By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
It was called “The Word Made Flesh: A Concert of Sacred Music Celebrating the Year of the Priest,” and it lived up to every expectation and more. There they were on March 25 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, two outstanding youth choirs, each with over 100 voices, and the Philadelphia priest singers, almost 30 voices strong.
First up was the talented Keystone State Boychoir, under the direction of Joseph P. Fitzmartin, which in less than 10 years has established itself among the best of the best by singing with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Opera Company and on every continent.
After a selection of classic hymns, the boy choir was joined by the priest singers for a rendition of the “Panis Angelicus” with a solo by Father Dennis Carbonaro.
What was most striking about the priest choir was the extraordinary range of ages – from Msgr. James Mortimer, ordained in 1952, down to Fathers Ronald Check and William Monahan, both ordained in 2007. Included were three monsignors and two bishops Bishop Timothy C. Senior and Bishop Daniel E. Thomas.
It was nevertheless a choir of equals, with the bishops content to remain in the back row except for a brief duet during “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” Father Keith Chylinski was a soloist during the “Agnus Dei.” Msgr. Michael Matz was the conductor and Father Gerald Carey the accompanist.
The All-Catholic Secondary Chorus with voices from 11 archdiocesan high schools and seven private Catholic high schools joined seamlessly with the priests in Mozart’s “Ave Verum,” then continued with other selections with Marge Campbell as conductor and Jane Hall as accompanist. Especially outstanding was a solo by Bishop Shanahan’s Rebecca spanas in “All That Has Life and Breath.”
All three choirs joined in a finale of John Rutter’s “Look at the World.”
The title of the concert, “The Word Made Flesh,” was especially fitting because it was held on the feast of the Annunciation, and it also happens to be the English translation of Verbum Caro Factum Est, the episcopal motto of Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was present for the concert and led the audience in the recitation of the Angelus at the close.
“It was a beautiful act of worship, a sacred concert, and we are grateful to all of the participants and in a very special way to our priests,” Cardinal Rigali said. As an expression of the words of his motto, “It was done beautifully,” he said.
After singing the Irish Blessing as an encore, and after leaving the sanctuary before going their separate ways, the priests honored Msgr. Louis A. D’Addezio by singing for him the traditional congratulatory accolade to a brother priest or bishop, “Salvum Fac,” for his role in putting the evening together.
“It was an opportunity of a lifetime,” Bishop Senior said of the concert. “It was bringing together so many different groups and age groups in celebration and prayer of the gift of the priesthood in the Archdiocese. We enjoyed so much coming together; it was great to rekindle that spirit that we shared in the fraternity of the seminary.”
“It was such a great opportunity for us as priests to sing together and also sing with our secondary school children and the Keystone State Boychoir,” Bishop Thomas said. “Someone said where else in the Catholic world could you have such an extraordinary moment for the Year of the Priest.”
“It was a lot of work but worth every moment of it,” said Father Zachary Navit, a member of the planning committee. ‘It was an inspiring sight to look out and see so many people with us.”
It was, in fact, a sold-out concert, and many who came were there because they knew the singers.
Kathleen Lyskey was there with a group from Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Southampton to support Father William Monahan.
“He’s newly ordained and at our parish for three years,” she said. “He’s wonderful and it was great to see all of the priests of different ages up there.” Also, she noted “the concert proceeds will benefit retired priests. It’s wonderful to help them.”
The young people in the choirs also enjoyed the evening. Michael Coogan of Archbishop Carroll High School and a tenor with the All Catholic Chorus thought it “a great experience.”
“We got to sing with all of these priests. They are very talented,” he said.
Actually it was almost second nature to the priest, because no matter what their age, the hymns they sang have been sung for years at St. Charles Seminary.
“Every generation of priest knows the music, it binds us together,” Father Carbonaro said. “It takes us back to our seminary days. We really wanted to lift up God with our praise, and I’m happy that is what happened.”
Dawn Chism of St. Francis de Sales Parish, Philadelphia, who was there to support two former pastors in the choir, Father Navit and Father Anthony Janton, expressed the thought of many. “I hope this is a beginning with a continuation of the concerts. It was a wonderful celebration of the priesthood,” she said.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.