A guest article by Deacon William Patrick Cunningham.
URING THE LATE 1960s, I was a temporary professed with the Society of Mary, pursuing a degree in chemistry with a music minor at St. Mary’s University. At novitiate, we had experimented with the first texts in English for the Mass, and we thought we were God’s gift to liturgical music. When we began our college studies the following year, we found that the music director was Fr. Charles Dreisoerner, SM, who looked to our teenage eyes like he was a hundred years old, and who expected us to be able to sing Gregorian chant from the Liber Usualis. We had not picked up one of those since the English Mass was introduced early in 1965. To Fr. Charles’ credit, he was experimenting with the new English texts being forced into the given Gregorian melodies. I don’t believe any of his mimeographed work has actually survived to this day, but that might be something for an MA thesis-seeker. At any rate, we spent most of the year demanding a new music director, and we got one. I spent the next couple of years with my colleagues introducing the “folk Mass” (actually lite rock) to our Archdiocese. It caught on nationally, and I have been repenting and doing penance for my sin ever since that time.
In 1978, my wife and I learned from Col Roger Darley that the main chapel at Ft. Sam Houston was in need of a Catholic choir director and organist. We had just left a local parish, where the new pastor had tried to get us to abandon any music with a connection to the past. We were under the impression that the chapel wanted to use chant. That was not correct, but it got me thinking about taking up the challenge laid down by Vatican II and Fr. Dreisoerner almost two decades earlier.
After a couple of years, we left the Post chapel ministry and shortly afterwards got involved with the Anglicans seeking union with the Catholic Church. This was a group that later became the Anglican use community of Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio. They wanted to use the Gregorian propers with the translation from the Anglican missal, so I got to work putting them together from the 1974 Graduale Romanum, week by week. I was doing some music scribing with K&E engineering hardware for another music publication, so I transcribed the chant into five-line notation. Ultimately our little publishing company put it together in two volumes, which together were called Chants for the Church Year.
Initially, some modest advertising brought a spate of single-copy orders, and a couple of larger ones, especially from Msgr. Francis P. Schmitt of Boys Town. We left the Anglican use parish not long after it was established as a Catholic parish. Msgr. Schmidt lost the Boys Town appointment a couple of years later. The English chant Gradual project languished until CMAA and its members brought it back three decades later.
To download a 270-page “Englished” Psalter by Deacon Cunningham, click here.