Dr. Jaroslav (Jary) Jan Vajda — a retired LCMS pastor, author, and editor who was known as “the dean of hymn writers in North America” — died May 10 at Laclede Groves Senior Living Community in Webster Groves, Mo., where he and his wife made their home. He had been in declining health for some time.
The memorial service for Dr. Vajda, 89, took place May 14 at St. Lucas Lutheran Church, St. Louis. The body was cremated.
A 1944 graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, he served several pastorates for Lutheran churches in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Missouri; was editor of This Day magazine (1963-71); worked as an editor and book developer for Concordia Publishing House (1971-86); and served on the Synod’s Commission on Worship (1960-78) and the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (1967-78). He retired in 1986.
Survivors include his wife, Louise (nee Mastaglio) Vajda, of Webster Groves; four children — Susan (Henry) Raedeke of St. Charles, Mo.; Jeremy Vajda, St. Louis; Timothy (Yupa Saisanan) Vajda, St. Louis; and Deborah Vajda, St. Paul, Minn. — six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Dr. Vajda was the author or more than 225 hymn texts and translations that appear in some 60 Christian hymnals and printed collections on five continents. The Synod’s Lutheran Service Book includes 10 of his hymn texts, including the widely used benediction hymn, “Go, My Children, with My Blessing.”
Among his many distinctions were eight honorary doctorates from colleges and universities, the Wittenberg Award from the Luther Institute (1995), listings in two different “Who’s Who” volumes, and being named a “Fellow” — the highest honor of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.
Dr. Carl Daw, the hymn society’s executive director, referred to him as ” … the dean of hymn writers in North America” in a May 17 St. Louis Post-Dispatch column about Dr. Vajda by Tim Townsend. The column’s headline read, “The poet laureate of the hymn world,” a term which Mark Lawson, president of Morning-Star Music Publisher, used to describe Dr. Vajda.
Dr. Carl Schalk, distinguished professor of music emeritus for Concordia University Chicago, worked closely with Dr. Vajda for 40 years on some 26 hymns they were jointly commissioned to write. Those hymns include “Now the Silence,” “Before the Marvel of this Night,” “God of the Sparrow,” and “Where Shepherds Lately Knelt.”
In a May 12 e-mail message to Reporter, Schalk referred to Dr. Vajda as “a good friend and talented poet,” and to his part in their collaboration as “a unique privilege.
“Jary had a remarkable ability to fashion a striking new image [and] to reshape an older one, recreating it in a way which brought fresh insight and new understanding,” Schalk wrote.
“One is always struck by the strong theological thrust of Jary’s texts — biblically grounded, theologically informed, and rooted in Trinitarian theology.”
“Ultimately,” Schalk continued, “the texts of Jaroslav Vajda are a sign to God’s people –- a sign of hopefulness, expectation, and promise that the Holy Spirit still gives us songs to sing along our pilgrim way until the time when all our singing is joined to the last great song of the Lamb in eternity.”
The Web site for Concordia Publishing House (CPH) — which purchased the rights to Dr. Vajda’s hymns and translations in 2000 –- included a page announcing his death.
In a statement on that page, CPH President and CEO Bruce G. Kintz noted that the Synod publisher “gives thanks to God for the faithful work of His servant, Jary.
“His devoted service to CPH and his greater contribution to music will remain an enduring legacy,” Kintz concluded.
Dr. Vajda was the subject of a feature titled “Now the Poet,” by David Strand, in the March 1996 issue of The Lutheran Witness.
The article mentioned that as a frail child who had been diagnosed with chronic, acute bronchitis, Jary Vajda at age 12 “was playing the violin in the Chicago Youth Symphony. By 16, he was translating Slovakian short stories (Slovakia being his ancestral homeland) into English.”
The story noted that Dr. Vajda attributed “much of his hymn-writing prowess to the skills he honed as a translator of poetry.”
At the end of that article, Dr. Vajda said, “My hymns are what they are: poetic expressions of thanks to God. They are my grateful reaction — my praise and wonder and exclamation — to the love and glory of God.”
Dr. Vajda’s family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the building fund for St. Lucas Lutheran Church, 7100 Morganford Road, St. Louis, MO 63166-2110; or to Lutheran Senior Services Hospice Care, 709 S. Laclede Station Road, St. Louis, MO 63119.
Posted May 22, 2008