Author Kimberly Cook talks to Aleteia about the woman who inspired and fascinated her
Few have heard of Irene Fedoryka, but her life is an icon of self-giving for the glory of God.
So says Kimberly Cook, a freelance writer and author, who tells Aleteia about this remarkable musician and mother in the following Q&A. Cook discovered Fedoryka because of her children. “You shall know them by their fruits.”
Aleteia: How was your curiosity initially piqued by Irene Fedoryka?
It was at the Appaloosa Festival in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, watching the band Scythian play their children’s set. I had watched brothers Alexander and Danylo Fedoryka perform with lifelong friend Josef Crosby and other siblings many times before. I was enchanted by their incredible collective musical talents, which were somehow overshadowed only by their spirit. Eventually I started to ask, “Who raised these people?”
Every mom wants what Irene Fedoryka had in her children; faithfulness, dedication, talent, humility, compassion, kindness. As I watched these very successful musicians perform for a small crowd of little children, I could tell they gave just as much of themselves to the children as they would to a packed arena of paying adults. I flipped open the Fedoryka’s children’s album, Cake for Dinner, and there I found my answer. The inside dedication read: “With heartfelt thanks to God, to our mother, Irene, who sacrificed everything in giving us the gift of music, therein giving us the greatest music lesson of all …”
And upon researching her, what did you find?
Irene was a woman with an “awesome childlike faith.” Not only a devotee of St. Therese, but a woman who took up her cross and lived with great joy. A Juilliard pianist who surrendered her career to become a home-schooling mother of 10, she was fueled with saintly sacrifice. A determined and persistent mother, quietly in the background of a household bursting with talent and theological gifts.
Ukrainian immigrants, Irene and her future husband, Damian Fedoryka, came to the U.S. as children. Irene’s family arrived in New York with possessions amounting to one dollar. Irene’s devotion to the Blessed Mother was constantly strengthened throughout her life, as she found Mary to be always interceding for her. The first experience Irene had of this was through an attempted abduction, which was unsuccessful due only to divine intercession. After moving to Cambridge, her family ended up in a Ukrainian “ghetto” in Philadelphia. It was there that Irene’s father managed to get her a piano and her first lessons.
Damian’s family settled in New Jersey, where he earned a full scholarship to Regis High School. God briefly brought the two together at a Ukrainian scout camp. Irene remembered, “My summers were spent in East Chatam, N.Y. It was there in 1955 that I met a boy of 15 — Damian Fedoryka — not to meet him again until 10 years later when he became my destiny.”
For the next 10 years Irene immersed herself in music. She entered Juilliard, studying under masters while working at the Met. It was then that the Blessed Mother again intervened in Irene’s life, saving her from death in a tragic car accident. As Irene returned to her fast-paced lifestyle, she heard an inner whispering of divine words: “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The words were continually whispered to her, until being so moved, she quit her career as an elite pianist.
Shortly thereafter, God brought Damian Fedoryka back into her life. Damian had been studying in Belgium before returning to the States and enlisting in the army. After only one date with Irene, Damian resigned from the army and the two were married in 1966. After completing a doctorate at the University of Salzburg, Damian Fedoryka became a personal student of renowned philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand.
From 1967 to 1981, the couple welcomed 10 children. During this time, Irene established a household that centralized faith, music and a depth of love.
So music continued to be a defining element in her life?
Irene’s son Danylo describes his mother as having such a delicate and beautiful soul. She used this gift to teach her children that music was a direct path to God, and through beauty God accesses our hearts. The discipline of music formed them and their faith life, teaching them to stay motivated, persevere and challenge themselves. They learned the virtue of character formation, which Irene affectionately aided by pointing out exemplary moments in old movies.
The Fedoryka family would often perform together, and each time they did, Irene would lead them in prayer, a practice Dan and Lex still continue. “She always reminded us that our gift of music wasn’t for our glory, but for God’s. Regardless if we were playing the Kennedy Center or the senior center, Mom said that we owed it to these people to play our very best,” Danylo recalls. “It was that ethic toward all people which clarified the dignity of the human person to us, and instilled the desire to draw each person toward God.”
Their mother constantly shared with them the joy she had found in music and the Catholic Church. Priests and religious visited regularly, and Irene even worked tirelessly with a tone-deaf seminarian, until he became an all-star tenor as a priest! Each year she would pack up the car and drive the children to an intensive music course several states away. She would then watch video of the courses, until she was able to learn the violin well enough to instruct them for the rest of the year.
Irene and Damian also found a way to send each of their children on a pilgrimage to Fatima, in hopes of fostering the same devotion to the Blessed Mother, whom Irene credited with three specific intercessions in her life. The third occurred in 1993, when Irene’s car, containing herself and two children, was struck by a train. All miraculously survived.
Irene contracted breast cancer and was called to her heavenly home, at the age of 70, on Christmas Eve 2010. Danylo and Alexander were able to take time off the road to join their father in caring for their beloved mother throughout her last three months of hospice care.
One of the fondest memories she took with her from this life was singing the Magnificat in 1996 with three of her daughters, as the Communion hymn, at a private Mass of St. John Paul II.
She went to be with the divine musician, who wrote the very essence of music upon her soul, and provided for his beloved every step along the way. Her life defined the ability to give all of yourself for the glory of God.
Aleteia’s senior editor, Kathleen Hattrup, interviewed Kimberly Cook for this article. Cook is a freelance writer, the author of Mommy, Mommy, When You Pray and a monthly contributor to CatholicMom.com. She also blogs on faith, art and motherhood at TheLionofDesign.com.