By RANDLE CHRISTIAN
COLUMBIA — A little girl with an ear for music and an uncommon faith in God was the guiding spirit behind the St. Joseph Choir’s “A Festival of Lessons and Carols.”
“If we had never gotten to know Anna, we would have never gotten to know Jim and the CD never would have gotten done,” said Tom Moore, a longtime member of the choir and a close friend of Blakeslee and his wife, Cynthia.
Tom Moore first met Anna Marie Blakeslee and her family when she was a student in his wife, Mary’s, Sunday School class at St. Joseph’s. The Moores were drawn to the child because of the unusual faith she had for such a young child. “I’ve never in my whole life seen a child with her comprehension of God,” said Mary Moore, who taught her in both 4- and 5-year-old religious education classes.
Anna Marie also had an affinity for music, her father, Jim Blakeslee said. One of her greatest joys was hearing the St. Joseph choir sing at Sunday Mass. “She would light up when the choir was singing,” her father said.
Once, Anna Marie was among the audience at the Festival of Lessons and Carols. Nestled in Mary Moore’s lap, she became totally absorbed in the service. “She smiled the whole time, swaying to the music,” Mary Moore said.
The happiness Anna Marie derived in her love of God and music helped to sustain her throughout her battle with cancer. In the spring of 1996, when Anna was 6, a brain cancer that had been in remission for two-and-a-half years became active again. Attending Mass comforted the child as she went through her chemotherapy treatments. Because Mass meant so much to Anna Marie, Blakeslee, though not a Catholic, began going to church with his family. As a former musician he, too, was taken with the choir’s beautiful singing and the liturgy. “I got a lot of satisfaction out of Mass,” he said.
Even as her illness progressed, Anna continued to attend Mass as much as she could. His daughter’s devotion touched Blakeslee profoundly. “I always used to wonder if she were seeing things we weren’t. It was an eerie thing to see her participation in Mass. She would sit absolutely still, listening to the priest. I think it was because she was so close to being with the Lord.”
Two weeks before she died in October 1996, she was granted one of her dearest wishes when Msgr. Charles Rowland, pastor of St. Joseph, confirmed her as a member of the Catholic Church and gave her her first Communion.
Shortly after Anna Marie’s death, knowing how much the choir meant to both her and her father, Tom Moore asked Blakeslee if he would be interested in helping record some of their music. Through his contacts at SCETV where he worked, Blakeslee figured he could get the necessary expertise and equipment to make a successful recording. “We can do this,” Blakeslee said.
During the recording sessions, Blakeslee said he would feel his daughter’s presence. “I would say a prayer during the recording. I’d ask Jesus to take her down and sit her in the front row. She was there.”
Choir director Teresa Riley also felt there was a higher power at work. “God wanted it to happen. We had a million obstacles, and they were all overcome. You know when you’re led,” she said.
When Riley and Tom Moore suggested to Blakeslee that the CD be dedicated to Anna Marie, he was deeply moved. “I couldn’t speak for three days,” he said.
Making the recording was part of a year-long process for Blakeslee that included formalizing his own growing commitment to the Catholic Church. On Pentecost he became a Catholic. This August, he joined the choir.