Sister Janet Mead — a rocker nun

Fr Leonard E Dollentas 

Sister Janet Mead, the South Australian Sister of Mercy musician whose pop version of “The Lord’s Prayer” was a hit in the 1970s, has died. Her version of “The Lord’s Prayer” made her the first Australian with a US gold record. The song went on to become an international hit that reached the furthest villages in the Philippines in the 70s and 80s, back in the days when the transistor radio was the most advanced communication technology.

Mead was born in Adelaide in 1938. As a young teenager, she formed a band to provide music for the weekly Mass at her local church. She studied piano at the Adelaide Conservatorium before joining the Sisters of Mercy in 1955 and became a music teacher at two local Catholic schools.

Her Music Ministry

She began a music ministry forming young singers called “Rock Masses” at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral in Adelaide. She also pioneered the use of contemporary rock music in celebrating Mass. In 1974 Sister Janet wrote: “I believe that life is a unity and therefore not divided into compartments. That means that worship, music, recreation, work, and all other ‘little boxes’ of our lives are really inseparable, and this is why I believe that people should be given the opportunity to worship God with the language and music that is part of their ordinary life. The words of the songs on this record almost all come from books of the Bible, which so richly expresses the longings of our heart, our loneliness, our joy, our dependence on God, our desire to love our fellow man and to live in peace. We all recognize these yearnings — they are ours and are common to each of our lives.” 

Her wider fame started when Festival Records (an Australian recording and publishing company) asked her to record a cover of the Donovan song “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” which had been written for the soundtrack of the Franco Zeffirelli film. At the B-side of the record, she was asked to render a rock arrangement of “The Lord’s Prayer,” so a one-hit-wonder was born. The single became the first Australian recording to sell over one million copies in the United States. The talented nun saw an opportunity to extend more help to the needy with her share of the royalties from the recordings.

A Heart for God Alone

Her single was distributed to 31 countries and sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. Its success led to the recording of an album, With You I Am, which hit No. 19 in July 1974. Her second album, A Rock Mass, was a complete recording of one of her famous Rock Masses.  

Despite the huge success and publicity she gained, Sister Janet remained focused in her religious life and on the charitable works of her congregation. She resisted the call to continue her pop career, despite intense media interest. In an interview in 1975, she said: “The reasons for becoming a nun change over the years, you renew your dedication. I originally became a nun because I saw that their work was to help people who had a need.” She dedicated her time helping to care for the homeless and those in need, particularly young people. She used the entire share of royalties for the songs she recorded to charity. She continued to reject the spotlight and offers to tour the United States and instead continued to teach music at St Aloysius College.

Sister Janet was named the South Australian of the year in 2004 for decades of caring for the homeless. She died from cancer in Adelaide on 26 January 2022 at the age of 84.

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 (Photo courtesy of the Sisters of Mercy)