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Issue Date:  November 2, 2007

-- CNS

Sr. Suzanne Toolan
Girl's comment saved 'I Am the Bread of Life' song from trash bin

It was 1966 and Mercy Sr. Suzanne Toolan had been asked to write a song for an event in the San Francisco archdiocese. With the deadline looming, she worked on a song in an unoccupied room next to the infirmary in the Catholic girls’ high school where she taught.

“I worked on it, and I tore it up. I thought, ‘This will not do,’ ” Toolan said. “And this little girl came out of the infirmary and said, ‘What was that? That was beautiful!’ I went right back and Scotch-taped it up.”

That schoolgirl saved “I Am the Bread of Life,” one of the most popular hymns of the Second Vatican Council era.

Toolan credits “a very gifted Sulpician” named Fr. John Olivier at a seminary near her convent in Burlingame, Calif., with helping get the word out about her songs.

“He would come to our convent on Saturdays, so we’d have a decent homily every week,” she said. “He began to hear some of my things and he took it back to the seminary. And that’s how I think most of my things got out.”

“I Am the Bread of Life” is in many Catholic hymnals, as well as in the official hymnbooks of the Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist churches. “People keep giving me copies of it when they go to Europe or Asia, even,” Toolan said. “It’s in different languages. It’s thrilling.”

Toolan is aware that some don’t care for the song, but she takes criticism in stride. She has wondered about its popularity. “It’s a hymn that really shouldn’t work for the congregation. It’s too low. It’s too high. I often ask myself: Why does it work so well, then? I think it’s the scripture. The scripture is so strong.”

Toolan, who turned 80 Oct. 24, recently published a memoir, titled I Am the Bread of Life, cowritten with Elizabeth Dossa, communications officer for the Mercy Sisters.

Her call to religious life came in first grade, she said. “We had this kind of strange but wonderful nun who used to play the organ. I thought, ‘Gee, I want to be a nun and I want to be an organist.’ ”

-- Catholic News Service

National Catholic Reporter, November 2, 2007

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