Salvatore Cordileone, archbishop of San Francisco has created an endowed chair in sacred music at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University, which forms clergy for the San Francisco archdiocese and for other dioceses throughout the West and the Pacific Rim. With the establishment of this new William P. Mahrt Chair in Sacred Music, many courses in the history and practice of the Church’s sacred music will be available to seminarians and to others who are interested.
The overall quality of music at the seminary liturgies will be enhanced by the musical direction and example of the new holder of the chair, Professor Jennifer Donelson-Nowicka. In her new role as associate professor of music and director of sacred music at the seminary, she will serve as the director of sacred music, overseeing all the musical activities in the seminary chapel, and accompanying liturgies at the organ, while developing and directing a schola cantorum, which will sing Gregorian chant (in Latin), chant in English and Spanish, and sacred polyphony.
Here are some quotations from her paper “Emotion, Intellect, and Will: The Fruits of Sacred Music in the Spiritual Life,” which was given on June 29 at the Sacra Liturgia 2022 Conference in San Francisco:
“The Church has long been the greatest patron of beauty, feeding Christ’s sheep. Beauty is food for the soul. The world needs the material charity of the Church, but also Her spiritual charity.”
“It is possible to get to heaven without understanding much of anything about music, thanks be to God. But to willfully cling to ignorance or even an anti-knowledge which prizes ugliness or mediocrity is to choose to be deaf to one mode through which God makes known His glory.”
“Mediocre music, banal music is not spiritually neutral. It has a numbing effect on the soul, feeding the senses with the mere shadow of the glory of God’s love, but never really piquing our interest or helping us see God clearly. … Bad music is a sort of spiritual junk food—food that looks like food, but makes us fat and lethargic. Musical junk food has no place in the sacred liturgy….”
Professor Donelson-Nowicka is also organizing an international sacred music conference to be held at St. Patrick’s seminary in November of 2023 celebrating the work of Dr. Mahrt.
“The choice of Professor Mahrt is particularly exciting to me because I have been writing for years about his achievement of keeping chant and polyphony alive while it was out of favor. I sang with the St. Ann Choir that he directs at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Palo Alto for a few years beginning in 2005, and was very impressed when I learned that he had persisted in directing that choir in the singing of Gregorian chant and motets at Sunday Masses, and polyphonic Masses on feast days, in liturgies where that kind of music belongs, even during the long decades when that kind of music was virtually banned in the Church after Vatican II.”
The above comes from a Nov. 17 article by Roseanne Sullivan in the New Liturgical Movement.