House of Brigid 2009-10

House of Brigid 2009-10

27 December 2009

Nollaig Shona Dhuit!

Happy Christmas from the House of Brigid!
It's been far too long since our last posting, but I wanted to extend warm wishes for a blessed Christmas season from all of us here in Wexford. We have had many letters from friends and family at home, and all of them seem to begin by saying something like "We're sorry you won't be celebrating Christmas at home this year." While it is true that being away from friends and family can be difficult during the holidays, I can assure everyone that the three of us have been more than well taken care of, from both sides of the pond.
In addition to Christmas greetings from our own friends and families, we received as a community a wonderful surprise from our friends in the Folk Choir: a new board game for the house, and Christmas ornaments decorated with pictures of each individual choir member. I wish I could recreate the moment when Martha and I opened the box and realized what was inside it--each of us saw different Folkheads smiling up at us, and we just... well, yelled, really. It was hilarious. The ornaments look great, and it was so moving to know that everyone took time out of their busy schedule of preparing for finals to make sure the three of us knew that they were thinking of us at Christmastime.
Here in Ireland, the Christmas spirit has been non-stop. We received numerous Christmas cards and goodies, as well as several beautiful keepsake ornaments that are sure to conjure vivid memories of our Irish Christmas as we hang them on our trees many Christmases from now. We've enjoyed many new traditions such as mulled wine, mince pies, Christmas crackers, and flaming plum pudding, just to name a few!
Liturgically, the season afforded us the opportunity to learn some new carols, teach some new carols, and sing the old favorites with full heart and voice. Through our carol services and working with the Clonard Family Liturgy Group, we learned a couple of Irish traditional carols. One is called Don Oíche ud I mBeithil, which we were told is a beloved carol throughout Ireland. The title means "I sing of a night in Bethlehem," and it tells of how the first Christmas night was as bright as the dawn. It is a beautiful, haunting tune (as only the Irish can write!); it's one of those that lingers in your head long after you hear it, and one that I will always remember. The other tune is called "A Mhuire Mathair," or "To Mother Mary." It's a combination of Irish and Latin, and it's a Christmas greeting to Our Lady, praising her as the mother of the Infant Jesus, and acknowledging her place as our mother as well, and the text is set to a lyrical tune that reminds me of a lullaby. It was so moving to hear these songs sung by young children, hearing them participate so beautifully in their tradition and heritage.
Within our own vigil choir, we were able to teach several new pieces this year. Since we had the first Vigil Mass of Christmas Eve at 5pm, we decided to begin preludes at 4:30 with a carol sing. The line-up included old favorites like "Joy to the World" and "O Holy Night," but it also included "From East to West" and the chant "Unto Us a Child is Born," both by Chrysogonus Waddell. I was so proud of the choir--they sang "Unto Us a Child is Born" a capella, and even sang the refrain in four-part harmony. It was beautiful! We were also able to teach "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "Of the Father's Love Begotten," both of which were very warmly received by the choir members.
I think my personal favorite carol of this season has been "The Wexford Carol." I had been familiar with this piece for a while through various carol services back in the States, so when I realized I was moving to its place of origin, I knew immediately that we'd be using it at Christmas. Through researching the carol's history, I discovered that it was not written in Wexford town, that it actually originated in Enniscorthy, which is about 20 minutes northwest of Wexford. Some people call it "The Enniscorthy Carol," but the name "Wexford Carol" actually refers to County Wexford, not Wexford Town. Geographical technicalities aside, it is a beautiful piece of music, and it was great to introduce it to Chris and Martha, to use it in the Scoil Mhuire carol service, and to sing it on Christmas Day at Mass.
Look for future posts with pictures and videos from the Christmas carol services of Kennedy Park and Scoil Mhuire, and once again, many thanks again to all who have written to us from home and abroad, and most especially thanks to everyone here in Wexford who made sure that we felt as much at home here at Christmas as we would have in our own country. We are so grateful to have the prayers and love and support of so many wonderful people here in Wexford and back at home. May God bless all of you this Christmas season with the peace and joy the Christ-Child brings, may your families and friends know success and prosperity throughout the New Year, and may all of us strive to bring the love of God to all we encounter in all that we do.
Happy Christmas, everyone!

26 November 2009

Christ Our Light: The Journey Through Advent

November 6 marked another major milestone for the House of Brigid: our first major workshop for liturgical musicians of the Diocese of Ferns. The event was weeks in the making: we mailed press kits introducing the community and advertising the event to every Parish Priest in the Diocese, out into the wonderful vagueness that is the Irish postal system, with the certitude that, somehow, our letters intended for such specific destinations as "Fr. So-and-So, Parochial House, Bunclody, County Wexford," would find their way to the addressee. Not a single letter was returned unopened; our faith in the Irish postal system with its Harry Potter-esque addresses was entirely justified. In fact, a few weeks later, enquiries and reservations began to surface; the letters had been forwarded on to the choir directors and musicians. Word was getting out.
Our expectation for the number of attendees was guardedly optimistic; we t
hought we were being overly cautious by requesting more octavo packets than we would need from World Library Publications and GIA, who had graciously agreed to provide repertoire for our event. In the end, both publishers responded with generosity and unbelievable speed, and we had 50 complete packets of 9 titles ready for distribution. We ended up needing almost twice that many.
One week out, our workshop had around 70 confirmed reservations from all over the Diocese, with the promise from our parish supervisors that more would turn up without having contacted us, and turn up they did. A 2:30pm start time meant that most people showed up to register around 2:45 (in Ireland, all times end with "ish"), bu soon we had everyone sorted, and Fr. Denis began his introductions of the community shortly before 3:00.

