Monday, June 20, 2016

It's official!

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has announced the establishment of a new centre for dialogue between faith and reason, between Church and society.  The American Notre Dame University, one of the most distinguished Catholic Universities worldwide, will steward the initiative at University Church in Saint Stephen’s Green in Dublin.  Newman’s University Church in Dublin is a unique icon of the place of faith in Newman’s vision of university formation.

Archbishop Martin said, “I see the establishment of the Notre Dame – Newman Centre for Faith and Reason as an opportunity for University Church to return to its original vocation as a focal point for reflection on faith and reason.  It is an opportunity for Dublin to take a lead in today’s changed social context in something which is part of the rich heritage of Newman’s presence in Dublin.   I appreciate especially that centre will not be just an intellectual debating centre, but will also work in the formation of an active and committed faith community of young people”.

He added, “We live in the context of wanting to be a modern Irish Church authentically present in – but never completely at home within – contemporary Irish society. Pope Francis constantly recalls us to be a Church which is out in the world in service and in dialogue.  He does not want a fearful Church obsessed just with the evils of the world.  He does not want a Church in which we try to keep Jesus locked up within our own categories.”

University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said, “We are honored by Archbishop Martin’s invitation to expand the University’s presence in Dublin. Notre Dame stands in a proud legacy of uniting faith and reason, and Cardinal Newman is a giant in that pursuit. We are grateful for the opportunity to deepen appreciation for Cardinal Newman and his writings, and to bring the University’s mission to an iconic church on the Dublin cityscape.”

Built by the then-rector of University College Dublin, Blessed John Henry Newman, University Church opened in 1856 and has since been an iconic landmark in Dublin’s city centre and a testament to the harmony of faith and reason. Newman would later be named a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

The new Centre’s operations will begin later this year, and will have a special focus on outreach to young people in Dublin, many of whom have not otherwise been drawn to the Church. The centre will give particular attention to excellent liturgy and music, a lecture series and other intellectual activities which aim to integrate faith and reason, service to those in need and cultural events inside and outside of Newman University Church.
Father Jenkins has appointed Notre Dame lecturer in law Rev. William R. Dailey, C.S.C., as the Director of the centre.  Father Dailey has served as a Lecturer in Law an the Notre Dame Law School since 2010, as the St. Thomas More Fellow of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture since 2013, and as Rector of Stanford Hall on the Notre Dame campus for three years.  In 2009, he returned to Columbia Law School as a Scholar in Residence. Father Dailey’s teaching and scholarly interests are in the areas of Jurisprudence and Legal Ethics.  He has appeared frequently on MSNBC to comment on faith and culture and has written for the New York Times and Washington Post on faith issues.

Steve Warner, the Director of the Notre Dame Folk Choir for the past 35 years, has accepted the role of Associate Director of the Notre Dame – Newman Centre for Faith and Reason, and will have special responsibilities regarding music, liturgy and outreach. In his nearly four decades with Campus Ministry at Notre Dame, Warner established the Folk Choir as a vital component of on-campus worship, and has played a significant role in Notre Dame’s liturgical traditions.  His liturgical music compositions are published exclusively through World Library Publications.

The Notre Dame – Newman Centre for Faith and Reason will complement an array of Notre Dame University activities already active in Ireland, including a portion of which is mediated through its network of Global Gateways. The University’s five international Global Gateways—located in Dublin, Beijing, Jerusalem, London and Rome—provide academic and intellectual hubs where scholars, students and leaders from universities, government, business and community gather to discuss discover and debate issues of topical and enduring relevance.

Additionally, the University’s Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies is a teaching and research institute dedicated to the study and understanding of Irish culture. The Institute supports undergraduate and graduate students in their pursuit of Irish Studies and provides opportunity for language study, travel classes,  summer study in Dublin, internships in Dublin, conference support and more.

In 2015, Notre Dame entered into a partnership with Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, County Galway, to create a centre to advance their shared spiritual, cultural and educational missions. Notre Dame operates the House of Brigid in Ireland, a post-graduate service program focused on parish-based liturgical and catechetical ministry.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Parting Glass: Coda and Finale

As I write this, I am on Aer Lingus flight #123 back to the United States of America. It is Thursday, June 9th, a full week after the end of the Notre Dame Folk Choir’s tour to Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. 

In the span of that week, the landscape has changed a lot. 

Now it can be said: what I have been holding, quietly, secretly, in the depths of my heart for the last two months, now can be shared. 

For three or four years now, my Maker has been urging me on, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. And at this point, what has been created at the University – a jewel to reflect the glory of our God – is ready to pass along, into the hands of another steward. 

One of my first directors of Campus Ministry, Fr. David Schlaver, challenged me with a quote after he left his post for Ave Maria Press.  That quote stayed perched on my cork board for many years – until I had burned the words into my heart:
"Missionaries go to a place when they are needed but not wanted,
and leave when they are wanted but not needed."

Some are asking, “why would you ever consider leaving the Folk Choir?” And the answer is really quite simple. Many people have expressed their want for me to stay at Notre Dame – but the reality is that there are far greater needs in other places.  And that beloved ensemble has really been given everything they need to succeed for many, many years to come.

