By: Bill Skowronski, Director of Communication and Marketing
Composers do not write musical pieces from beginning to end in a seamless, intentional flow; music comes together in bits and pieces, some notes plotted purposely, other entire stretches given by grace. Most lives are the same, composed by God, revealed to us in flashes, like a 10-note piece of a music that always existed, even before we understood it.
Ted Berg’s life has been a composition of sorts.
It is said, “If you’ve met one Dominican, you’ve done just that—you’ve met ONE Dominican.” The Central Province Order of Preachers is made of friars diverse in background and personality. More often than not, the lasting relationships between Dominicans and loyal supporters like Ted Berg begin with a personal encounter in one of the province’s many ministries in the Midwest.
Ted Berg’s story is an exception to the rule.
In 1955, at 30 years old, Ted was working his way through graduate school at Northwestern University, already a very good pianist, with his eyes set on becoming a composer. In his second year, Ted held five jobs that included teaching piano, working at a local library and driving a school bus. A devout Catholic, Ted never missed Mass, but rarely thought of God’s role in his life.
Having completed his Master’s Degree coursework, Ted struggled with a separate piece of music that would forever change his life.
“I was trying to get the climax of this piece but I was absolutely hopeless about it,” Ted said. “It was not a long piece, just a minute or two. I thought I knew how to write, but I realized I was an absolute beginner at composition. I was an excellent pianist, but there is no comparison between what you need to know to play and write music.”
The struggle forced Ted to reconsider his life’s path. Maybe he wouldn’t become the composer he thought he was meant to be. Maybe God had a different plan for him.
“I wasn’t going to be able to get this climax, then WHAM! It was given to me,” Ted said.
Ted insists he could not have orchestrated the 10 notes that came to him in that moment.
“The notes stuck up on a piece of paper. At that moment I was lifted out of myself. I was overwhelmed. Gradually I realized God had to be a part of my life.”
In fact, it took several months for him to digest the experience, realizing little by little that the string of notes came to him at that time in that rhythm. It inspired him to begin thinking about God in a different way, as he left Northwestern, before graduating, unable to finish his thesis and struggling through a dark period of his life.
No longer a student and no longer on track to become a composer, he had to find work. Commuting downtown to a Chicago insurance company, Ted often visited churches to pray along the way. On a book rack in one church, he found a booklet about the Dominican Liturgy, written by Fr. Hilary Carpenter, O.P. The literature and its message were Ted’s first introduction to the Dominican Order.
“I saw the Order was about truth and it hit me, this is me,” Ted said. “This is what I’m here for. I couldn’t deny it. I had to find out about the Dominicans.”
The discovery took Ted to the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, IL where he first met a Dominican. Ted became even more interested in the Order, and though religious life didn’t prove suitable at the time, he joined the Dominican Laity later.
“Rejection has made me the person I am today,” Ted said. “I was rejected as a priest candidate, later rejected as a candidate for the permanent deaconate, rejected as a composer. Yet, here I am.”
Most recently, Ted discovered a way to write the final notes of his life’s composition while establishing a legacy beyond his own lifetime.
“I realized that these few notes that literally changed my life were something from beyond,” Ted said. “Just like Christ opened a whole new world to St. Paul, it was just poured into me.”
Now, Ted pours out his remaining wealth to over 25 charities, chief among them, the Dominican Friars, giving to the Central Province through his estate.
“I really feel as if I’m in God’s hands,” he added. “I’m looking back over my life and I’m finding all these places where I was saved from the depths. I think I’m still here for some reason.”
Beyond supporting the Dominicans through the 1216 Annual Fund, the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus, Planned Giving, and the Society for Vocational Support, Ted also visits friars in limited service to pray, watch movies, or have dinner at St. Pius V Priory and discuss the faith with those living at Resurrection Life Center, both near his home in Chicago. He is even considering moving to Resurrection and living out his remaining days alongside the friars he has admired and supported for years.
“Ted wants to leave a legacy to help form future Dominicans, as he was formed in a sense by the Order as well,” said Fr. Andrew Carl Wisdom, O.P., Vicar for Mission Advancement. “He wants his financial investment and lifelong legacy to carry on after his death.”
Like the 10 musical notes that were revealed to Ted 60 years ago, his life has been composed in bits and pieces, revealed in challenges and adaptations. But his faith in God’s purpose for him has been the constant twine tying his story together through those years. It’s a composition of struggle, revelation, rejection, truth, and preaching through one’s lived experiences; a Dominican story through and through. It’s God’s story, building the Kingdom through people just like Ted.