Marlene T. Elias, Newbury Park, California, formerly of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, is a noted Gospel singer, entertainer, songwriter, speaker, performer and freelance writer. Marlene, who was an entertainer on the East Coast, happily put aside a career to become a wife and mother. She and her husband, Tony, became parents of three daughters and one son.
Eventually, after the children were grown, Marlene returned to her love of music, playing the piano and organ and becoming a soloist for Masses at the family’s parish, St. Julie Billiart Catholic Church. Soon she performed at civic functions, entertained at local clubs and for a while Marlene was lead vocalist with a dance band, “The Swing Sounds”, featuring music reminiscent of the Big Band Era.
In 1984 Marlene released her first Gospel album entitled “In His Name”, which led to Marlene’s appearance on KIHS, Los Angeles’s new Catholic TV station as a guest singer on a new show called “Heart of the Nation”, where she was featured for over a year. She has since done two videos featuring songs she’s written, appearing with Patrick Wayne, Barbara Valentine, Jack Knight and other guest celebrities.
During the 1984 Olympics, Marlene was chosen to sing the National Anthem and God Bless America. Many other celebrity benefits followed, where she joined some of the best known entertainers, such as Danny Thomas, George Burns, Bob Hope, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Martin Sheen to name a few. She and her daughter, Annie Gabriel, a film producer, recently worked with Elliot Gould at a prayer service in Hollywood, to encourage members of the Screen Actors Guild to come to the peaceful settlement of an anticipated strike.
Marlene was kept busy, as she performed at other charitable benefits for Hospice, St. Ann’s Maternity Home (for unwed mothers), homeless shelters, ACCW, the Greater Los Angeles Archdiocesan functions and Masses celebrated by the late Cardinal Manning, Cardinal Mahoney, many Bishops and clergymen from around the country.
But Marlene was to experience a deep spiritual awakening, when in October of 1987, in the company of her brother, Monsignor John Esseff of Scranton, Pennsylvania, she visited with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. So great was the touching experience, that upon her return, she began sharing her life-changing journey with people from various churches and civic clubs, through slides she had taken. Marlene says that all of her other accomplishments pale in comparison to the meeting of and close friendship with Mother Teresa. For ten years this friendship blossomed and grew, as the two women met, spoke, prayed and corresponded.
In addition, the Lord sent Marlene albums of music inspired by this saintly woman. She’s traveled across the country and around the world with her beautiful message of love, becoming a spokesperson for Mother Teresa. Marlene has presented over 800 talks, with slides and music, bringing the message of Mother Teresa … to “See Jesus in everyone and to be Jesus to all those we meet.” There seems to be a never-ending thirst for the legion of stories about Mother Teresa, especially the first-hand stories of this legendary and humble woman.
In 1995, Marlene was privileged to be asked by Mother Teresa to sing at the dedication of a new home for unwed mothers in Washington, D.C. Mother Teresa received this home anonymously through the efforts of Hillary Clinton. Though they are diametrically opposed on the abortion issue, they both agreed to have the babies adopted. This ceremony was attended by Mrs. Clinton, Cardinal Hickey and Mayor Marion Barry. At the Mass of dedication, Marlene presented Mother Teresa with a Monstrance and a Chalice for the new home’s chapel and sang, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”
On September 5, 1997, Marlene was saddened to hear of the death of her dear friend. The Sisters remembered the promise that Marlene made to Mother Teresa, to sing two of the songs Marlene had written, which Mother Teresa especially chose for her funeral. With a little help from her friends, Marlene was able to make the trip to India to fulfill that promise. Marlene sang, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper” and “See Jesus” at Mother Teresa’s funeral on September 13, 1997.
On October 19, 2003, the Beatification of Mother Teresa by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. By request of Sister Fatima and Sister Nirmala Marlene was asked to sing at two private Masses for the Sisters. Her brother was concelebrant at the Mass of Thanksgiving following the beatification.
To date, Marlene has written two albums of inspirational music and one single, an anthem for the homeless, all inspired by this saint. In all, Marlene has recorded six albums of spiritual music, which she recently combined on six CD’s and cassettes tapes. Through the years, a portion of the proceeds has gone to the Missionaries of Charity. This will continue.
Marlene has had first person articles published in Columbia Magazine, Scene Magazine, Catholic Golden Age Magazine, The Catholic Light, The Tidings, Ligourian Magazine, Marian Helpers Bulletin, St. Anthony’s Messenger Le Brigand, a French Jesuit Publication, News Chronicle, Daily News, Sunday Independent, Sharing Ideas, an international speakers magazine as well as other publications. Marlene’s photo of Mother Teresa and the Beggar, which appeared on the cover of Catholic Golden Age, won best color photo award. Five of her songs won awards in the Hollywood Song Jubilee.
Marlene hopes that through her music, writing and speaking, she, like Mother Teresa, can become a beacon of light in a dark world, leading souls to Christ. Using Mother Teresa’s message of “doing even the small task with the greatest love”, we can change hearts, and with that love, light the way to Jesus