By George Al-Akiki and Marilyn Rodrigues
Sr Cecilia Joseph OP, principal at St Peter Chanel primary school in Regents Park, was met one day by a mother who was enjoying the “song” her Year 4 son had learned at school.
“It was the Magnificat,” Sr Cecilia said.
“She explained that her son and his friends sang this chant while playing video games or whenever they played together.”
Sr Cecilia said her 250 students participating in Jubilate Deo at St Peter Chanel are taking part in a “critical part of going deeper in creating an authentic Catholic culture in our school.”
The resounding success of the program has taken staff, parents and students by surprise.
The young singers themselves say they’re finding friendship and faith through Gregorian chant and other forms of sacred music.
Benji Ngo, a student at St Peter Chanel, said the lessons of music and tradition help him “to proclaim faith better” and profess a love of God.
“I have learned how to fully be able to talk to God in a way that people have done for thousands of years,” he said.
“The music just comes to me—it speaks to me and talks to my heart.”
Year 9 student Sienna Simons agreed.
“I’ve learnt beautiful music and more about where my faith comes from and how the words that we sing resonate with so many different cultures,” Sienna said.
“It’s made me more appreciative of my religion and the fact that I get to express it so freely in a way that is beautiful, holy and sacred.”
Year 11 Brigidine student Molly Menzell said it was a great way to combine her faith and passion for music.
“I definitely would like to continue this if the opportunity presents itself after I graduate from school,” she said.
“It’s a powerful form of prayer through music and it’s something that’s really fun and keeps me connected and involved.”
Brigidine principal Sharyn Quirk praised the Jubilate Deo program and its director Ronan Reilly for his “incredible knowledge and passion that really brings this music alive.”
At St Jerome’s primary school in Punchbowl more than 100 students have 20-minute Jubilate Deo classes each week as part of its religious education program.
“In order to sing properly, we have to make sure our posture is up properly, our chin above the table,” explained Azariah, one of the students.
Participation in school Masses has been elevated and the parents and parishioners could not be more delighted.
“The smiles you get from the parents and parishioners is just so proud,” said St Jerome’s religious education coordinator Gretta Habib.
“The children actually know the parts of the Mass well thanks to this program.”
Gretta and her fellow coordinator Nancy Mansour have noticed the effect is even trickling down to the youngest students.
“We don’t run the program in Kindergarten to Year 2, but because it’s been implemented and heard across the upper grades, the younger ones have picked up on the music and sing along, which is lovely,” Gretta said.
Students have learnt new techniques and hymns, along with new understandings around the power of sacred music.
“Singing doesn’t just come from the mind, it also comes from the heart,” said St Peter Chanel student Joah Boutros.
“When you think about prayer, you usually think about people saying words,” adds fellow chorister Ruby Duong.
“I think it’s amazing that we can sing so that prayer is not just words, it’s a prayer from the heart.”
Ella Mahon’s favourite hymn is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”
“I love the rhythm, how it flows, and it is very deep,” she said.
“When I sing it I notice I am more calm and my connection with God becomes stronger.”