Considering I was leading my first diocesan workshop, and considering this was the first official diocesan event sponsored by our fledgling community, I was nervous, wondering how the Irish would respond to us, and to the information and music we would present. In the end, all we could do was stand in front of them, and share with them the knowledge and experiences that have nurtured in each of us a real passion for liturgy done well, especially when enhanced by beautiful music. I needn't have been nervous. The groups was incredibly receptive, not only to the music itself, but also to my comments on liturgical music planning, Martha's comments on cantoring, and Chris's comments on the origins of certain Advent texts. I explained that, when you come down to it, our job as music ministers is to help the congregation pray well, in a way that brings beauty to the liturgy and honor to God. We can accomplish this by choosing music that reflects the liturgical action and season, music that is beautiful and worthy of a place in the Mass, music that inspires the congregation to participate with full heart and voice.
Following the workshop, the wonderful ladies of the Clonard Parish
community served a meal to the participants, and after that, we adjourned to prepare for our own Vigil Mass, where we were astonished to see that nearly 30 people had stayed to join us in song. It was overwhelming to see such enthusiasm, to meet and converse with so many people who want so badly to improve their liturgical music. There is a real hunger in this country for rejuvenation and renewal.
Most of the participants wrote encouraging compliments on the evaluations we asked them to complete. Nearly all of them found the information useful and the music accessible. A few stated that implementing our suggestions would be very difficult, given the small size of most parish choirs, the lack of people confident enough to cantor, and most of all, the fact that many people in music ministry here in Ireland don't actually read music. While these are difficult obstacles that we ourselves continue to encounter in trying to help others improve their liturgical music, I don't see them as insurmountable. Rather, I found many reasons to be hopeful in coming away from our first diocesan workshop: there are many people in this area who want to learn, who want to grow as musicians, and who want to be inspired in their ministry so that they, in turn, can inspire others to learn and grow in faith, hope, and love. Ultimately, I believe that it is their desire for inspiration that continues to inspire us in our own ministry as we strive to bring a renewed sense of joy to all whom we encounter here in Ireland.

18 November 2009

"Last Friday" masses with Kennedy Park

One of the most rewarding parts of our work here in Wexford so far has been our involvement in the two primary schools of Clonard Parish. At Kennedy Park school we’ve begun a program of “Last Friday” masses with individual classes. The three of us go into Kennedy Park once a week to meet with this month’s class to prepare them for a mass on the morning of the last Friday of every month. This allows us to pick a theme related to the month and help the class plan every aspect of the mass according to that theme.

October is the month of the Rosary, so with the first of the two fifth classes we planned and prepared a Marian themed mass. We worked with them to compose Prayers of the Faithful that were all related to qualities we find in our Holy Mother. For example: “Mary went to take care of her elderly cousin Elizabeth before John the Baptist was born. She took care of everyone in need around her. We ask that Mary will watch over our friends and family who are sick, and that we may be like her and help to care for them.” The class also presented gifts to the altar that represented things they wanted to thank God for in their lives. This included everything from an Irish jersey to schoolbooks to the Bread and Wine.

Each student had a special job during the mass either as a reader, a gift bearer, or a cantor. It was so wonderful to see Irish ten-year olds so excited about the mass! Giving them responsibilities really seemed to help them find ownership of the mass and of the entire congregation’s experience of the mass. Some of them were “a little nervous” but they all beautifully and reverently read the readings from the Book of Judith and the Psalms and sang their hearts out on some of the great Marian hymnody we’ve found in Ireland like “As I Kneel Before You.” The regular daily-mass goers also seemed to enjoy a little change of pace and some young life in the church and at mass.

In November we’re working with the other fifth class on a mass in honor of the saints, and we’re looking forward to many great “Last Friday” masses to come!

09 November 2009


     The apex of our American invasion week came on Saturday, October 24th. A couple of celebrations converged together on that weekend and the parish had a blowout celebration. The evening began with the normally scheduled Saturday vigil Mass, which is the one where we are in charge of the music. For this Mass though, the parish was celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Clonard Folk Group and so all past members of the group were invited back to join with the current group in providing music for this Mass. The folk group is a dedicated group of singers and musicians who provide music for the 11:15 mass on Sunday mornings. They use everything from traditional hymnody and Irish "folk tunes" to recent compositions from Marty Haugen and our very own Cookie! It has been a great pleasure of ours to sing with this group since we arrived and to help with the planning of these masses, so it was an even greater pleasure to share this evening with them. Our commissioning and their 30th anniversary, all rolled into one massive liturgy (pun fully and unabashedly intended).

     Because this was both an anniversary and a commissioning, invites were extended to clergy from throughout the diocese as well as people connected to the liturgical scene in Ferns. The Mass was celebrated by the Most Rev. Denis Brennan, Bishop of Ferns, who just the day before had blessed our home. There were also six priests concelebrating, a choir of about 30 (including 2 of our guests), and one of the largest congregations we've seen since arriving here! The music stretched out over the 30 year history of the folk group, pulling from the early days of the group and from the more recent pieces that are used. The choir sounded amazing, there were all four parts present, and the congregation was singing along (not something we're used to over here). It was a great celebration of the ministry that this group of talented musicians has cultivated for three decades, and we are proud to be members of this beautiful tradition at Clonard.
     Following the homily (which was also amazing), we proceeded with the actual commissioning of the three of us and our mission here in Ireland. The Bishop invited us to come forward and then Mr. and Mrs. Calcutt came forward as the officers of 'The House of Bridget Inc.' to offer testimony to the Bishop of our willingness and ability to serve the Church in Ireland. The part that I loved the most was their testimony that the hardships we faced in coming over only served to make this program all the stronger and toughened our resolve to carry out this mission. Bishop Denis then asked Fr. Denis if the parish was willing to take us on and support us in our mission. (What would have happened if he said no? We'd already been here two months!) The questions that Bishop Denis asked were not just of a liturgical and musical nature, but also that the parish would help to actually immerse us in the culture of this place so that we can better serve the people of Wexford and the Irish as a whole. It was a subtle and powerful reminder that we are not here to just come in and take over like Americans are sometimes want to do. Instead, just as we discussed when we formed in the spring, we are here to meet the Irish where they are and then to guide them to a fuller understanding and appreciation of the Church through music, liturgy, and friendship. Upon receiving the parish's consent, the Bishop then asked us if we were willing and ready to take on this responsibility. I would like to share with you all the promise that we made in front of God, the Bishop, and our family and friends:

I promise to offer my time, talents, and skill, for the enhancement of sacred music and liturgy,
in the parish community of Clonard, for the good of all God's people and to the Glory of God.

