In fall 2012, I gratefully accepted President Emeritus Father Dennis Dease’s offer to become the University of St. Thomas’ artist-in-residence and research-fellow-in-Catholic Studies. I would keep my status as a faculty member, continue to occupy an office in Sitzmann Hall and maintain my residence in university housing. The major change would be that I would have no obligations to teach or advise students, except if and when I chose to do so. Father Dease stated that he hoped I would use my new free time to work on various projects I had conceived in the past but never had the time to bring to completion because my energies had been primarily devoted to classroom instruction. I have been exploring the ramifications of this new appointment ever since.

Some may wonder why a Catholic university should support an artist-in-residence.

I believe artists contribute to the primary task – the creation, maintenance and transmission of knowledge while forming new generations to benefit from and continue this endeavor in service to the common good – of the university. Though the knowledge an artist proffers may not be the same as that produced through the methods and procedures of the natural and social sciences, history or literary studies, for example, he imparts, what I call, “knowledge of craft.” Just as students can be enriched by a scientist who not only teaches past achievements but involves students in a program of contemporary experiments, or a practicing novelist may bring a rich perspective to the study of literature, so a church composer, like myself, may intrigue students at the intersections of theology, philosophy, music, literature and religious practice toward an appreciation of the unity of knowledge and the unique ways in which divine revelation may be communicated through artistic means.

This appointment has offered me abundant opportunities to contribute to St. Thomas outside of the classroom. For example, I offered a program on arts and the spiritual journey for the UST Alumni Day in May 2013. I created a hymn text (“We Gather Together to Hallow This Moment”) to mark the inauguration of President Julie Sullivan, used at both the Mass to welcome her and the inauguration itself. When the Center for and Department of Catholic Studies celebrated its 20th anniversary in October 2013, I composed two pieces to mark the occasion: “O Sacred Banquet,” a communion processional for congregation, cantors, SATB choir, organ and string quartet, and “A Prayer of Cardinal Newman” for a cappella SATB choir.

Although I have not taught a UST course since my appointment, I have not remained completely outside of the teaching realm. I am guiding an undergraduate in individual study and also have made myself available as a guest lecturer for colleagues. Additionally, I am leading a two-semester course for senior citizens, “The Search for God in 20th- and 21st-century Film,” under the auspices of the Selim Center for Lifetime Learning, in which we watched and analyzed films with religious themes.

My ongoing writing projects include Our Hearts Be Born. The Michael Joncas Hymnary: Advent and Christmas (Portland, OR: Oregon Catholic Press, 2013). Recently I completed the second volume in this series with “hymns of the day” for the Sundays of Lent and the Solemnities of Triduum.

During the same time period, I completed two recording projects (New Mass for John Carroll [Chicago, IL: GIA, Inc., 2012] and God of All Beginnings [Chicago, IL: GIA, Inc., 2013]), providing all the musical compositions and arrangements and in some cases serving as a vocal soloist. I also was given the go-ahead to record my revised No Greater Love Mass, using the St. Thomas organ as the foundational instrument. I especially was honored to work with the Gitchiwa’a Kateri Catholic community in creating a hymn to mark Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization in 2013.

 Perhaps the greatest change in my day-to-day work arising from my new status is the freedom I have to accept speaking engagements nationally and internationally, as well as serving our own archdiocese.

Likewise, I have been able to accept invitations to many conferences and lead a number of musical and spiritual retreats nationally. Highlights include: the Marten lecture on homiletics and liturgy at the University of Notre Dame; a lecture on the spiritual journey and the Catholic imagination at Providence College; a keynote for the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada; a keynote and workshops for the Southwest Liturgical Conference in Beaumont, Texas; and a keynote and workshops at St. Elizabeth College’s spirituality convocation.

Internationally I addressed the annual meeting of Universa Laus at Worth Abbey in England; offered a lecture and workshop at a symposium on Sacrosanctum Concilium at the University of Maynooth in Ireland; presented a keynote and various workshops at the Australian Liturgical Conference in Wollongong; and served as chaplain for a choir tour of central Italy.

I hope it is clear from this list that my work as a research fellow in Catholic Studies allows me to explore a wide variety of topics that impact Catholic life. While I never would be able to accept these many invitations and do this much travel if I were assigned to full-time classroom teaching, I hope these interchanges reflect well on and enrich the university.

The title of this article comes from the famous “To be, or not to be” speech in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.” In his soliloquy, the title character debates the advantages of committing suicide, considering that bringing an end to pain might make suicide attractive. I have no attraction to ending my own life, but I do consider my new role as a wonderful conclusion to my academic career. It is truly a “consummation” that I could never have imagined, let alone wished for! I cannot express my gratitude to UST enough for this extraordinary blessing.

 

We Gather Together to Hallow This Moment

A Hymn for the Inauguration for Dr. Julie Sullivan
President of the University of St. Thomas, October 2013

We gather together to hallow this moment,

This place filled with mem’ries, this time full of dreams.

Rejoicing in blessings so lavishly given,

We pause to give thanks in our journey’s midstream.

With God ever guiding, provoking, providing,

We’ve traveled in faith until this very day;

Entrusting our future to God’s loving nurture,

We seek to continue to walk in God’s way.

 

We gather together to hallow this moment,

Committing ourselves to the values we claim:

Preparing ourselves for the work of tomorrow,

Transforming our world to meet God’s divine aim,

To think ever [more] deeply, to act ever [more] wisely,

To work with great skill to achieve what we should,

To help one another as sisters and brothers,

To spend hearts and talents to serve what is good.

 

We gather together to hallow this moment:

To welcome a leader and hold her in prayer

That God may protect her, may bless and direct her

That our good and her good may henceforth be shared.

May wisdom now guide her with prudence beside her;

May thoughtful compassion enlighten her ways;

May true counsel gift her and vision uplift her,

Respect and renown and full joy crown her days.

 

We gather together to hallow this moment:

A time for new mem’ries, a time to surpass.

A time to thank those who have striven before us,

A time for accepting the torch that they pass.

With God ever guiding, provoking, providing,

We’ll walk out in faith t’ward a future to come

And, facing that future and trusting God’s nurture,

We’ll journey God’s way until trav’ling is done.

 

 

 

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