St Louis Jesuits

From Deacon Mark Miller’s Desk

In 1967, the U.S bishops formally approved the use of the guitar at Mass. Since the traditional hymns did not translate well into English, nor could they be played easily on a guitar, a whole new style of liturgical music sprang up almost overnight.  If you are “of an age” you’ll likely remember when your parish advertised a “guitar Mass” or a “folk Mass. The first songs came from secular radio; songs like “Lean on Me,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and even, “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing” [originally a commercial jingle for a soft drink].  Rescue and a sea change came in the form of the St. Louis Jesuits – five men studying to become Jesuit priests at St. Louis University.

Since 1974, Fathers Roc O’Connor SJ, Bob Dufford SJ, and John Foley SJ as well as Tim Manion and Dan Schutte [Manion never completed his studies, and Schutte left the Jesuits in 1986] have composed, produced, and performed as the St. Louis Jesuits. Their original compositions reflected the folk and popular music techniques of the day and revolutionized liturgical music of the1970s. The songs, written for acoustic guitars and piano, mirrored contemporary melodies and rhythms; however, the lyrics drew on Biblical and other religious texts. And what songs they did write. Among their more well-known songs are “One Bread One Body,” “Be Not Afraid,” “Here I am Lord,” “Table of Plenty,” “City of God,” and “Sing to the Mountains.” Over the course of 45 years, they released 571 songs on seven studio albums and were nominated for a Grammy Award five times. Their music was the basis for the Glory and Praise hymnals. They performed their final concert back in September of last year.

Their vision was to create choir songs that people could join in singing. Father O’Connor explained it this way “The goal was (to assist) the prayer of the faithful, the church gathered together, and, through word and melody, to create and help foster that space of engagement with God’s self and others. What we wanted to do, consciously, from the beginning, was to compose songs for the liturgy that could create a milieu of prayer.” Their songs were the first settings of psalms of the Church year that reached people.  

The St. Louis Jesuits wrote the soundtrack of the spiritual lives of the Vatican II generation.  Children of the 80s and 90s and beyond learned their songs through the extremely popular “Glory and Praise” hymnal.  Times and tastes change, and the St. Louis Jesuits are not as prominent as they once were, but you can still hear their songs occasionally in Masses all over the country.  They are, as the commercial says, “part of the fabric of our lives.”

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