Having made this promise, the Bishop blessed us and our mission, sending us out to serve the people of this parish, the Diocese of Ferns, and the Church in Ireland. We were then presented with a beautiful copy of the Book of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. This is one of seven volumes that are being put out by St. John's College in Minnesota and they are the new "St. John's Bible". It is a truly amazing project and we are grateful to the parish for presenting us with this volume, which now occupies a spot in our prayer room at our house.

     I'm getting very good at epicly long blog posts, so I should probably wrap this one up soon. The rest of the Mass was fairly normal, although the parish also had the Bishop bless two new stained glass windows "since he was here already." These windows commemorate the Wexford martyrs, a group of fishermen and bakers who were killed for refusing to sign an oath recognizing the British monarch as the head of the church. They are very beautiful windows and depict the martyrs as butterflies and doves, two Christian symbols for eternity. Following the mass there was a reception in the community centre with tea and biscuits, as well as a cake for both the folk group and ourselves. It was a great way to wrap up the evening and say thank you to everyone who has made our first few months here so much easier.
     Now the evening didn't entirely end there. It was after all, still the Opera festival, and during the festival they have a series of singing competitions called "Singing Pubs" which are held all throughout the town at the various pubs. Saturday just happened to be the night for Simon's Place, our establishment of choice and so following the reception we headed down for some good times at Simon's. It was insanely crowded and I spent most of the night standing in the entryway blocking access through that door (the bouncer was appreciative because he didn't want anyone going in that door anyway!) The singing was great, we were able to spend some quality pub time with the Calcutts and the London crew, and we even kept tabs on the ND-BC game on Mr. Calcutt's blackberry. Once we knew the final score of that, it was a celebratory round of Guinness, and then back home for the night. I want to personally thank Mr. and Mrs. Calcutt, Cookie and Mrs. Cookie, Hayley, Steph, Claire, and Dan for coming and sharing various parts of the week with us. You all contributed in such distinct ways to making this one of the greatest weeks, not only of my time in Ireland but in recent memory. And now that we're official...Clonard is stuck with us. What a beautiful relationship we have begun, may it continue to grow and bear fruit for many years to come.

02 November 2009

Opera Festivus for the Restivus

Let me add a hearty "ditto" to everything Martha and Chris have said recently about the incredible generosity of our Wexford hosts, and the wonderful opportunity we've had recently to pay that generosity forward, playing hosts ourselves to our American guests. The week that was was truly the "Best Week Ever." The food, the friends, the festival, the craic, and especially the prayer--everything that we experienced in that incredible week was literally underscored by music of every imaginable style. Even when it's not festival time, Wexford is an incredibly musical town. At the center of this, of course, is the opera house, but there are also several other places in town where music lovers flock to hear wonderful talent, and we've gotten to experience several of these "Fringe" events over the past couple of weeks.
The Monday after our first wave of visitors arrived, we wandered in to Green Acres while giving the first of many great tours of downtown. Green Acres is one of my favorite places--a wine store and bistro, which also has an attached two-floor art gallery. We wandered up to the second floor gallery, and there was a group of instrumentalists rehearsing Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, one of the greatest Classical pieces ever. It was so random to stumble into such a beautiful performance, but it was also another example of our randomly beautiful Wexford experience--we've found ourselves (often inexplicably) in the midst of some pretty amazing things since moving here, and every time it happens again, all I can do is revel in it and be grateful for the chance to be here.
Probably the best example of this random, beautiful, inexplicable Wexford experience happened last Sunday, when we attended the Festival Mass at Rowe Street Church of the Assumption. It's rare that we have a Sunday morning off, but since we had just had our Commissioning/Folk Group Anniversary/Stained Glass Window Mass the night before, we had the morning free. We hadn't even known about the Festival Mass until dinner at Fr. Denis's on Friday, when Fr. Martin and several other priests insisted that we had to make attending the Festival Mass a priority. Fr. Martin even promised to reserve seats for us, since this liturgy is always standing-room only.
By reserved seats, he meant pretty much the best civilian seats in the house.
We arrived with the Calcutts on Sunday morning, met up with Fr. Martin, who ushered us to the fourth row, right next to the chamber orchestra, with a perfect view of the 30-voice choir and 4 soloists. In the three rows ahead of us sat: the Lord Mayor of Wexford herself (wearing her formal mayoral garb), an Italian dignitary (who didn't say much, but looked practically regal wearing a sash bearing his nation's colors), members of the Irish Parliament (also decked out in their official garb), and people we surmised to be the producers of the festival's featured operas.
Mayor of Wexford, foreign dignitary, Parliament members, opera producers, and us.
Like I said, stumbling backwards into an experience so incredible it was almost laughable for the sheer good fortune and good people that brought us there. More than once Martha, Chris, and I found ourselves looking at each other with that joyfully bewildered "what are we doing here?" expression on our faces.
Not only were we more than a little humbled by being seated in such a place of honor, but I think all of us were overwhelmed to varying degrees by the sheer beauty of the liturgy itself. Once again, Bishop Brennan presided and delivered yet another eloquent homily, capturing the occasion perfectly. The soloists, choir, and orchestra provided the music for the elements of the Mass Ordinary: the director had chosen Franz Joseph Haydn's Theresienmesse, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the composer's death. "All Creatures of Our God and King" was the processional hymn, and "Thine is the Glory" was the recessional--the beautiful tune from Handel's Judas Maccabeus. Tucked in amidst all the fanfare was Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus as the Communion hymn, which never ceases to bring me to the verge of tears.
All in all, it was one of the most incredible culminations of music and worship it has ever been my privilege to witness. It would have been impossible for anyone to remain apathetic in the midst of such a Mass. The music lifted the hearts and souls of all present, inspiring the congregation to offer more heartfelt worship to the One God whose beauty was reflected in every note and present in every prayer.

