An elderly woman and her daughter waited patiently outside the theater anxious to meet three priests who had just finished a concert.
“They remained behind to speak to us, Eugene and myself in particularly,” said Fr. Martin O’Hagan who, along with his brother, Fr. Eugene O’Hagan, and Fr. David Delargy, comprise The Priests from Northern Ireland.
“It was a lovely experience. The elderly woman revealed she had been taught by our grandfather, Charles, whom we never knew, but had been revealed to us through stories from others,” Fr. O’Hagan said. “I felt that night that my grandfather Charles somehow keeping an eye on us in care. It was a great moment of connection.”
The trio, with numerous gold and platinum records to their credit, will bring their repertoire of classical music to the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee on March 21 as part of a U.S. multi-city tour.
Fr. O’Hagan said the group has always had a love for music.
If you go
The Priests will perform at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee, on Saturday, March 21, at 7 p.m. Tickets are available by calling: (414) 286-3663 or online: pabsttheater.org.
“Music was always part of my family and we brought the music my mother taught us into so many contexts which lifted hearts,” Fr. O’Hagan said. “As you know, Eugene is my brother and together we continued the singing going to a number of teachers of voice in college and university and this enhanced the work and experience as well as love of music for me, and being introduced to a wide variety of composers and the progressive development of the voice and technique. We had the experience of Gilbert and Sullivan, opera college and festivals, as well as the Performer’s Club in Belfast.
Making music for 40 years
“Music has been part of my life as a priest for the liturgy and also in many other contexts, singing oratorio and being involved in opera,” he added.
As a group, the priests have been singing together for about 40 years.
“We started singing together at the age of 11. David is my classmate; wow, it seems like yesterday, so we have travelled the road together for some time and in the process have come to know each other’s voices pretty well and are still learning,” Fr. O’Hagan said.
The group came together in 2008 as The Priests after being approached to sing the Latin parts of the Mass for a recording by Sony.
Sony had been looking for one priest to fill the role, but when all three came together, the recording company decided to take them all on board. They have since recorded three albums, “The Priests,” “Harmony” and the Christmas album, “Noel,” as well as an album of favorites for the United States.
“We have continued to sing and this will be another wonderful opportunity to journey to the States. We are looking forward to it very much indeed,” Fr. O’Hagan said in an email interview with the Catholic Herald from their home in Ireland.
Full-time jobs as parish priests
The trio are full-time parish priests in the Diocese of Down and Connor in Northern Ireland.
“We have always been attached to parishes as clergy and appointed to a variety of parishes over the past 25-28 years,” Fr. O’Hagan said. “Indeed, the parish context has been such that we can engage with the liturgical music and, through singing, encourage others and have the moments of reflection. The music in the liturgy has been a great blessing and it does touch hearts and changes lives.”
Fr. O’Hagan said music also provides the chance to encourage others who are involved in music in the parish such as choirs and the folk choir.”
“It is so rewarding,” Fr. O’Hagan said. “In terms of the balancing or indeed the juggling, we have always had to grapple with this reality and in a sense the music is an inseparable part of what it means for us to be priests. We have to clearly plan diaries very well in advance if we are singing in concerts or travelling, but these events are carefully organized to cause the least disruption to the parish and parishioners.”
Music is ‘language of the soul’
Fr. O’Hagan said the music ministry in the modern age calls for a coherent dialogue and music can be a vibrant way to do that.
He said music is the language of the soul “and music provides the channel through which, in the liturgical context, worship can be effectively experienced and the soul is refreshed in every sense.”
“Hymns and especially the parts of the Mass, if sung, can make all the difference as there is a constant invitation to be part of the Eucharist and to receive nourishment,” Fr. O’Hagan said. “Music in the Mass helps us to be woven into the spiritual fabric of our life in Christ. Indeed, music can edify, encourage and enable prayer as it is prayer in itself. I always rely on St. Augustine saying, ‘He/she who sings prays twice.’ Thanks be to God.”
Fr. O’Hagan said music give gives him energy and a sense of purpose and is a crucial wellspring of support.
“It, as a gift for which I am ever grateful, can help me in the struggles and the joys of life,” Fr. O’Hagan said. “Music can be brought into the sacred and the marketplace of the secular world and touch hearts, too, taking into consideration the backgrounds of all and the spiritual can be experienced. Thank God for the formation in music which continues to be so much a part of our lives. Music is the chance to connect, to praise, to lift hearts and to pray.”
Lives woven through music
Fr. O’Hagan said the trio’s lives are intricately and inseparably woven through music.
“I use the gift of music when in a primary school classroom, on a hospital ward, parish and in contexts that call for a sense of being uplifted. Music transforms and heals,” he said. “I hope that we can offer the listener the chance to be transported to a different world where they can be at peace in the midst of all the ups and downs and somehow, with God’s help, be uplifted, renewed and reassured with a big dash of humor thrown in there, too. The beauty about the music is that it is for everyone regardless of background and we are conscious that the music can touch lives and reignite or rekindle a sense of faith and also give an insight into the priesthood.”
Repertoire includes classical, Van Morrison
Fr. O’Hagan said he loves classical music.
“It has been part of my life for a long time. It resonates with me and enables me to face life with a renewed sense of energy and hope,” he said. “Our repertoire is quite varied and is not exclusively classical. We have some modern pieces from composers like Van Morrison and local composers. We love those timeless pieces of music like ‘Danny Boy’ and so many others. The journey we take is one that embraces a great choice so that when people come to a concert they might just be surprised by joy and the unexpected. While classically trained and always growing in this regard and experimenting with the human voice we are able to paint the music as an artist paints a portrait or a landscape using a wide variety of colors from the palate.”
He said music plays a key role in helping people return to their faith by soothing and smoothing the path and extracting a sense of restlessness.
“All I know is that people have used the music in the most vulnerable moments of life and the most joyful. Perhaps something resonates in the person and God can use the moment or the occasion to reach hearts where words cannot,” Fr. O’Hagan said. “I believe miracles do happen. I only know that we are instruments and the rest we have to learn to leave to God.”