Remembrance of the Life of Sister M. Eloise Jarvis SL
Mary Eloise Jarvis was the elder of two daughters born to Henry Noel Jarvis and Mary Wheatley Jarvis of Harrisburg, Ill. Henry, like his brothers, was a veterinarian surgeon; Mary was a music teacher and a gifted musician who passed on her gifts to both Eloise and her younger sister Eleanor. Eloise’s musical education began as soon as she could reach the piano keyboard and continued under her mother’s careful teaching for 12 years. She attended public elementary and high school in Harrisburg, where she was extremely active in both sports and music. Eloise played the flute in the high school concert band of ninety and was a member of the 65-piece symphony orchestra. She later said she learned to play almost every orchestra instrument “out of curiosity and fun.” She represented her high school at national music contests, winning first places in both piano and flute.
In 1939 Eloise enrolled at Webster College, Webster Groves, Mo., on a music scholarship. She studied with Loretto Sister Adaline Gemoets, to whose teaching and friendship Eloise credited her musical development. Graduating with a major in music theory and a minor in piano, Eloise also earned a near-major in English, an example of the conviction that would guide her career as a teacher of music: “Musicians need training in liberal arts so they have something to say when they express themselves in music.”
In May 1943, Eloise graduated from Webster College. Eleven days later, over her father’s objections but with her mother’s encouragement and financial support, Eloise entered the Sisters of Loretto. Dec. 8, 1943, she received the habit and her birth name as her religious name. She made her first vows Dec. 8, 1945, and her final vows Aug. 15, 1950. Following her novitiate, Eloise taught high school chorus and piano for 11 years, first at St. Mary’s, Sterling, Ill.; then at Loretto Academy, Kansas City, Mo.; and finally at Loretto High School, Louisville, Ky., where her Girls’ Glee Club won first place in the state contest for three years in a row, and several of Eloise’s students won music contests and soloed with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra.
Eloise was awarded a scholarship to Eastman School of Music where, in 1954, she completed her master’s degree in performance and music literature and in 1960 her Ph.D. in musicology. Between these accomplishments, Eloise joined the faculty at Webster College, where from 1956 to 1995 Eloise earned a reputation as one of the most effective teachers and educational leaders on campus. Her greatest pleasure was in teaching the youngest undergraduates:
“It is very hard for the incoming freshman to appreciate music theory and music history. In other fields they have already experienced courses in literature, mathematics, science, etc., but in music they come to the study of theory and history as altogether new subject matters. It can be more than a little humbling to them to realize that in the field they have chosen, they are practically illiterate other than being able to perform on their instruments. … I believe this is where students should have the experienced and enthusiastic teacher.”
Sister Eloise, born with perfect pitch, performed often, playing recitals in Denver, Colorado Springs, Louisville and in the St. Louis area, where she was pianist with the Webster Trio, piano soloist and orchestra soloist. A sudden devastating viral paralysis struck Eloise in March 1963, attacking first her hands, then moving rapidly throughout her body. After weeks of recuperation and only with the help of her students, she completed the school year. Gradually she recovered and with persistent exercising she finally was able to play the piano again. In later years, Eloise still had numbness in her fingers at times, to which she responded with still more persistent exercising and playing. She explained, “I work much harder to play now, but I believe I really am playing better because I must work harder. I have to be so much more careful.”
At Webster University, she served as chairwoman of the Department of Music from 1960 to 1984, then directed graduate students in Music until 1993. An astute administrator, she played a key role in the transformation of Webster from a small girls college to a co-educational university with a notable Fine Arts College. She welcomed the addition of male singers and musicians for the formation of mixed choruses and chamber music groups.
Eloise instigated, developed and implemented the Master of Music Program at the University, initiated a jazz studies program, and founded the orchestra which became the Civic Symphony of Webster Groves and later the Metropolitan Orchestra at Webster University. She planned new curricula for graduate majors in piano and voice pedagogy, jazz studies, conducting, composition, performance and music education. Upon her retirement in 1995, Eloise was honored by the university with the distinction of Professor Emeritus.
With all these distinctions and accomplishments, Eloise was described as a quiet and unassuming individual who preferred to stay in the background. She was a loyal friend and family member. She and Sister Lucy Maurice Galvin shared their Webster Groves home with a network of friends. She was close to and enjoyed her cousins’ and her sister Eleanor’s families. After Eleanor’s death, Eloise’s brother-in-law John and niece Patrice continued to visit her; her cousin Joe sent flowers and family news and photos. Like her Loretto Sisters, Eloise’s family faithfully accompanied her even through Eloise’s declining awareness.
Eloise moved to the St. Louis Center in 2010 and to Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary in 2011. Here she died quietly in Oct. 21 in the company of her Loretto Sisters.