St. Louis Jesuits perform final concert
A combination of age and no common projects lined up, the St. Louis Jesuits performed as a group for the last time on Sept. 29 with the College Church Choir at Powell Hall at Saint Louis University, raising money for the Ignatian Spirituality Project.
Tim Manion, Dan Schutte, Jesuit Frs. Roc O’Connor, Bob Dufford, and John Foley are best known for their songs “One Bread One Body,” “The Cry of the Poor,” “Come to the Water,” “Turn to Me,” “A Song of Hope,” “Here I Am, Lord,” “You Are Near,” “City of God,” “These Alone Are Enough,” and “Table of Plenty.”
“We’ve always tried to listen to God’s inspiration on things like this. We’re getting older and there’s no certainty of how long all five of us will be able to do this together,” said Schutte before the concert, who left the Jesuit order in 1986. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy. Rather than allowing the diminishment of age make the decision for us, we want to grab this moment to offer one final celebration of music to those who’ve been blessed by our music.”
O’Connor is a board member of ISP, a Chicago-based ministry that serves the homeless and those recovering from addiction.
“I don’t have funds of my own to give, which board members often do, so this is a way to highlight the good work that they do and see if it’s possible to raise some (knowledge) about them,” he said. “They give retreats to homeless people who are in recovery.”
Another reason for the concert was gratitude.
“We talked about wanting to say thank you to God, thank you to the people of God who have sung the music and it has helped them, and celebrate the good work the Lord has done, with people who do appreciate it and say thank you,” Fr. O’Connor said. “And as the five of us we are going to let that service go. It doesn’t mean we won’t do some things [together] but I feel like I’m coming into my own now. It’s kind of a way of saying thank you and not just waiting until somebody else decides.”
The St. Louis Jesuits released a commemorative CD titled Coming Home featuring the 25 songs that were to be sung at the concert curated by the musicians to represent them. “It’s not a recording of the concert performance, but a re-mastering of these songs from earlier recordings to represent the best of our legacy,” Schutte said.
Their output is numerous. With seven collections of music, including Morning Light, which is the 30th anniversary album from 2005. Individually the number includes 35 albums, with anthology collections.
“Up until 10 to 15 years ago, we were independent composers who find it helpful and growth-producing to share our music together and get feedback,” Fr. O’Connor said. “We’ve written more than 200 songs and published maybe only two that were cowritten.”
Fr. Foley said he writes hymns as an expression of the people’s worship, not as an expression of himself. He believes the songs of the St. Louis Jesuits have held up for so long because they were the first settings of psalms of the Church year that reached people. “But remember, our job as composers is to write the songs, not to judge them,” he said.
Schutte credits the St. Louis Jesuits with helping him grow spiritually and musically.
“I’m a man of greater faith, I’m closer to God and certainly a better composer because of them. They have encouraged me when I’ve needed it,” he said. “They’ve helped me become aware of the gift of music that God has given me to use for good. And, they’ve challenged me to become better even when I might have resisted. My music is better because of them and what they’ve taught me over the years.”
For Schutte, his compositions impact his personal faith directly.
“Writing authentic music means I have to be on the journey myself. I don’t know how anyone could write music that is meant to express the prayer of others if they’re not a prayerful person themselves, if they’re not actively in relationship with God,” he said.
“How could you write sincerely about something you’ve just heard about or read about? It’s a whole different thing when you’ve experienced God yourself, when you know God because you’ve walked with God and spoken to God and heard God in your heart.”
“Every time I sing it, almost brings me to tears because of how it speaks of a God who is intimately involved with you and me. It’s not a God who is up in the heavens but a God who dwells so very close to us, closer to us than we are to ourselves, who knows, in the words of this psalm: ‘When I sit and when I stand, know my resting and my rising, know the word on my lips before I even speak it,’” he said. “That’s the God I believe in and the God who permeates the music that I write.”
It’s not a God who is up in the heavens but a God who dwells so very close to us.
The concert was not last time you’ll hear from members of the St. Louis Jesuits.
“While this may be our last concert together, the St. Louis Jesuits are not going to disappear. Some of us have individual projects already in the works and there’s always the possibility of a couple of us doing events together down the road,” Schutte said. “There’s still more music to be written and prayers to be sung.”