YMA photoA student learns harp from  Sister Emerentia Berndorfner. 
YMA photo
A student learns harp from  Sister Emerentia Berndorfner. 
Diana Kerman looks at her children and grandchildren and is thankful for the nuns who helped make music and the arts part of their souls.

In 1965, the Holy Names Sisters began a summer camp on the Oregon coast, aiming to give children a fuller experience of the arts. The Sisters, who had started St. Mary's Academy in 1859, from the start considered music, drama, drawing and sculpture a vital part of educating the whole child.

Laura Moen, Kerman's daughter, was part of the Holy Names Sisters' Young Musicians and Artists program from 1973 to 1989, studying music, theater and art. Later, she was a counselor.

"What kept me going back was being with people with common interests," says Moen, who lives in Seattle. "So many talented people."

The camp moved from the coast to Marylhurst University and in 1974 to Willamette University, where Moen attended and where the event is still held.

She recalls the Sisters having high expectations in matters of table manners and decorum in the performance hall.

Each camper would perform for the rest of the children at some point. It was nerve-wracking but fun, Moen explains.

Moen's 14-year-old son Leo has studied theater and choir in the YMA program for five years and 12-year-old daugher Etta has attended for four years, following in her mother's footsteps by playing cello.   

"It's their favorite thing," Moen says. Leo even skipped a Boy Scout canoe trip to attend the two-week arts camp three hours from his home.

"It's great to be able to be a parent and watch it," Moen says. "When I was little I could not explain it. But after the very first week, Leo's confidence had risen, he walked taller, he talked to people."

Kerman, who never went to YMA herself, says the program had a big impact on the lives of her three children and the next generation. Her daughter Deborah played violin and even was in the junior symphony. Son Philip studied art and has a photography degree; he sends his daughter to YMA.  

The Sisters don't run the camp any more, but people honor their legacy.  

Sister Ann Miriam Albrich founded Young Musicians and Artists to give children a fun summer experience and a way to advance their talents. It was during the Second Vatican Council and was one of the first times the Sisters ventured into projects outside the classroom.

Before starting the camp, Sister Ann Miriam had earned degrees in music at both Marylhurst and the University of Montreal. She entered the Holy Names Convent in Marylhurst in 1931, and during 52 years taught vocal, piano and instrumental music in Holy Names schools in Portland, Eugene, Seattle and Spokane.

The owner of the Gearhart Hotel let the Sisters use the lodge free of charge for the first camp and federal grants helped fund the effort. Sister Therese Miller, the camp manager, rounded up food and did the cooking herself. For the two weeks, including meals, the Sisters charged each camper $25. Students came from all over the country. A few even came from Japan.    

Sister Ann Miriam died in 1986 at age 72, having seen her project soar to success.

Sister Helen Sandoz was in on the start of YMA and after a hiatus returned, to stay until just a few years ago. She was the last of the Sisters to have a role. Sister Helen would teach sessions on matters like tuning violins and then more advanced matters like woodwind technique. She accompanied many young performers during the talent shows, which were held every other night.

She attended a recent YMA performance just to watch.

"It was just like walking into the past," she told a Holy Names Heritage Center interviewer in 2011. "Those kids were doing the same wonderful things. This African music that they were doing, it’s just marvelous. And the art. And the drama. It's just as if Sister Ann Miriam were sitting in the back row."