Years ago, at an NPM convention, I spoke about how hearts are broken – not in the romantic sense, but rather that hearts are broken apart so that they can hold so much more. My sense is that the choir has done this, collectively, for years – participated in the fractio, the breaking apart, the very human fraction rite of our liturgy, so that many, many others may be fed.  And we are all called to this.  Myself included.

The Folk Choir, contrary to what many generous people are saying, was never something I created. Nor was it, or should it ever be, primarily about music. It was, and is, the creation of the Creator, and it was, and is, kindled into being every time we've look into each others’ eyes and hearts, and witnessed to one another’s voices being given over to the courage needed to take up the song. All we can ask is to be good stewards of this gift.

Come September, Michele and I will be moving to Dublin, Ireland, and I will take on a new title, given me by the University, a reflection of the work that, God willing, will bring Irish people closer to their Creator. But I will also inherit a second title as well – that of Director Emeritus of the Notre Dame Folk Choir. I gladly embrace this title: it is a reflection of the more than six hundred amazing people I’ve had the privilege to stand before all these years.  And, quite honestly, it gives me the opportunity to invite them to the other side of the Atlantic, to take part in some liturgical and musical opportunities in the future.

We live in a society that all to often robs us of permission to be spiritual, to share our sacred songs, to pass our divine dreams on to our children. And yet, all we need do is cling to the Rock. No storm can deter God’s will if such is done. We simply need to find the courage to sing. Keep singing about that great mystery of Love that has the last word – in the heavens, and on earth. 

Nunc dimittis.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Mists of Rostrevor

It was as if we saved the best for last.

A tiny village just over the border, in Northern Ireland, a village that nudged up to Carlingford Loch, almost as if it came from another place a time;

A clean and hospitable retreat house where we could all be together for our last night;

A community of singers...  for the beginning of our concert (and what was, in actuality, the launching of the Rostrevor Choral Festival), small children, teenagers, and the village elders literally singing us into their midst;

A warm, intimate welcome to the Folk Choir by none other than former Irish President Mary McAleese, who calls Rostrevor her home;

Friends from near and far (e.g., North Belfast and Edinburgh) who traveled down to this tiny village to be part of our final, musical hurrah;

And finally – there, in the first pew, none other than the great American composer of sacred music, Morten Lauridsen, who was attending the festival as well.

So many things coming together in one place!  It was as if the chalice of sacred music was being poured into, and out of, over and over again.

The children, their singing, their gentle presence; the booming voices of the men of the community; the fabulous embrace of our assembly to the music of the Folk Choir;  the moment, after Ubi Caritas et Amor, when Morten Lauridsen led the ovation from the community; the beautiful welcome - spoken in Irish - by Mary McAleese, as she recalled her days at the University of Notre Dame, her celebration of St. Patrick's Day on our campus, and her resolve to bring the Folk Choir to her home town.

At the end of it, all I could do was weep, knowing what had just transpired, knowing that this would, in many ways, be the capstone and the conclusion of so much work, so much joy, so much encouragement for ministry and song and witness.

Emma Fleming, this year's Folk Choir tour coordinator, had worked long and hard hours to make sure every detail worked out such that the ensemble could enjoy themselves.  She bore many, many everyday burdens to assure the comfort of the ensemble.  This year's officers: Ellyn Milan, Marisa Thompson, and Rose Urankar, held the group together and guided them through the myriad activities of the year.  Joe Moran and his business team kept busy selling our CD's (and dancing through our finale selections!  Don't think I didn't spy you from the corner of my eye!).

And finally, there were those blessed, grace-filled fifty singers and instrumentalists, who breathed fire and enthusiasm into the hearts of every single person who heard their music.  It was a breathtaking two and a half weeks, the likes of which we will more than likely not encounter again.

Our song, our travels, our witness – all of them fell under the protective mantle of Our Lady and the cloak of Saint Brigid.  It was almost the time to whisper "Nunc Dimitis" – Now, Lord, let your servant go in peace.  For go we shall, from this gentle land, that holds in honor the musicians in their midst.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Start of the Parting Glass

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

As if we couldn't include anything else in a 24-hour cycle filled with exceptional events, the day after our labors at Harold's Cross brought us to two different places:  one the backbone of Irish hospitality and culture; and the other, the backbone of the magisterium of the Church.  In some ways, putting these events at the beginning and the end of the day made for a perfect, though perhaps unique set of bookmarks.

We started out at the Guinness warehouse.  That's right!  And here's a fun personal fact: for all my years of traveling to Ireland and most especially Dublin, I've never darkened the doorstep of the place (oh, wait – we shot straight up to the Gravity Bar for the ND/Navy 2012 weekend, to provide a little music while the choir was there).  But again, never the warehouse proper.

So we learned all about the barley, and the hops, and the almost-lost art of how to make a barrel out of oak planks.  Everyone had a great time (even before pouring a pint), in part because we had worked so hard the day before at Harold's Cross – for not not only did we videotape an exceptional liturgical celebration (see yesterday's post), but that evening, we gave our last concert in the Dublin area, again hosted by Harold's Cross parish, and quite nearly packed.

