An orderly but enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,200 packed the Pabst Theater Sunday, Sept. 20, for the first-ever St. Louis Jesuits concert in Milwaukee.
A benefit for Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in West Milwaukee, the event raised approximately $125,000, according to the school’s director of development, Patricia Jessup.
The three-hour concert included 20 hymns ranging from Dan Schutte’s sprightly “City of God,” which kicked off the afternoon, to Tim Manion’s stirring “There Is a River.”
An encore selection, “There is a River” resembled an African- American spiritual in sound and subject matter. Its lyrics depict “a great flowing river … Broad are its waters and deep are its voices.” Under Christy Presser’s direction, a three dozen member, four-part choir backed up the Jesuits and swayed in unison as they sang.
Singing along with Jesuit Frs. Roc O’Connor of Milwaukee’s Gesu Parish, John Foley and Bob Dufford and their longtime colleagues Manion and Marquette University High School alumnus Schutte wasn’t restricted to the choir. The booklet distributed to patrons looked more like a hymnal than a concert program, filled as it was with notes and lyrics. The Jesuits urged attendees to lend voices to portions of every song.
Except for Fr. Foley, each St. Louis Jesuit played guitar; Schutte played piano for several selections as well. Among the songs were “All the Ends of the Earth,” “Be Not Afraid,” “Cry of the Poor,” “Here I Am, Lord” and “Lift Up Your Hearts.”
Among those I’d not heard before, I most liked “There Is a River” and Fr. O’Connor’s majestic, Psalm 98-based “The Saving Power of God,” which he summarized from the stage as “an old praise song.” My guest at the Pabst, adult daughter Katie, preferred Fr. Foley’s “At Home in the Lord,” a hymn the composer verbally placed in the Johannes Brahms tradition.
A dozen instrumentalists supplemented the efforts of the Jesuits, who have sung and played together over four decades. Fr. O’Connor’s brother Mike played lead guitar on one number; Lauren Sperry had a saxophone solo on another.
The concert’s only hymn not written by a St. Louis Jesuit, “Holy God,” concluded the afternoon as a second encore.
“You’ve heard it many times in church,” Fr. Foley reminded the audience, “especially if you were in the Catholic Church before Vatican II.”