1916 - 1997 Person Name: Omer Westendorf, 1916-1997 Author (vs. 1) of "These Forty Days of Lent" in One in Faith Omer Westendorf, one of the earliest lyricists for Roman Catholic liturgical music in English, died on October 22, 1997, at the age of eighty-one.
Born on February 24, 1916, Omer got his start in music publishing after World War II, when he brought home for his parish choir in Cincinnati some of the Mass settings he had discovered in Holland. Interest in the new music being published in Europe led to his creation of the World Library of Sacred Music, initially a music-importing firm that brought much of this new European repertoire to U.S. parishes. Operating out of a garage in those early years, Omer often joked about the surprised expressions of visitors who stopped by and found a wide range of sheet music in various states of “storage” (read disarray). Later, as World Library Publications, the company began publishing some of its own music, including new works with English texts by some of those same Dutch composers, for example, Jan Vermulst. In 1955 World Library published the first edition of The Peoples Hymnal, which would become the People's Mass Book in 1964, one of the first hymnals to reflect the liturgical reforms proposed by Vatican II. Omer also introduced the music of Lucien Deiss to Catholic parishes through the two volumes of Biblical Hymns and Psalms.
Using his own name and several pen names, Omer composed numerous compositions for liturgical use, though his best-known works may be the texts for the hymns “Where Charity and Love Prevail,” “Sent Forth by God’s Blessing,” and especially “Gift of Finest Wheat.” As he lay dying, his family and friends gathered around his bed to sing his text “Shepherd of Souls, in Love, Come, Feed Us.” NPM honored Omer as its Pastoral Musician of the Year in 1985.
J. Clifford Evers
--Letter from Tom Smith, Executive Director of The Hymn Society, to Leonard Ellinwood, 6 February 1980. DNAH Archives.