Benedictine Sister Delores Dufner will receive the Christus Rex award from Valparaiso University’s Institute of Liturgical Studies at their annual conference April 24-26 in Valparaiso, Indiana.
The Christus Rex award annually recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to Lutheran liturgical scholarship and renewal.
“This award is given to someone not for one particular achievement but for a lifetime commitment of liturgical renewal of the church,” said Lorraine Brugh, director of the institute. “Sister Delores’ contemporary hymn texts speak to our current time and place, and so we decided to honor her with this award recognizing a long lifetime of work.”
In 2016, the institute commissioned Sister Delores, a member of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, to write a special hymn for its annual conference, where she was also a speaker. The theme of the conference was centered on the environment, and the conference’s major liturgy included a reading from the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan.
Using elements from the story, Sister Delores intertwined the environmental theme and also chose components from Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” to write the words to the hymn, “Who is the Neighbor?” (2016, GIA Publications).
According to Sister Delores, the verses depict Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan which “teaches us that the person in need is the neighbor whom God commands us to love; we are given the present moment as an opportunity to care for God’s beloved creation, now fragile and in urgent need of our attention; human beings share the DNA of all creation, and the well-being of each one affects all the others; all of God’s creatures are our neighbors.”
Sister Delores served as the director of the diocesan Office of Worship for 15 years from 1975 to 1990. She then worked as a liturgical music consultant in the Diocese of Ballarat, Australia, for 15 months at the invitation of a former classmate and Sister of Mercy.
Since then, Sister Delores has been writing words for liturgical hymns, some of which are sung in Protestant as well as Catholic churches.
Nine of her hymns were included in the 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Worship hymnal. She has four published hymn collections: “Sing a New Church” (1994, Oregon Catholic Press), “The Glimmer of Glory in Song” (2004, GIA Publications), “And Every Breath, a Song” (2011, GIA Publications) and “Criers of Splendor” (2016, GIA Publications).
Over 200 of her hymn texts have been published in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and China. In 2013, Sister Delores was named a fellow of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. In 2014, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.
One of her most thrilling moments was when she learned that one of her hymns, “To Be Your Presence,” was sung at the prayer service held in Lund, Sweden, Oct. 31, 2016, during a joint Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the Reformation attended by Pope Francis and Bishop Munib A. Younan, the president of the Lutheran World Federation. She originally wrote the hymn specifically for the Diocese of St. Cloud during the jubilee year in 2000.
“I was really on a high from that,” she said. “To think that the hymn about our diocese and our diocesan mission statement, which is very dear to my heart, was sung at this ecumenical prayer service, really kind of blew me away.”
She said it is especially significant to her to receive this award this year, which also marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
“I grew up in a largely Lutheran neighborhood in North Dakota at a time when we couldn’t worship in each other’s churches. To see this progress after Vatican II, to be encouraged to study the Bible and read it privately was really significant. Becoming more familiar with Scripture myself was really the inspiration for my hymn writing,” she said.
After Vatican II, the church didn’t have English hymns, she explained, and Catholic musicians looked to the Protestant churches for hymns.
“There has been a real interchange — they sing some of our songs and we sing some of theirs,” she said. “To me, that is really a sign of the greater unity we have and the sharing that we do. I am deeply honored to receive this award. I do feel like it is a sign that both churches are reaching out in reconciliation.”