Catholic Herald staff
Singers, songwriters and sisters, Aly Aleigha and Jessica Schissel set their faith to music this spring, when both girls recorded their first solo album.
Terry and Laura Schissel, Rice Lake, are parents of the pair and their younger sister, Stephanie. They are members of St. Joseph, where Laura serves as youth minister.
The Schissels attended St. Joseph Catholic School. Aly, 23, graduated from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, in May; Jessica, 21, and Stephanie, 19, are students at the school.
All musicians, the sisters have been singing together their whole lives. Aly plays guitar, Jessica plays piano (learning guitar was a more recent project, she said), and Stephanie plays both instruments and violin. Aly also hopes to learn banjo.
Creating the four-track EP (extended play) disc was a response to requests from her ministry work, Aly said.
“I’d been doing little gigs … and things like that,” and people approached her about selling CDs.
Recording “was not really on the radar,” she added, but then the opportunity presented itself.
Aly needed a banjo for the title track, “Jealous Love,” and she told God if he wanted it to happen, he needed to find her a banjo player.
“I started looking into it,” she said. “I knew a lot of musicians at school, but didn’t know anyone who played.”
At the crucial moment, she found a banjo player living next door. They recorded the song at a studio in Steubenville and made a music video, which can be viewed on YouTube.
Jessica was inspired to write the title track of her EP, “Move” by a mission trip to Honduras.
“The rest of them were kind of just songs that came to me in my prayer,” she added.
“I’ve always loved singing, and I’ve been playing the piano for a long time. One way or another, someone offered to help me make a small, short CD with some of my music on it,” Jessica said. “It all kind of just fell into place.”
All three sisters sing on both CDs.
“We’re individual, but we also work together,” Jessica said. “It’s just neat to see how it all came to be.”
“We love playing together,” Aly added. “There’s just something about being sisters – your voices just blend well. It’s really fun.”
Due in no small part to their mom’s influence, Jessica and Aly majored in theology and catechetics. After they’d claimed the faith for their own, Laura was active in finding them faith communities, Aly explained. They went to conferences as teens, and met fellow Catholics in youth groups in the Twin Cities.
Rice Lake has a strong youth group presence, and Aly feels parents have many options for passing on the faith to their children.
“Don’t downplay your role as a parent, if you’re a parent,” she said. “Seek out opportunities and don’t let the Evil One try and stop you.”
Both women aspire to a vocation in ministry, albeit on a different scale.
“I hope to be a youth minister,” said Jessica, “serving the Lord, and bringing youth closer to Him.”
When she graduates next year, Jessica wants to return to the Diocese of Superior and work with students, possibly in her hometown.
Aly hopes to grow a music-based ministry, traveling to lead retreats, give talks and share Catholic theology. Currently working at the Newman Center on the University of Minnesota–Duluth campus, she is also booking gigs in the states and abroad. Next summer, she’ll be the worship leader on a month-long European cruise en route to World Youth Day in Poland.
There’s a network of young Catholic musicians in Steubenville, and Jessica and Aly have friends who are also recording and selling CDs. Social media – YouTube, Facebook and other sites – offer marketing opportunities and a chance to reach out in ministry.
Aly has two channels on YouTube. The first was just for fun, a documenting of life with her cousin at school. Her senior year at Franciscan, a friend suggested she use the site for catechesis.
“There’s not really a big Catholic venue on YouTube yet,” he told her. “Maybe you should just start up a new channel.”
“I started thinking about what I would actually really do with it,” Aly said. “I guess I just started doing it because I love sharing the faith.”
What resulted is a series of quick theological snippets on youth-friendly topics – self-image, culture, Mary, body language and more. She’s comfortable discussing Theology of the Body and sex in front of crowds, so she often gives talks on those subjects.
Music, ministry and missions
Jessica and Aly were deeply involved in ministry, missionary work and campus life in Steubenville, and the girls performed together in coffee shops and other venues.
During college, Aly traveled to Belize on a mission trip, spent a summer with Totus Tuus and went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Now working with Fr. Mike Schmitz in the Diocese of Duluth, she is just back from a music ministry gig in Texas, recently gave a talk on the sanctity of marriage in Rice Lake, and is, as always, writing music.
“I’m hoping to be able to record maybe a full CD,” she said. “I write all the time, so I have a lot of music I want to get out there.”
She prefers nuanced lyrics that reach a wide audience.
“I like to have my music not strictly Christian,” she explained. “I like to have layers in my songs, kind of like John the Evangelist … I like a lot of depth in my lyrics.”
Although Jessica is thinking about her post-collegiate future, she’s mostly busy with local music ministry, fundraising for a mission trip to Honduras she’s leading in the spring, and being an active member of her household, Rosa Mystica – the Franciscan equivalent of a sorority, named for Our Lady Rosa Mystica.
She also tries to make time for adoration.
“Every moment we spend with the Lord, he’s changing us, so I really value the time I do get to spend in his presence,” she said. “Every moment that I can spend with the Lord, it can change my heart to be more formed to his will. I cherish those moments.”
Although Jessica is just back from a music gig in California – she went to lead worship with a friend, another young Catholic musician – she isn’t looking to start her own ministry.
“That was the first thing I’ve ever done outside of St. Joe’s,” she added. “It’s not something I’m going to seek out, I guess. I would do it occasionally, I think. Every once in awhile would work for my schedule.”
Jessica, Aly and Stephanie will return to Rice Lake Dec. 17 for an Advent adoration night at their parish. They plan to play “Visitation Song,” a Scripture-based song on Aly’s EP, as well as some of their other music.
For more information
Anyone looking to hire Aly or her sisters for music or speaking engagements can contact her via her website, www.aly-aleigha.com, or by emailing .
Jessica and Aly have posted their music on YouTube; the tracks are available for purchase through iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and other online music stops. Jessica is also raising money for her mission trip to Honduras; to contribute, visit www.gofundme.com/jshonduras.