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Irish Church Music Association marks 50th anniversary

By Sarah Mac Donald - 10 April, 2019

The Irish Church Music Association is marking its 50th anniversary this year with a two-day conference directed by the renowned composer Fr Michael Joncas.

Fr Joncas is a priest of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis. Some of his best-known hymns are ‘On Eagles Wings’ and ‘I Have Loved You’.

The golden jubilee conference will take place on 1 and 2 July at St Patrick’s College Maynooth and will be co-hosted with the National Centre for Liturgy.

The celebration begins on Monday 1 July and concludes on Friday 5 July. When the two-day conference ends, a summer school will continue from the evening of Tuesday 2 July until Friday 5 July.

The theme of the conference is ‘Rejoice and Sing’ and participants will remember, celebrate and look forward to the future.

Apart from Fr Joncas, who is Artist in Residence and Research Fellow in Catholic Studies at the University of St Thomas, St Paul, Minnesota, other presenters will include Professor Lizette Larson-Miller, Professor of moral and pastoral theology at Huron University College, Ontario; Fr Thomas Whelan CSSp; Karen O’Donovan; Philip McKinley; and Fr Martin Browne OSB.

The conference will include a celebration of Evening Prayer and Morning Prayer and conclude with Eucharist. The celebration of Eucharist on Tuesday 2 July to conclude the conference is also the opening event of the Summer School.

The theme ‘Rejoice and Sing’ continues throughout the summer school, with Fr Michael Joncas as the guest director for the week.

Workshops during the week will be presented by Dr John O’Keeffe, Bernard Sexton, Ephrem Feeley, Fr Liam Lawton, Sr Marie Dunne CHF, Órla Barry, Ciaran Coll, Regina Deacy, Dominic Finn and Fr Columba McCann OSB.

Fr Joncas was ordained at the Cathedral of Saint Paul in St Paul in 1980. He has a BA in English and an MA in theology (liturgical studies) from Notre Dame, as well as a masters and doctorate in liturgical studies from the Pontificio Istituto Liturgico of the Ateneo Sant’Anselmo in Rome.

In an interview with The Catholic Spirit some years ago, Fr Joncas spoke about his diagnosis with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system.

He spent months in hospital trying to regain the use of his arms and legs. When the disease is severe, the patient is almost totally paralysed.

He wrote about the experience in ‘On Eagle’s Wings: A Journey Through Illness Toward Healing’.

He explained that “The book uses my experience of suffering from Guillain-Barré Syndrome in 2003/2004 to explore catastrophic and chronic illness under five headings: Chaos and Confusion, Diagnosis, The Abyss, Therapy and A New Life. For each heading I give a fairly detailed account of what I remember from that stage in the process, reflections on how undergoing that stage impacted my spiritual life, and links to one of my compositions written since the experience that I believe arises from and mirrors that stage.”

Speaking to the Catholic Herald in 2013, he said, “I had to discover what it meant to be a priest when I couldn’t do all of the things associated with ministry, especially preaching and presiding at the liturgy. All I could do was pray.”

Fr Joncas said his vulnerability offered him a greater understanding of suffering and dependence on God and others. The illness changed the way he lives his life and the way he views those with disabilities.

He told the Catholic Herald, “I now have a personal experience of the God of rescue. I realise that many people may be carrying hidden wounds and disabilities that colour the way they interact with others, so I shouldn’t be too quick to judge, and I spend a lot less time worrying about minor issues.”

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