30 October 2009

Good Craic...

     One of my personal highlights from the week that was, was the dinner which was held on Friday night at the home of Fr. Denis. The evening began at our home where our community, our guests, members of the parish, and the Most Rev. Denis Brennan (our local bishop) gathered for a house blessing. Bishop Denis began the brief service by asking God to bless the house and then Mrs. Calcutt gave a short reading. Bishop Denis also invoked the patronage of St. Brigid and blessed the house with holy water. One of the lines in the blessing which struck me the most was when the bishop asked God to bless "the family which occupies it [the house]." We always talk about the Notre Dame family, and the Folk Choir family, but here we are as the Teach Bhride family. We live, we eat, we pray, we argue, we laugh, and we love together, just as any family does. We are not a "traditional" family, but we are a family none the less and it was great to hear those words used by the bishop. The blessing was followed by the obligatory pictures outside with everyone who was in attendance.

     Following the blessing we all traveled down the road to Fr. Denis' house where we were joined by some other members of the parish, a few local priests, and representatives of the parish Folk group. Fr. Denis had gone to great lengths to ensure that the Americans and the Irish were mixed in together, even going so far as to make name plates and assign seats for the dinner. Carolyn and I were seated with Fr. Aodhan, one of the priests assigned to the downtown parishes and Fr. John-Paul, the director of catechetics for the diocese. Fr. John-Paul was the one who guided us on our trip up to Dublin to visit the ND kids. Dinner was an amazing event, with a salad, soup, three different options for the main course, tons of sides, and some great dessert to finish it off. Most of the food was also homemade by Fr. Denis and his staff chef Carolyn [not our Carolyn, their Carolyn]. The food was amazing and the wine flowed freely, usually poured by one priest or another who was up making the rounds with the bottles. The conversation was great as well, Fr. Aodhan is a chaplain for one of the secondary schools in Wexford and so we talked about his work there and how we might become involved in those places. Mid-way through the meal three more folks joined us, friends from Notre Dame who are in the London program this fall and decided to spend the last weekend of their fall break in Wexford. After quick reunions they settled in for their dinner, which they claimed was the best food they had eaten since arriving in the Isles last month.
     Dinner was followed by a few speeches, first from Fr. Denis, as the official welcome to us and to all of the Americans who were over visiting. He was followed by Bishop Denis, a man who every time he speaks I am enthralled by what he says. Requests have been made for hard copies of his homilies, which we hope to receive at some point this year. Then it was time for the Americans to be put on the spot. Mrs. Calcutt got up and gave a brief word of thanks on behalf of the corporation and everyone backing this project, touching on some of the difficulties in getting this off the ground but reveling in now seeing the great works coming out of it.  Madam House Director followed with a few words of thanks for all of the support we have received from both sides of the pond in the last few months. It was amazing to be sitting in a room with people who we have known for years and people we have just met, all of whom are dedicated to seeing this project work. We've received so much support from the people back in the States, but we've also received so much support from the pastoral staff and parishioners of this, our new home.
     With dinner and the speeches done, the three of us and the Folk group members had to run off to the parish for our weekly rehearsal, which was larger than normal due to the large liturgy that would happen the next night. Not only were we being commissioned by the Bishop, but the Folk group was celebrating 30 years of ministry in the parish, and we were dedicating two new stained glass windows which had been made for the church. The rehearsal was great, but back at Fr. Denis' the party had gone on without us. By the time we returned the party had moved into the sitting room where a "session" or sing-along was in full swing. There were guitars, a few whistles, a mandolin, even an accordion, as well as the combined voices of the Irish hosts and the American guests. We sat in that room for hours, going back and forth from genre to genre. There were plenty of American favorites from John Denver, Bob Dylan, and others. Fr. Denis whipped out a few of his classics, including the rebel songs which talk about the Wexford rebellion of 1798. We even had a rousing rendition of "How Much is that Doggy in the Window."
     By the end of the night we all were pretty tired and it was time to head off to bed. The session had capped off a great day for everyone. We introduced our American friends to the ways of the Irish, we had a lot of singing, and eating, and drinking. It was a night filled with good craic, the Wexford term for having a great time. These two groups of people whom we have come to love were finally joining together and experiencing each other as we experience them. For us, this week was when we officially stopped being visitors and started being people who live here and work here. We hosted people, we showed them around the town which we now call home, we took people to our favorite pub and to our favorite coffee houses. And in many ways that night of good craic in Fr. Denis' sitting room solidified the relationship between the Americans of Teach Bhride and the Irish of Teach Bhride. We all know each other now, everyone has talked face to face, we can have a better understanding of where everyone is coming from in this project. And I think because of that we have made this project all the stronger for the future. We are no longer a loose group of people who are trying to make something work, we are two unified groups on either side of the Atlantic who know that this project is worth the effort and will yield amazing fruit in the years ahead.

29 October 2009

Best Week Ever- Wexford Opera Festival

Alright, prepare yourself for a flurry of blogposts. Our community was just graced by a slew of visitors and special events this past week and we have lots to report. Affectionately referred to as “The Best Week Ever” (circa popular VH1 program from a few years back), this week was full of opportunities for fun, prayer, reminiscing, and celebration.

It was also conveniently the week of the Wexford Opera Festival, arguably the most exciting week in Wexford over the whole year. The festival is renowned throughout Europe and brings in some amazing talent to our little town. The town is noticeably more crowded as visitors come in to see one or all three of the operas performed over the eleven-day festival. The streets of the town are all lit up like Christmas, and you can just feel the excitement. One of the most wonderful things about working for the church in a small town is the incredible connections and opportunities we’re given. The “head of house,” Alfred Lacey, helped the three of us get tickets to the dress rehearsal for Ghosts of Versailles the day before our visitors arrived. And when our visitors did arrived we all went down to the quay to watch the spectacular fireworks shot out over the water to mark the opening of the festival. Then we were able to go see the opening night of the “double billed” opera later in the week with Steve and Michele warner, and my parents. We are very grateful to Paul Hennessey, the chairman of the festival, and his wife Angela for helping us get those tickets! We are consistently blessed by the generosity and graciousness of our Clonard parishioners.

