After joining Mercy Sisters in Burlingame as a choral teacher at Mercy High School, Sister Suzanne Toolan wrote a popular hope-filled hymn entitled “I Am the Bread of Life,” in 1966. It has been translated into 25 languages and performed in congregations around the world to this day.
Suzanne recalls how it began, “I was teaching high school at the time and wrote the song during my free period. When the bell rang for the next class I decided I didn’t like the music, so I tore it up and threw it in the wastepaper basket.
My classroom was next to the infirmary, where the girls who didn’t want to take tests or were otherwise unprepared for class went for a period or two until they were tracked down by an exasperated teacher. As I left my classroom, a freshman girl came out of the infirmary and said, “What was that? It was beautiful!” I went back into my classroom, took the manuscript out of the basket and taped it together. It has had a life of its own ever since.
I could never figure out how the hymn became popular. I know in our Roman Catholic tradition it came at the beginning of our use of the vernacular, and we simply didn’t have much to sing in our own language. But I also think its popularity stems from its message of resurrection, which is so strong in these words of Jesus. We so need that message of hope. I am always touched when people tell me that at the funeral of a mother, father or friend, these sung words of Jesus gave them consolation. Then I know the hymn has done its work.”