Walking through the Guinness exhibits illustrated just how strong is the link between this brew and the people of Ireland – their history, their accomplishments and failures, their philanthropy.

That afternoon, we convened in Harold's Cross Pastoral Centre for what was the beginning of our closure together on tour.  Every year, we intentionally schedule several hours with the choir so that the seniors can look back, exhort their fellow singers and instrumentalists, and – to be frank – grieve and be grateful for the rich experiences of the year.  This year was no exception, with wonderful remarks, heartfelt tears, great moments of laughter – all leading to a sacred sense of thanksgiving.
My favorite quote was offered by Alex Hanna, in Irish:  An áit a bhfuil do chroí is ann a thabharfas do chosa thú.  "Your feet will take you where your heart is."

Then it was off to our final Dublin destination:  the Nunciature, or Papal Residence of the Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown.

We've met up with Archbishop Brown several times over the past few years.  He's a big fan of the House of Brigid, having been down at Clonard and witnessed the work of Laura Taylor and her colleagues last year.  He was also on Notre Dame's Campus a year ago January, when we invited him to a rehearsal.  And after that rehearsal, he proclaimed, "Party at my house!"  And so – this was the party.

Once again, a beautiful group of friends and benefactors joined us.  And as expected, the good Archbishop welcomed us with great joy and hospitality.  He's a Notre Dame graduate (so happy for that kinship!), and so was amongst his own for the evening.  For our part, the lovely reception hall had fabulous acoustics, and we put them to good use, singing "Rosa Mystica" and "Come to the Living Stone."  A great night was had by all!

We were now into the last couple of days of our journey.  Echoes of "The Parting Glass" were becoming stronger in my mind.  Such a glorious group of men and women, bound together by song and faith and joy.  But there was one stop left.

The Convergence

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Over the years, people have often commented on the gifts that the Folk Choir brings to their work with assemblies around the world.  And chief among them is a spirit of participation in the liturgy: not just mute observation, but a desire for the human voice to be a vital and joyful part of prayer.

If this is so, then a unique convergence of resources was about to take place, and it was to happen at our next stop, in Dublin: Harold's Cross Parish, home of the second Teach Bhríde (House of Brigid).

We knew the following:
-  we now had a beach head in Dublin, established by three great new members of the House of Brigid with whom to work – Geoff Burdell, Rikki Koebbler and Susanna Floyd;
-  all three of these volunteers had a strong relationship with and access to the two elementary schools within their parochial boundaries;
-  the Folk Choir would be in their neck of the woods, and more important would be there on an important Marian Feast, the Feast of the Visitation;
-  we had a long runway to both teach some of our music and to learn some of the Marian repertoire from their own sacred tradition.

In addition to this, because the Folk Choir had provided the music, years ago, at Dublin Castle (for the 2012 Notre Dame/Navy game weekend), we also had a great relationship with Finbarr Tracy and the media people at Kaiross Communications – the broadcast specialists who routinely provide video for RTE's televised Masses.

So what would happen if we worked across the waters with this parish community, learning their Marian songs, while at the same time using our own recordings and You Tube clips to teach their kids some of our own repertoire (specifically, the Mass for Our Lady)?  We knew that the young children in grade school adore spending time with American college students.  Could we not use that admiration to create an amazing celebration of song and prayer?

And most important – could we get the whole thing recorded and filmed, such that it might become a teaching tool for Irish grade school children in years to come?

Once again, we were rolling the dice.  We were hoping that we could have access to the students in the grade schools, that they'd be open to learning some of our music, that the House of Brigid volunteers would be willing to add this task to their already busy schedule.

And then, of course, that we would find a way to pay for the broadcast company to show up and put the event in the can for us.

But bit by bit, issue by issue, the planning came together.  Guided by some of our Irish friends, we learned some beautiful Marian hymns (new for us, ancient for the Irish).  We put together some homemade clips of the Folk Choir singing portions of the Mass for Our Lady, so that the school kids could learn their parts.

And on May 31st, on the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lady, a grand convergence took place.  The broadcast trucks rolled in the day before, running video and electrical cables through every nook and cranny of the church.  We had a perfect day for the event with sunny skies, and the grade school kids in high spirits.  Just as we had done in many other Irish and Scottish churches leading up to this event, we spread the choir out, sprinkling them in the midst of the school children, electing to use them as leaven, and not as a show or performance ensemble.

And as a bonus, on hand were a group of Notre Dame friends and supporters to witness the labors of a year of liturgical planning.  We raised the rafters with songs like "When Creation Was Begun" and my friend Feargal King's "Dominican Magnificat" – both chosen under the guidance of our Irish friends.  And the kids in Harold's Cross parish sang their hearts out with this new Mass setting that had been shared with them by their American friends.  The Parish Priest, Fr. Gerry Kane, gave a magnificent homily about the "half door" of Ireland and it's significance for the Feast of the Visitation.

It was a liturgical celebration to step back from and admire with great wonder.  We had, once again, taken a great risk.  But in the midst of that risk, great reward was given.