The Opera was a great experience for us all. We all got dressed up and went to see some world-class talent. The “double bill” is two shorter operas performed in the same night, so we saw both Une Éducation Manquée and La Cambiale di Matrimonio. However, the fun definitely continued afterwards when we took our “American visitors” down to our favorite local pub, Simon’s. (yes, still in our formal-ware). We had a great night introducing our friends and family from the states to our newly made friends here in Wexford.

21 October 2009

Silliness and Spirituality

This past Monday I had the opportunity to work with two classes of third-year students at Kennedy Park primary school, leading two sessions focusing on music and singing as part of Arts Week. We as a community have been fortunate enough to work with two of Kennedy Park's fifth classes, teaching them new music for their Opening Mass for the school year, and working with one fifth class in planning a special, individual class liturgy, so I was excited to have the chance to work with some of the younger students. The fifth class teacher approached me about the Arts Week sessions last week, saying that her previous presenter had canceled, and is there any way I would be willing to spend two blocks of 45 minutes perhaps teaching a song or two to third-year students? I had to give it about 2 seconds of thought before I was willing to commit.

Since the intent of Arts Week was not to prepare any liturgical music but just to have fun and get young children interested in and excited about music, I wasn't quite sure what to teach them. However, the approach of Halloween provided a great answer. I decided to teach a ridiculous, fun Halloween song (complete with motions), and then, in order to provide the sessions with a little substance and spiritual depth, I would explain the liturgical roots of Halloween, and teach them a song appropriate for the feast of All Saints Day.

We began with warm-ups, as all good singers should, practicing our vocal scoops and sighs, lip buzzes, stretches, and other amusing forms of vocalizing. After that, I began teaching the classic Halloween ditty "Five Little Pumpkins." It was massively entertaining to teach the students words and motions to phrases like "There are witches in the air." (The motion for this is to look up at the sky, point, and move your finger across the air as though you're following a witch on a broomstick.)

Naturally, the kids had a blast learning this classic in the repertoire of Halloween songs, and they picked it up very quickly. After promising them that we would sing it again at the end of our time together, I began a new series of questions with: Does anyone know what we're really celebrating on Halloween? (Answer: "Devils and witches!" Not quite.) I explained the concept of celebrating important feasts with vigils, like Christmas Eve, and New Year's Eve, and that Halloween is really the "Eve" of All Saints Day, when the Church remembers all the men, women, and even children who lived holy lives. I then asked: Can you name any saints? Hands shot up as children called out their favorites: Patrick, Brigid, Columba, Aidan, Santa Claus (the student forgot his real name), on and on. I introduced the next song, "Sing with All the Saints in Glory," and explained the meaning of the text phrase by phrase, clearing up slightly confused answers like: "The Resurrection is when Jesus rose from the dead on Christmas." So close... so endearing!

The students learned the familiar Ode to Joy tune almost instantly, and were even able to grasp the more formal text. Of course, by the end of each session, both classes were ready to sing "Five Little Pumpkins" again, but it was great to see their enthusiasm for the All Saints Day hymn as well, and was happy that I was able to combine the fun and silliness of Halloween with the beauty and joy of All Saints Day. Once again I found myself grateful for the opportunity to work with children. It has proven to be one of the most rewarding facets of our ministry here, and I pray that it may not only continue, but also grow in scope and depth as this year passes.

14 October 2009

O'Connell House Fellowship

     On Friday, the 9th of October the community was invited to Dublin by Fr. John-Paul Sheridan who is the director of catechetics for the Diocese of Ferns. He is also one of the chaplains for the Notre Dame study abroad program in Dublin based at O'Connell House on Merrion Square. The O'Connell House hosts fellowship nights once a month for students, alumni, and friends of Notre Dame who are based in Dublin. Officially these are "ACE Fellowship" nights, connected to the Alliance for Catholic Education and give educators and students a chance to gather and discuss topics surrounding Catholic education.
     Fr. John-Paul collected us on Friday afternoon and we proceeded up the old Gorey road, which he claims is quicker than the motorway. (Unless you get stuck behind slow moving trucks like we did!) To pass the time Fr. Sheridan introduced us to an NPR show that he listens to called "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me". It's a quiz show based on the news of the last week and I found it quite hilarious. It's now one of my regular podcast downloads. Highly recommended. On the way we stopped for a cup of coffee, but as it was after 5 on a Friday in Ireland, the shop was already closed. Undeterred by our lack of caffeine we continued on to Dublin, accompanied by the NPR podcast and then my introduction to Garrison Keillor and "The News from Lake Wobegon". Again, highly recommended for those of you who have not heard him.

