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Sydney teachers inspired to bring Gregorian Chant to schools

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Louisa Cataldo and Robyn Ross, both experienced music teachers, visited the Dominican Sisters of St Cecelia on their US visit. The Aussies described their encounter with the sisters as a highlight of their trip. Both feel a schola can help evangelisation via liturgy.

An American conference on Gregorian chant has inspired leading Sydney Catholic educators.

The conference entitled ‘Gregorian Chant in Pastoral Ministry and Religious Education’ was part of a two-week professional development opportunity for Louisa Cataldo, Professional Officer for Religious Education and Evangelisation at Sydney Catholic Schools and Robyn Ross, a Senior Teacher of Music and Religious Education at Brigidine College, Randwick

“A highlight of the conference was the opportunity to pray Lauds, Vespers and participate in daily Mass sung entirely using Gregorian Chant in either Latin, English or Spanish,” Louisa says.

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“This was a liturgical tradition in which participants were clearly well trained. The simple beauty that the unified voices of chant allowed one to experience in each of the liturgies was a joy and so very different from my usual Sunday worship.”

The two-day conference at St Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, explored a broad range of current perspectives in sacred music, with emphasis on the use of Gregorian chant within local Catholic parishes and schools, and highlighting the importance of chant within the liturgical life of the local Church.

Drawing heavily from Vatican documents such as Musicam Sacram (Sacred Music) and Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), presentations included ‘Chant as a sung theology’, ‘Liturgical ministry through chant’, ‘Beauty and truth through sacred music’ and the place of ‘Schola Cantorum’ in Catholic schools.

The pair also visited several schools which followed a liberal arts or classical education approach where a Schola Cantorum is an integral part of the Religious Education Program.

“The schola has a distinct place within the liturgy and their role and purpose is quite different to that of a choir,” Louisa says.

“While the possibility of a schola in Sydney Catholic schools linked to parishes is likely a vision far into the future, its effects for ‘full, conscious and active participation’ as experienced here in the parishes and schools we visited are clearly visible, and a means by which children could be evangelised through learning high quality liturgical music.”

Both Aussies see the conference as a significant learning opportunity. Both are experienced music teachers and parish choir directors.

Robyn has already begun investigating ways to introduce chant at Brigidine College and her parish of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Kensington.

“Personally, I think that Gregorian Chant can live ‘in communion’ with already-existing liturgical repertoire, though purists may not support this model,” she says. Robyn and Louisa also attended ‘The Catholic Scientist’ symposium on Catholic faith and science, and theology lectures presented by the Thomistic Institute at New York University.

Speakers at the conference included Br Guy Consolmagno SJ, the director of the Vatican Observatory, and biochemist Dr Michelle Frankl.
A clear theme of the conference was that religion and science need not be separated but can inform each other.

“This would have been an informative conference for young people who are Catholics wanting to pursue a career in the sciences as it discussed topics at the intersection of science and religion,” says Robyn.

“Conferences such as these provide teachers with increased knowledge to lead and explore conversations about the relationship between the two areas with their students,” adds Louisa.

“As Dr Frankl explained, ‘science is not a synonym for secular’.”

The Australian teachers also met the dean and staff from the Faculty of Education at San Francisco University, and discussed several topics on Catholic university education for teachers. Their discussion included issues around the inclusion in Catholic schools and institutions of students who identify as LGBTQ, and the pastoral responses of the Church and the school system.

The teachers commented that it is important for all Sydney Catholic Schools staff to be properly informed about these issues through professional learning and through policy development.

They welcome the upcoming SCS seminar in Sydney on the ‘Pastoral Care of Persons with Same-Sex Attraction and Families with Same Sex Parents’.

Led by Bishop Richard Umbers and including other presenters such as Dr Jeremy Bell of Campion College, it will be held for school leaders during May at the Leichhardt Central Office.

The overseas opportunity concluded with a visit to the community of Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia in Washington DC.

The Australians met with Sr John Mary Fleming, Executive Director of the US Secretariat of Catholic Education, and discussed comparisons between Catholic schools in both countries and the issues facing them.

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