On the first Friday of every month, Taizé evening prayer around the cross is celebrated in the chapel at Mercy Center, a retreat facility in Burlingame, California. The event attract hundreds every month who gather to sing the music of Taizé, to hear God's word, and to reflect in the atmosphere of candlelight. the director of this prayer experience is Sister Suzanne Toolan, RSM. most of us know her as the composer of "I Am the Bread of Life."
Born in Lansing, Michigan, Sister Suzanne moved to Hollywood at age seventeen. It was in Hollywood she became a student of Richard Keys Biggs. After her profession as a Sister of Mercy, she earned a masters degree in humanities and then began her teaching career. In addition to her academic duties, she has directed choirs for high schools, colleges, parish, and seminaries.
A while back, she constructed some sketches for a eucharistic piece to be used at an upcoming archdiocesan event. Disappointed with the results, she tore up the manuscript and threw it into the waste can. Leaving the room, she encountered a freshman student who asked what she was playing. The student thought it was beautiful. Sister Suzanne rescued the shred and reworked it. The item was "I Am the Bread of Life," and it has certainly enjoyed a life of its own. It appears now in more hymnals and collections than any other title in the GIA catalog and has been translated into a least ten other languages.
Sister Suzanne is know to many as a quiet woman of gentle manner who values prayer in all the dimensions of her life. Her book entitled Canticles and Gathering Prayers (Winona, Minnesota: St. Mary's Press), a composite of services and canticles written for groups gathered in prayer. Her compositional skills have enriched the prayer life of thousands of Catholics who have made their way to her workshops or who have sun her music. For those Catholics, and for all people who have enjoyed her work and who are able to prayer better, a large thank you to Sister Suzanne, as well as that freshman student who encouraged her to root through her trash can. What a loss that would have been. What a treasure it is.