     Upon arrival at O'Connell House we were greeted by the director Kevin Whelan (a native Wexfordian), program coordinator Joe Stranix (a fellow '09 grad), and a young couple Elaine and John who are involved with ND and Catholic education in Ireland. Seeing as we were early we took a little walk past St. Stephen's Green in search of the American Embassy, aka STARBUCKS!! We've had coffee and tea since we've arrived in Ireland, but we all marveled at being able to walk into a place and order exactly what we wanted just like we were back in LaFortune. We got it to go and walked back to the centre past Trinity College and arrived at the front door, one of the many Georgian doors in Dublin. Martha spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get  a good picture of the door, which in the end turned out to be one of the coolest pictures I've seen.
     Joe met us at the door and gave us a great tour of the house which includes ground floor offices and study space, a chapel, library, and tons of classroom space. Martha remembered her time as a study abroad student and how she was quite jealous of the Dublin students and their amazing facilities. The centre is run through the generous contributions of the Keough family (who also donated my dorm at ND) and Naughton family. The space is a great asset to the students of the Dublin program!
     The fellowship kicked off with a great Mass in the house, celebrated by Fr. Sheridan with music on the guitar by Elaine. We joined with some regulars, the staff of the house, and current students in celebrating the Mass. When the three of us talked about the Mass later we all agreed that for some reason this Mass felt like home. It may have been the music, the other American accents responding with us, or just the sense of being back with Notre Dame people, but for some reason we all felt very refreshed by the Mass at O'Connell House. Fr. Sheridan gave an excellent homily and there was a beautiful communion reflection provided by Elaine which served to cap the Mass off nicely. Following Mass the fellowship continued with a great meal and great conversation. I was able to forget for a moment that I was no longer a student and I sunk right back into the joking conversation and banter that flew around the table. I'm not sure how long we sat at the table, but the conversation and the food continued flowing until they began to put tables and chairs away. Our end of the table finished the night off with a series of pretty funny religious jokes, many of them having to do with the Jesuits. (Fr. John-Paul, a product of two Jesuit institutions, had some of the best Jesuit jokes)
     The ride home was just as great as the ride to Dublin. After some great conversation about the state of the Church and the state of American politics, we turned back to the iPod for the rest of the ride. There were some great classics like the Biebel "Ave Maria" which brought us back to Glee Club concerts, a haunting song which I recognized from my favorite show "The West Wing", and finally the short stories of Oscar Wilde as read by Stephen Fry. To accompany it all we were able to watch the nearly full moon off the Irish coast during the entire drive. I wouldn't say it was a spiritual experience, but it was a very relaxing and comforting drive. The entire trip lasted about eight hours, but it was eight hours of music, fun, laughter, old friends, new friends, good liturgy, and food. After two months in this country we are finally beginning to settle into it as home and this little touch of familiarity helped to remind us that wherever home is there is always the Notre Dame family. We look forward to welcoming more of that family in the next week as some guests drop in for a visit. Cookie and Mrs. Cookie arrive on Monday and that's just the start of things. I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about after next week. Hope all is well with everyone back in the States. Thanks for all of your prayers and support!



25 September 2009

Irish Music Session

Tonight I was invited over to the house of one of the ladies in the folk group, Stacia (sp?), for an Irish music session. This is a fairly regular event at her house and Martha and Carolyn attended one back in June when they were over. Tonight was apparently a small crowd, but it was great to hear these people play the songs they've grown up hearing. We had Stacia, Maureen, and Hugh on whistles and flute, Maureen's mother Maureen on piano, John on bodhran, flute, and harmonica, Jim on banjo and guitar, Tom on guitar and flute, and Matty who was the main vocalist. All of the men also threw in vocals from time to time. There was everything from jigs, reels, and airs, on to traditional Irish ballads and made up renditions of Elvis, as well as a guest appearance by yours truly with a little Folk Choir favorite. Unfortunately I ran out of the house without grabbing my camera, but I will be sure to have it with me in three weeks when the next session rolls around.

For me, this was something that I had been missing in the first month here, music purely for the sake of playing music. There always needs to be that time when you're not playing because you need to, and unlike Martha and Carolyn I do not have the skills to sit down and play piano or guitar or ukulele whenever I need that. I was really craving just enjoying music for a night, and I'm so glad to have had that.

24 September 2009

First Vigil Choir Rehearsal

Last night marked another Teach Bhríde milestone: we held our first meeting/rehearsal for the choir we're forming to sing at the 7:00pm Vigil Mass every Saturday. I have to admit, after cold-calling around 20 local singers recommended by our organist, leaving many voicemails, and hearing a fair few say, "Thanks but no thanks," I was a little nervous as to what we would be faced with when 8:30pm rolled around. It turns out I had no reason to be nervous. By 8:45 we had welcomed around half a dozen women, and two very brave guys: a secondary school student who had encouraged his dad to come along.

After introducing myself, Martha, and Chris, I explained a little about the background of the House of Brigid project, as well as what our goals were now that we were living in Wexford and working at Clonard. With that, we delved into the music--singing a few warm-ups, determining voice parts, and outlining the music for their first liturgy, which will be Saturday, October 3. I was amazed at how everyone just jumped right in to learning a hymn they had not yet encountered: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. The hymn tune, called Hyfrydol, is one of my all-time favorites: simple, elegant, with lots of room for reharmonization, and I was delighted to hear everyone learn it so quickly, and to hear a very positive reaction to the new tune.

Within 10 minutes or so they were ready to move on to the evening's next selection, a piece familiar in the Irish Catholic Church as well as the American, especially within the community of the Notre Dame Folk Choir: Set Your Heart on the Higher Gifts. We had selected this piece primarily because its adaptation of the 1 Corinthians 13 text fits the marriage imagery of the Scriptures for that particular Sunday, but also because it is included in the Irish hymnal, In Caelo. As I explained to the choir, part of the difficulty with moving to a new country and beginning work as a liturgical musician is the fact that you really have very little sense of what music the congregation might already know. While this experience is as much about learning from our Irish hosts as it is imparting knowledge of new (or at least different) repertoire, it's great to discover what music we have in common with one another. By the evening's end, the choir had learned the SAB harmony to the refrain for Set Your Heart (we don't have any tenors quite yet!), and their sound was absolutely beautiful.

To cap the night off, we ended with a review of another piece common to both Ireland and the States due to its inclusion in In Caelo, a setting of the St. Patrick's Breastplate called Christ Be Near at Either Hand. Most of the choir members were already familiar with this piece, and were delighted to learn that it had been chosen as the recessional hymn for the choir's induction Mass.

After over a month of being in a country that seemed familiar yet still foreign, learning my way around the winding streets of Wexford town, remembering to look right first before crossing the street, and feeling with varying degrees of keenness the fact that I am not in Kansas anymore (no, it's not a cheesy movie reference--it's where I'm actually from), I felt at home in front of that choir last night. I felt comfortable being back in front of a group, leading warm-ups, giving pitches, playing through parts, offering direction on phrasing and breaths, and hearing it all begin to take shape as one part combined with another.

I may not be able to drive a stick shift on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road, I may not be able to understand the different phrases and forms of expression, and I may not be able to dial an Irish phone number without being very confused, but I am able to stand in front of a group, teach music, and talk about the liturgy, because those two things are constant wherever I go. Wherever I have music, and more importantly, wherever I have the liturgy, that's home. And, as we all know, there's no place like home.

