mercy in Brooklyn, she came to New Hampshire in 1971 and continued her music ministry throughout the region. Both in the Brooklyn and Manchester dioceses, she organized many major religious celebrations, sometimes involving choirs of as many as 150 or more. She frequently played the organ for services at Floyd Bennett Naval Air Station, Brooklyn - and visited wounded servicemen during the Vietnam War as they were airlifted home. In 1968, she received an honorary appointment from President Lyndon B. Johnson as a master chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy. Several times, she took her 100-voice glee club at McAuley to sing at the air station for services and concerts.
Shortly after her arrival in New Hampshire, she began teaching music at Saint Anselm College, where she revived the music program by organizing a college chorus, a concert band, a pep band and two folk groups. When the college introduced its new Humanities Program 25 years ago, she played a key role in developing its musical dimension, including a unit on the composer Ludwig van Beethoven. As a composer, Miss Bagnell wrote much of her work for the monastic community at Saint Anselm, with which she had long and close relationship. Her work includes Masses, Glorias and hymns.
In 1983, she began working for the Manchester diocese as director of music in the Office of Worship. She also has written compositions and commentary on liturgical music for several publications, including Concern and Tidings, Manchester diocesan newspapers, and for the Gregorian Institute of America, Oregon Catholic Press, Today’s Liturgy, The Brooklyn Tablet, and Worship magazine. She served as a liturgical music consultant for a number of U.S. bishops.
Over the years, Miss Bagnell served as organist and music director for several New Hampshire parishes, including Saint Peter’s, Auburn; Saint Raphael’s, Manchester; and parishes in Salem and Derry. She gave workshops for cantors, organists, choirs and choir directors throughout New Hampshire. In addition, she taught piano and organ to private students for many years. On major holidays, Miss Bagnell often visited local nursing homes, where she entertained patients with her music - and sometimes her baseball stories. She was a devoted, sometimes even an intemperate, fan first of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, then, after the team moved to Los Angeles, Calif., she transferred her loyalty to the Boston Red Sox.