Virginia's Hymns

Virginia in her young years 1

Virginia Cornish, the composer of these hymns, showed her faith in her music and in her life. A generous person, she loved to have people sing her hymns.

You are invited to use them, while giving her credit.

Virginia Cornish was born in Dauphin, Manitoba in 1924, and died in Penticton, British Columbia in 2002. Her dream as she was growing up was to become a concert pianist. The Second World War intervened: she couldn’t “just go to university while there was a war on”. Against her parents’ wishes, she studied for her nursing degree instead at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.Virginia in her young years as a nurse

Later she met and married Sidney Cornish. They moved to Edmonton, where Virginia worked as a pediatric nurse to finance her husband’s medical degree. After his graduation they moved to Claresholm, Alberta, and raised five children.

Virginia had always gone to church, but it was not until the 1960’s that she became a committed Christian. She had never written any music before, but in her own words, “then hymns started to pour out. The Holy Spirit was at work!” (I hear thee Calling, Lord).
One of her favourite readings was from Micah. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” Her first hymn (My Memory cherishes a Boy) was written about an incident at the Edmonton University Hospital. Deeply touched, she watched a little boy, himself dying of a brain tumour, helping and entertaining a little polio victim.
Over the next 20 years, Virginia composed and wrote more than 130 hymns. Many of them (for example, Give me the Comfort) were written during the daily marathon of organizing a large family: sometimes she just had to stop what she was doing and sit down and write. Most frequently, her lyrics were inspired by Biblical verses, but sometimes meditations or personal experiences stirred her. In the music she gave family and friends, the hymns are divided into catWedding Pictureegories, which are represented here.

Virginia’s faith was very practical, and her hymns were influenced by what she saw in the world around her. She supported several charities and had no time for hypocrites. But she saw God in everyone, especially in those whom the rest of the world passed by. In the words of her husband Sidney Cornish, she “sailed through life collecting people”. Wherever she lived, she continued to befriend and help people: running a low cost day care for single moms, teaching immigrants English and Canadian slang, finding jobs for people with mental illness, working in a soup kitchen and phoning or writing people who were going through a tough time. She always said “They’re my friends”, and commented on how lucky she was that she could learn from all these people. After Virginia died many people – some of them complete strangers to the rest of the family – told the family “your mother was my best friend, she helped me so much”.
Family memories of Virginia are bound up with music and poetry, playing piano, singing in the kitchen, reading her Bible and taking notes. She taught her children to look at the beauty of God’s world, and to appreciate and care for it. Virginia loved children, and her family. One of her favourite hymns was based on bible verses on this topic, and was sung at family weddings (To Jesus’ Holy Family). This hymn expresses what Virginia’s faith was based on: “To live in love is living in God: this understand.”

What Virginia liked the most was to have people sing her music. Please be welcome to sing her hymns in her memory, while giving her credit.