(Okay I couldn't resist that one.)

23 September 2009

Kennedy Park Opening of the School Year Liturgy

This Tuesday, was the Opening of the School Year Liturgy for Kennedy Park (one of the two primary schools of the parish we'll be working with this year). We worked specifically with the Fifth class (so ten-year olds) to prepare an Offertory piece for the mass. They're great singers and did a beautiful job singing "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light." It was wonderful to get into the schools and to start getting to know the students. We're excited to continue working with the Fifth class for our first couple of "Last Friday" masses we'll be doing with individual classes at Kennedy Park over the course of the year.

19 September 2009

Teach Bhríde in Knock

Last weekend we had the incredible opportunity to go on pilgrimage with 45 members of Clonard to Knock, which is in County Mayo in western Ireland, about an hour from Galway.
Many people are unaware of this pilgrimage site, being more familiar with places like Lourdes, Fatima, and Medjugorie, but Knock has also been the site of a beautiful apparition, one that is unique among other apparitions sites.

On August 21, 1879, 15 citizens of Knock (including men, women, and children of various ages) witnessed a vision at the south gable of the church. Our Lady appeared, flanked on either side with St. Joseph at her right, and St. John the Evangelist at her left. Mary wore a white cloak and a gold crown which held a beautiful rose in the center of her brow; Joseph wore a white robe and was turned toward Mary with head slightly bowed and hands folded in prayer; John was dressed in a robe and bishop's mitre, and was holding a book in his left hand. Witnesses say he appeared as though preaching.

In the center of the gable, to the right of the figures, was an altar, on which stood a Lamb facing westward. Behind the Lamb was a large, upright cross, and angels were hovering around the Lamb. The apparition continued for two hours, and witnesses knelt at the gable in the pouring rain, praying the Rosary. Not one word was spoken to the witnesses by any figure in the apparition. Six weeks following the event, Archbishop John McHale of Tuam convened a Commission of Enquiry. All fifteen witnesses gave testimony, which was ruled by the Commission as trustworthy and satisfactory. Another commission confirmed these findings in 1936, and since Pius XII, Knock has met with the positive recognition and honor of every pope, including John Paul II, who made his own pilgrimage in 1979.

Several things make Knock unique among Marian apparitions. First, multiple figures appeared. Second, there was a large number of witnesses, more than the number at Lourdes, Fatima, Medugorie, and Guadalupe. Finally, this was a silent apparition, with no message other than that conveyed by the imagery of the apparition itself: scholars of Knock have pointed to the Book of Revelation with the presence of John and the Lamb, and as Fr. Denis Lennon suggested in one of his homilies from our own pilgrimage last weekend, the presence of the Cross is of tantamount importance. No follower of Christ can avoid the Cross; Joseph endured the pain of questioning the Divine paternity of Jesus following the Annunciation, and protected the Holy Family when Herod sought to kill the infant Jesus. Mary and John were both present at the foot of the Cross and endured the agony of the Crucifixion alongside Jesus. The Cross is, as Fr. Denis said, "part and parcel of the Christian life," but it is not the ultimate end, for the Lamb who was slain will conquer, and all who have shared in the Cross of Christ will be caught up in His victory.

I found the time at Knock peaceful and thought-provoking, and the House of Brigid was grateful for the opportunity to provide music at the Masses celebrated with our fellow pilgrims in Apparition Chapel. Each of us experienced the pilgrimage in a unique way, but I think I can speak for my fellow community members when I say that we will always be grateful for our visit to Knock, for the time of solitude and reflection it provided, as well as the opportunity to pray with so many wonderful people from the parish.

Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, pray for us.

07 September 2009

Our first few liturgies...

Our first few liturgies have all gone very well! We just attended the Youth Festival at Our Lady’s Island and had a wonderful time. The Folk Choir from one of the other churches in town (Rose Street Church) provided music and there was a good crowd. Bishop Brennan said mass and graciously introduced himself and many other wonderful people of the diocese to us at the cook-out afterwards. (Thanks for the comment on our blog Bishop Brennan!) Everyone did the traditional rosary/pilgrimage around the island with candles lit, and it was generally lovely all around. Many of the youth of the diocese who attended World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia last year were in attendance.

Later that week, we sang music for the “Stepping Out into Secondary School” liturgy for Clonard Parish. Many of the “first years” and their parents came out to the Church of the Annunciation for a ceremony in which they created a sacred space to represent themselves, how far they have come on the journey, and those who will be with them as they take the next big step. Afterwards we had the opportunity to meet many Secondary School students who we’ll hopefully be singing with in the future.

This past Sunday, the three of us sang at our first set of regular Sunday masses. We planned and sang at the Saturday Vigil mass, which we will hopefully be creating a choir for soon. And we joined the Folk Group for their first 11:15 mass of the season. It was great to be making a joyful noise and singing some familiar music. The Folk Group mass uses Steve Warner’s “Our Father.” ☺ Overall, we felt the weekend was a big success.

Thanks again for all your prayers and support!

04 September 2009

The House!!

Hello again from Wexford! Yesterday afternoon the community packed everything up again and moved about a mile up the road to our new home 206 Cluain Dara. The ladies of the parish and the contractors have been working away to have the place ready for us and we are finally in. Beds are made, kitchen is set up, and the first mass has been planned. Once we get settled into the house a bit more we will post pictures and information about the last week of activities.

29 August 2009

Hello again from Wexford!

-Wexford Opera House-

The community has had nearly two weeks now of getting our feet on the ground and preparing for a year’s work in Ireland. We’ve been to a concert in the Wexford Opera House, and had some really great days just walking around, getting to know the town. Finally, knowing our way around plus what are the best grocery stores, cafes, and bookshops definitely helps to have gain some ownership of this place. The parish has been overwhelmingly welcoming and gracious, and we’re about ready to start giving back.

