By George Gregory

Special to The CS&T

COATESVILLE – The reflections and music of liturgical music composer John Michael Talbot added a special touch to the year-long celebration of the 140th anniversary of the founding of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville. The jubilee year began with a Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009, and will end with a parish mission in December 2010.

On Dec. 7, 1869, then bishop of Philadelphia James Wood decreed that a parish be established to serve the growing number of Catholics moving to Coatesville to work at Lukens Steel Mill. The second century virgin and martyr Cecilia, patroness of musicians, was chosen to be its namesake, so it was fitting that a music concert be part of the events marking the parish anniversary.

Renowned Catholic musician John Michael Talbot performed a two-night concert and meditation at St. Cecilia Church on Ascension Thursday and Friday evenings May 13-14. More than 200 people attended each evening performance.

Talbot’s well-known hymn compositions include his arrangement of Psalm 95, titled “Come, Worship the Lord,” and his gentle setting of Mary’s Magnificat titled “Holy Is His Name.”

Before the performances the musician offered reflections based on living in simplicity and celebrating the liturgy. “I applaud this Archdiocese for observing the feast of the Ascension on the actual Thursday and hope they never give in to transferring it,” he said.

“I thought he was wonderful and am moved to sing ‘Holy Is His Name’ at the next Mass I sing for this weekend,” said Patricia Lamb, a parishioner and cantor at St. Cecilia.

While most Catholics relate to Talbot’s religious songs, many don’t know that he began playing musical instruments at the age of 8. He played with rock-n-roll bands in the late 1960s and early 1970s with his older brother Terry. They opened for such acts as Janis Joplin, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd.

Their mother was Methodist and their father was Presbyterian, and Talbot began to seek more spirituality as he witnessed rock performers abusing alcohol and drugs. After much searching, he began to record contemporary Christian music. He eventually converted to Catholicism.

Inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi, he moved to a hand-built hermitage in Indiana and composed music and lyrics for the albums “The Lord’s Supper” and “Come to the Quiet.” To his great surprise, both of these sold millions of copies.

“From my childhood, I knew that I would either become a doctor or a minister, and since the sight of blood makes me sick, I guess that left me with only one option,” Talbot said.

He later founded a community called the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage, which is based at a monastery in the diocese of Little Rock, Ark. It is the only community of its type in North America with canonical status. It includes approximately 40 members living in community at the hermitage, as well as some 500 celibate singles, married couples and families who live in their own homes. All profess councils of chastity, poverty and obedience appropriate to their states of life.

Ramon and Gloria Roman direct the Hispanic music ministry at St. Cecilia Parish. “Being a musician, I especially enjoyed his guitar playing and singing,” Ramon said.

“He taught us very much about how the liturgy could be celebrated in the parish setting,” Gloria added.

“I thought he was terrific and was very impressed by his wit and humor,” said Rebecca Trusilla, who is a parishioner and organist at SS. Philip and James Parish in Exton.

Father Francis Mulranen, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish, was pleased to have Talbot perform. “It was an honor to have (him) here to help us celebrate this 140th anniversary of our parish’s service to the people of Coatesville. We thank him for two peaceful evenings of prayerful meditation inspired by the Holy Spirit,” he said.

George Gregory is a freelance writer and parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.