This past week, we spent three days in Ferns at St. Aiden’s monastery on a retreat planned for us by Fr. Martin. It’s a truly peaceful and beautiful place. We each had our own hermitage and space to meet as a group in the convent. It was great to have a little time away to reflect and prepare for the coming year. The retreat was also good for getting a better picture of what we’ll be trying to accomplish this year.

Our first tasks and events are coming up already. Tonight we’ll be attending the Youth Festival at Our Lady’s Island (a place the Folk Choir visited on our tour here in the Spring of ’08). This coming week the Folk Group begins rehearsals, and there is a liturgy for the youth of the parish who will be transitioning into Secondary school. We’ll keep you posted as we hit the ground running here!

25 August 2009

Upcoming retreat at St. Aidan's

Slainte, friends!

The Teach Bhríde crew heads to Ferns this afternoon, to St. Aidan's monastery for a retreat led by Fr. Martin, curate at the Church of the Annunciation. We'll be back on Thursday evening-ish, with hearts, minds, and spirits rejuvenated, and a clearer sense of how each one of us can use our individual talents for the good of our own community as well as the Wexford community.

Our retreat forecast: RAIN. All day tomorrow. No bother, though--I think the rain will provide just the right atmosphere for being introspective, and for reflecting on the world and one's place and purpose in it. Will let you know how my theories hold up against the weather when we get back.

Until then, keep us in prayer, and know that we will gladly be returning the favor!

21 August 2009

Cultural adaptations

Slainte, friends!

So we arrived in Ireland safely, with luggage in tow and high spirits intact. Labs survived the plane ride, I survived the transfer to Gatwick airport, Martha survived the way a seasoned international traveler always does (she was just fine!). We were met at the Dublin airport by Fr. Denis and Des, and traveled by mini-bus back to Wexford.

These past few days we've been hosted by Emmett and Gráinne Cullen at Granville House, a lovely B&B not far from our house in Cluain Dara, which isn't quite ready yet. No bother, though, as they say here--the tiler has been working all week, and once he's finished, the carpets will be installed, furniture moved in, and we'll be all set!

In the meantime, we've been overcoming jetlag and adjusting to the new time zone (5 hours ahead of our EST friends, 6 hours for my crew in the CST), as well as getting to know the town through the tours given by our gracious hosts at Clonard Parish. We've also been getting used to the weather here. It's much cooler than the sweltering summer we left in the States, but it has also rained for at least part of every day since our arrival. Our new friends say that the rain has been much more prevalent this summer, but so far, it hasn't dampened our spirits at all. Myself, I feel as though I'm experiencing the real Irish weather for the first time, since the sun shone through all of my previous visits here. I'm just going to have to stop associating rainy days with perfect opportunities for four-hour naps and repeated viewings of Jurassic Park (best rainy day movie ever; The Goonies is a close second).

All in all, we're getting our feet wet--figuratively and literally--and we're learning our way around. Tonight we go to the Wexford Opera House for a concert performed by The Swell Season, fronted by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of the movie Once. This is just the first of hopefully many of our adventures in this little Irish town with the huge music scene.

As for everything else--the house, getting started with work, settling in to parish life--again, as we've heard so many times here, "We'll sort it out!"

16 August 2009

go hEirinn!

Well folks, here we are...the community is finishing the final packing and will be headed to JFK Airport in about an hour. Our flight leaves at 8:20 for London, then a switch of airports and airlines puts us in Dublin! We are all in varying states of packing, saying goodbyes, coming to terms with the fact that we are ACTUALLY moving. This is really happening now and we are excited to begin our work in Wexford tomorrow. By this time tomorrow we should be in Wexford and settling into the house. Our address is (as far as we can tell): 206 Cluain Dara Rd. Clonard, Co. Wexford, Ireland. If that changes, we'll post the change on here. Thanks to everyone for their prayers and support these past few months, now it is go hEirinn!

14 August 2009

The Community Gathers

As of last night I have been a guest in the house of the Calcutts in Fairfield, CT as we prepare for our departure to Ireland on Sunday. Carolyn is joining us this afternoon when Martha and I drive into New York City to pick her up at La Guardia. Another mentor, Cookie, will be joining us as well this weekend. Tonight's activities include a mass and dinner here at the Calcutt's and I'm sure plenty of time spent talking about our new community. Hopefully we can update some more as the weekend progresses. Our flight from JFK is scheduled to leave at 8:20pm on Sunday. Please pray for a safe flight and for those who await us in Ireland!

04 August 2009

House of Brigid on Twitter!!

As we continue to prepare for the big move in 12 days Teach Bhride has arrived on the Twitter network! Check us out at The tweets will also be fed into the update widget on the right side of this blog.

St. Brigid Tapestry

The above picture is the tapestry located in the day chapel of the Church of the Annunciation in Clonard, Co. Wexford. The tapestry was created by the ladies of the parish and is a wonderful addition to the wall of the chapel. The legend of St. Brigid says that she once approached the king of Leinster to ask him for land on which she could serve the poor. The king was not interested in helping Brigid, but in order to make her go away the king consented to Brigid taking as much land as her cloak could cover. When Brigid spread the cloak, it miraculously covered much of the king's land. The tapestry in Clonard shows the cloak joining with the ground and all of nature. As the year goes on we'll try to explain in detail some of the different parts of the cloak.

The community is eagerly awaiting the beginning of our ministry. We will fly to Ireland in just 13 short days to begin our work with the people of Clonard! We cannot wait to be on the ground and working.

27 July 2009

Welcome to the House of Brigid

Hello and welcome to the official blog of Teach Bhride (The House of Brigid). Throughout the year we will be posting stories, pictures, and hopefully video of some of the work we are doing over here. We hope that you will feel welcome to contact us through this blog, email, skype, or snail mail. Know of our prayers for you as we continue our work in Wexford.

Prayer to St. Brigid
Brigid, You were a woman of peace, You brought harmony where there was conflict, You brought light to the darkness, You brought hope to the downcast. May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious, and may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world. Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all God has made. Brigid, you were a voice for the wounded and the weary. Strengthen what is weak within us. Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens. May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body, and spirit. Amen.